It was July of 1997. We were trailing our tent camper across the country, on the move to Phoenix, Arizona. I was eleven, my brother seven, and our dog Maggie was a still-fairly-rambunctious three-year-old. My mom was on “LOOK AT THAT VIEW, DAMN IT!” duty in the front seat and my dad was driving. I think a lot of family cross-country road trips go something like this.
Several national parks and attempts at a good family photo later, we were in Page, Arizona. We’d never forget the name of the campground - Wahweap Campground - where we eventually gave up on trying to be passably comfortable and fled into the comforting arms of Page, Arizona’s Best Western because of the sheer volume of sand that our tent camper had absorbed. “It also was obvious,” my dad recalls, “that these big afternoon winds occurred regularly - this was no fluke - and yet they did nothing to try to mitigate the sand problem from unaddressed erosion all around the campground.” Yes, there may be some lingering grievances against Wahweap in our family. “The only good thing to come out of Wahweap,” adds Dad, “was the motel manager in Page told us where to get good green-chili pork.”
What I remember, though, is the ice cream.
We stopped at some amazing ice cream parlor in Page, and I got a flavor of ice cream which wasn’t what I really wanted because what I really wanted was cookie dough, which was one of the flavors my mom had labeled as “gross” and therefore off-limits. But still - we’d gotten ice-cream, and that was no small thing. My brother and I asked for ice cream every time the car slowed to 10 mph, and though we were frequently denied, Page, Arizona had provided such an inviting ice-cream oasis in the midst of the sandstorm-induced chaos that even Mom and Dad couldn’t say no.
We were apparently marooned in Page for a few days due to the sheer volume of sand that collected in the camper. Dad at one point took off to get the car washed, and when he got back, we peppered him with questions about where he’d been. Likely in a fit of exasperation, he said, “I took Maggie to get ice cream, guys, where do you think I went?”
It was probably meant to be an offhand and totally un-serious comment. But recall that for us, ice cream was never not serious. And here my dad was, denying his children ice cream and giving it to the DOG instead.
“What flavor did she get?” one of us asked, dolefully.
“Bubble gum. Got all in her ears, had to take her to the car wash just to get her cleaned up.”
We both looked at Maggie, who looked just as happy as someone who’d just gotten to have ice cream would look. And bubble gum ice cream, no less! Another flavor that I personally coveted but, because of its automatic “gross” classification due to unnatural coloring, was never allowed to order. The unfairness!
This is where the Page, Arizona story ends. But my grievance against my father is just beginning. For years after Page and Wahweap, I carried the belief in my head that my dad had once taken our dog to get bubble-gum ice cream and then straight to the car wash to get cleaned up. You know when you just kind of know something and don’t question it? This was an event from my past. It just is.
So one day when I was…I want to say in college…this story arose somehow. We were talking about Wahweap, and I mentioned something about taking Maggie to the car wash to get the bubble-gum ice cream cleaned out of her ears. And literally as the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that my dad had definitely been fucking with me. And that I had believed him, for ten years. “Dad, you made that up, didn’t you?”
As I write, we are ten days away from the great Festivus, which my husband and I began quietly celebrating together about four years ago. It it may have started because of our very first TV set with a basic cable subscription that came with our rental apartment in Jupiter, Florida. We discovered that Seinfeld reruns aired every night on TBS around the time we were usually cooking dinner, and we also discovered that it was really pretty fun to watch whatever Seinfeld rerun happened to be on. Eventually, we must have taken in the Festivus episode, and we must have then concluded that we, too, needed to celebrate Festivus.
We were particularly drawn to the idea of the airing of grievances as a holiday tradition, and that’s how it began. One night at the dinner table, we decided to have our own airing of grievances, but with slightly different rules. Whereas the Costanza family uses the Airing of Grievances as a forum in which everyone gets to tell everyone else at the table how they have let them down recently, my husband and I made the rule that our grievances be neither serious nor ongoing nor directed towards one another specifically. Furthermore, we decided, our grievances also had to be good stories, and they had to be stories we’d never told each other before.
I guess you could say that our Festivus is really the exact holiday that two people who have been together for over 13 years need in their lives: a chance to reach way back and find the untapped rivers of silly grudges that once loomed large in our psyches. Like how my dad first convinced me that he’d given the dog something that he hadn’t given me, and then ten years later had made me feel like a complete idiot for believing him in the first place. My husband liked the Page, Arizona story so much, he told his own version of how impressed he was by such straight-faced fucking-with-your-kids ingenuity, in honor of Dad’s 60th birthday.
In turn, my husband’s own grievance told at that first Festivus, a story which involves both Bill Clinton and a Russian peasant outfit, remains one of my favorite stories he’s ever told me, and I make him retell it every Festivus. Maybe I’ll get another guest post out of him this year.
Okay, reader, I’m talking to you now. There is a comment field below this essay. Use it! Tell me your best Festivus grievance. Between now and December 23rd, I want you to either comment or to email me (there is a contact page on this very website if you like!) and air it all out. How have people wronged you in the past? What tiny offenses live on in your psyche long after their relevance has expired? I promise you: it’s surprisingly fun to dramatize them and release them to the world. On December 23rd, I plan to honor Festivus by sharing as many petty grievances as I receive. Let’s get this going!