This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Christmas in Iowa

12/21/08 at 11:45 PM

This is our third Christmas in Iowa since we got back from London. It’s interesting to notice how a place starts to feel like home after a while. I’ve stayed at Gary and Sylvia’s home at least a dozen times since Charletta and I started dating in 2002. And I realized this visit that the farm has started to grow on me.

There’s Snerdly, the miniature poodle with the sad eyes and squeaky toy. There’s the strong odor of hog manure when the wind’s blowing the wrong way. There are the rolling hills dotted with osage orange and the creek where Charletta burned hot dogs when she was a little girl. And of course, the back yard with the flowers that mysteriously bloom year round. It’s amazing what you can do with silk.

My favorite icon in the Erb household is the squirrel stuffed and mounted. Between it’s little paws it’s holding the golf ball that knocked it from its perch to it’s death during one of Stuart and Gary’s games. Unfortunately, Sylvia took it down last year when they redecorated the sun porch.

Right now everything is covered with blowing snow. The row of pine trees to the West shape the wind and the drifts they create into long, sharp spines and curving valleys. In the fields, the sheared corn stalks poke up through the white blanket. Gary’s young walnut sapplings are wrapped in glistening glass.

When we arrive at Y Avenue, Charletta took over driving since she can confidently manage unplowed gravel roads. Last year, Charletta and I dug six feet down through a drift in one of the ditches beside the road and still didn’t hit bottom. I can only imagine how quickly they’d swallow a car.

I’m gradually becoming familiar with the two sides of Charletta’s family. The Millers are big and loud. Sylvia has eight siblings and they all have three and a half children. Gatherings are full of jokes, songs, games and the traditional white elephant gift exchange. This year, the highlights were a federal express box with a real deer leg inside and a plastic toilet that shoots water out when you open the lid. Then there was the empty nut canister with a certain photo-shopped squirrel photo that’s been making it’s way around the internet for decades.

The Erb family gatherings are a much smaller affair. Gary and his brother Terry attend with their families. Terry has two children, both of whom are quiet and respectable (at least when we’re around). This year Sylvia brought out Christmas games she printed off the internet. We put peanut M&M’s on holiday bingo squares and found gifts for Baby Jesus that began with every letter of the Alphabet. Justin, my future brother-in-law, dominated both games. Among other things, he got the Baby Jesus beer, guns and lug nuts, it turns out.

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