My mother cornered my father near the kitchen door as he kicked off his snow boots. He had just come in after from the yard where we built a snowman. Her finger wagged a warning: “You better not drink tonight.”
She rummaged through his coat pockets for a flask. He had, after all, the day before sworn off liquor, having literally gambled the shirt off his back in some bar’s backroom.
He was saved from what was to become a bawling out with the entrance of the Eastern orthodox priest, vestments crystalized with snow. The priest blessed the house with holy water and prayers for peace. My father handed the priest a few bills and warmed him with a shot of whiskey as carolers outside sang in Ukrainian. It was January 6, Epiphany.
The sidewalks had been meticulously shoveled and swept by my father, known as Billy the Kid for his wild ways, and my Uncle Jay, notorious for a mean streak like the bird by the same name.
The snowman we built stood bulbous in the front yard with button eyes, carrot nose, and outstretched twig arms that seemed as welcoming as blinking lights topping frosty garlands of pine on porch railings. Most neighbors in the tract house development had already taken down their Christmas homages of rooftop sleighs and front yard manger scenes.
I wondered what those neighbors thought of the bursts of song in a foreign tongue and of the priest in his headdress entering our home. I worried they might mutter offensive slang for displaced persons.
I had come to hate these words, belittling my family for coming through Ellis Island as Polish Ukrainians in ship steerage. And I worried more about the brutally slung “DPs” for dumb Polacks.
The first star to cross the night sky signaled we could break our fast to feast on thirteen foods blessed by the priest.
The priest also blessed the ornate centerpiece candles decorated with Byzantine crosses. We prayed their smoke from smothered flames would not drift to the open door, an ill omen of oncoming family death. We would pray to these candles with rags stuffed at the threshold to keep out the draft.
But that wasn’t what we should have watched out for: we should have watched out for my father and uncle with their bottle of booze. They had drained the Seagrams by the time we were ready to sit down for dinner and didn’t want to eat.
Instead they tumbled out into the yard for fisticuffs over something one of them said to the other that neither would remember the next day.
When they ripped past the banister and barreled into the snowman, knocking it to pieces – that’s when I really started to worry about what the neighbors would think. My father and uncle swore at each other, arms flailing and feet kicking as sirens lit up the street. The police hauled them off to the drunk tank.
My mother slumped into my father’s Barcalounger with its bright red gift bow hanging askew from an arm. She wrung her hands as she lamented another spoiled holiday, teary-eyed and sobbing.
Then she abruptly picked herself up, moved to the table and announced, as with some epiphany: “Well, at least tonight I’ll get a good night’s sleep.”
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Andrena Zawinski, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her fourth full-length collection of poetry is Born Under the Influence. She also debuted a collection of short fiction, Plumes & other flights of fancy.