Tuesday, November 23, 1993
The words taunted me from the screen. I had been down to half a heart, with my own heart beating as fast as the little blinking Link on the TV. But I just needed to land one final jab in Gohma to beat this dungeon. That’s when mom’s voice echoed up the stairwell, “Honey! Did you pack your bag for Rancho?” Crap. I was supposed to do that before playing Zelda. In that instant, one of Gohma’s flashing orange balls got me. Link spun as the music spiraled down, then the fragile little death melody played.
I squeezed the Nintendo controller HARD, resisting the urge to hurl it at the screen. Mom’s voice was getting closer, “Patrick? Did you hear me?” Her head popped through my bedroom door, framed by my Blues Traveler poster and the baseball I caught at a Texas Rangers game back when we lived in Dallas. She looked at me expectantly, eyebrows raised, her big smile urging me to have the attitude she hoped for.
“Do we have to go to Santa Fe again?” I whined.
“Of course, honey!”
“Why? we ALWAYS go.”
“We only go every other year, and I thought you loved it,” a tinge of pain in her voice.
“Well I DON’T anymore.”
“You don’t? But it’s a family tradition. We’ve been going since you were a little boy.”
“I’m not a little boy anymore. And there’s no TV or video games and it’s so boring.”
“Boring!? Your cousins will be there, and Grandma and Grandpa, and maybe Santa will come again!”
“Santa? More like ‘Grandpa.’ Come on, mom.” My mom’s maiden name was Christmas. Julie Christmas. Her dad thought it was funny to be ‘Father Christmas’ around the holidays. He would dress up as Santa and act like he either mixed up his months or was hopelessly lost on his way to the North Pole when he saw a sign that said “Santa (Fe)” (wocka wocka wocka). We were all getting too old for it. I could see how much happiness this sucked out of my mom. I enjoyed that power. I also felt bad about enjoying it.
“Well you love Grandpa’s challenges.”
“Trials,” I corrected. That much was true. I loved Grandpa’s Trials. Every year, Grandpa made a new list of achievements for each of the cousins. When we were young, it was simple stuff – collect three kinds of leaves, find a shiny rock, divert the little stream of water running through the mostly dry riverbed. But as we aged, the trials grew with us: Catch a snake (avoid the ones with triangular heads). Pull 20 needles off a cactus. Light a fire without matches or lighter. Stand barefoot in the stream for 30 seconds.
Whoever finished their trial first won a crisp, new twenty-dollar bill. Twenty bucks could go a long way towards upgrading to that Super Nintendo like my friend Brian had.
“Fine. I’ll pack,” I said with a groan.
“Don’t forget your undies, hon.”