My Christmas Story

Cullen Murray Kemp

The peppered beef tenderloin cooked slowly and perfectly in the oven, though not one of us parading aimlessly around the kitchen was thinking about that perfect piece of meat. The tick-tocking timer, which would ring 45 minutes from that moment, was our only hope for avoiding the sin that is overcooking such a tender portion of farm-raised cow.


Dad and I sat on the kitchen stools bantering about basketball when suddenly a thought came to mom’s mind, “Is it time to open a bottle of wine?” she asked. Dad and I knew that to save our asses, the debate over the NBA’s best passer would, for the time being, have to come to an end.


When we children (no matter what age) come home to visit parents for the holidays, a top priority will always be to show them what we have learned while we were away from the nest. Some of us will demonstrate linguistic enhancements that we acquired in college-level English courses. Others will provide deep stock market insights that will “make our parents rich, if only they would listen.” Me, well, since I was last home, I have been drinking (and opening) many bottles of wine, so I snatched up the bottle of cabernet and the wine opener and began brandishing my new skill set. Believe me when I tell you, a skill such as this does not go unnoticed in the Murray-Kemp family.


With a first glass of wine down, mom mustered up the courage to ask me about my love life. I have a new Southern sweetheart that hangs around so I didn’t mind disclosing a few details to her. It’s my take that romantic relationships are often touchy topics to discuss with parents because at the tender age of 22, relationships are often insecure rollercoaster rides. But I like the girl, so I began telling mom about her, and with every little detail mom's face shone with new light.


Meanwhile, acting like he was not listening to our conversation, dad began shucking appetizer oysters. Every time he opened one of the delectable shellfish he hooted in self-amusement. As a father must, he directed me to pick up a pair of gloves and an oyster-shucking tool and to follow his lead. “Oysters are an aphrodisiac. Men who know how to shuck oysters… well you get the point,” my dad boasted as he handed me an unopened oyster. 


Just as he taught me the art of shooting a basketball, in no time, the man had me cracking open oysters and plating them on the deep-cup half shell in restaurant-worthy presentation. The three of us sat around a fire and sucked down oysters. Conversations flip-flopped between gut-busting laughter and thorough insights into the meaning of life—both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Amidst our conversation, I came to realize that the one place we could all three truly be ourselves, carefree, was there, in each other’s company sitting around that fire.


The evening continued as so many nights at home had before. Dinner (a slightly over-cooked roast) and a forgettable movie rounded at the night with warmth and familiarity. I was home—I felt it, knew it, and loved it.


The Christmas holidays are, for some, a time of chaos, and, for others, a time of relaxation. They are a time of honey ham, rum-infused eggnog, and Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookies. For children, they are a time of gift receiving, and for adults, a time of gift giving. Most of all, though, they are a time for family; a time where we are beautifully obligated to be with the ones who raised us, and who made us who we are today.


Wherever life takes us, however our perceptions change, and whomever we become, when we step through those front doors of the house we once called home and embrace those who we will always call family—in those moments, we once again become our old selves. That’s what I love about the Christmas holidays.