The Bearded Life - A Christmas Memory


Kevin Krein


The ink wasn’t even dry on our marriage license when my wife stated that she wanted to buy a house. Like, we weren’t even back home yet—to the duplex we were renting at the time. I was merging onto the freeway the day after our wedding when she announced this, and my guess is that I probably almost crashed the car.

At first, I was not on board—we had just completed one big “adulthood” thing, so could we maybe take a break before doing something else? Also, at this time, seven years ago, I had just started a new job, like, two months prior and was not really making any money to speak of at it yet, so the idea of taking on such a financial burden was not incredibly appealing.

But, we started looking at houses anyway.

The duplex we were living in was near downtown Northfield in an older neighborhood—it had hardwood floors, and was charming; we basically wanted something similar, in a similar location—just something we owned, and weren’t renting.

But then you start making concessions.

You realize owning a quaint, charming, older home with hardwood floors near downtown is actually out of your meager price range. So you extend your boundaries. You realize finding something with hardwood floors at all is probably not going to happen, so you become okay with carpeting and you tell yourselves you’ll replacing the flooring at some point, but you never will.

You meet your realtor night after night and look at house after house. You find something wrong with every house you look at: one has a bathroom in its basement that looks like the set of a Saw movie; one has a doorway that is so low, you have to duck down to enter through it.

One house has a bedroom without closets.

You make offers on houses you are marginally satisfied with. Those offers get rejected. You get discouraged and try again with something else.

After around two months of looking at countless homes in the area, we settled on a foreclosure. We could afford it, and it wasn’t in horrible shape. After a rather arduous process of closing on it, we moved in a few days before Thanksgiving, only to unpack the necessities before we left to go visit my family in Illinois for the holiday. Work on the house only really started in early December.

We spent the entire month putting our things away, scraping ugly wallpaper, and painting, chipping away at a little bit more every night—that was the only time we had to dedicate to anything relating to the house. After we both finished up with work for the day, we would make a frozen pizza, or have some other half-assed dinner, and then we’d open the windows, letting in the cool December air, and start rolling another coat of paint onto the walls.

We waited to set up the furniture and electronics in the living room until after we painted, so the stereo was disconnected and stacked up in a pile. We realized we could either work in complete silence every night, or listen to the radio on my wife’s old CD boombox. For some reason—perhaps the holiday spirit moved us to do so—but we tuned it to KOOL 108, which during the month of December, becomes “Christmas KOOL 108,” and plays holiday songs only.

And maybe it was from huffing so many paint fumes, but we eventually started to over-analyze the lyrics to Christmas songs—just what was the “new, old fashioned way,” why were the children of Africa so poor that they didn’t even know it was Christmas, and why was “Christmas Shoes” the audio equivalent of an actual garbage fire?

Christmas meant splitting our time between both of our families, which was something we had been doing in an effort to please everyone, save for ourselves. In the past we had spent Christmas Eve in Minneapolis with my wife’s family, then gotten up at, like, 4 a.m. to begin driving to see my family in Illinois on Christmas Day. This year, however, my family opted to come to us so they could see our new home.

Buying a foreclosed home meant either buying an array of new appliances, or being okay with what had been left at the time the home was vacated—almost everything had to be replaced, save for the oven, which worked for the most part until we realized the cooktop wasn’t level, and that whatever was in the pan slid to one side while you were attempting to heat it up.

Maybe a day or two before we were set to leave to spend the days before Christmas with my in-laws, we had a new oven delivered and installed—but did not have a chance to use it, or learn anything about it. We just needed it to cook the food for Christmas day, and we planned to be back on Christmas Eve—however, as has happened a few times since this instance, we were snowed in in Minneapolis.

If I can recall correctly, it, like, wouldn’t stop snowing, so leaving when we anticipated was out of the question. And I seem to remember it was still snowing on Christmas morning, but we had no choice but to brave the elements on Highway 35 and get back to Northfield.

As we glided down the street to our new home, the harsh reality of being away during a multi-day snowstorm began to set in.

We couldn’t see our driveway at all, and none of our neighbors in the immediate vicinity had been kind enough to think, “Oh, I’ll help out that nice young couple that just moved in by snow blowing their driveway.” We trudged through knee-deep snow with our luggage to make it to the garage door and get back into the house.

We had a lot to do before my family arrived—food to prep, showers to take, Christmas cards that still needed to be filled out—but before any of that could happen, we started shoveling.

I don’t quite recall how long my wife and I were both standing in our driveway, attempting to clear a path wide enough for our car to make it back into the garage, but it took awhile. It was the kind of frantic, overwhelming snow shoveling where, at a certain point, you are just uncertain of where to put it all.

As we were making our way down the driveway, we noticed two joggers—a man and a woman—strutting by as we toiled. As they got close enough, rather than extending a “hello” or a “Happy Holidays” to us, they looked us over once and the man simply stated, “Good luck with that,” and they continued trotting through the snow.

“Come a little closer so I can hit you with this snow shovel,” I wanted to say.

“Fuck you, yuppie, and fuck your morning jog,” I wanted to yell.

Instead, neither my wife, nor I, said anything. I sunk my shovel back into the deep, wet snow.

There reached a point during this whole ordeal that we realized we hadn’t eaten anything yet all day—so I decided to place a frozen pizza in our new oven. No time for pre-heating, no time for reading the instruction manual. And neglecting to do both of those things proved to be a poor decision, as within minutes, our house smelled like burning pizza, and the pizza itself was on the verge of being engulfed in flames. I managed to rescue it, and still smoking and black, I carried it outside and heaved it into our trash can, where it proceeded to melt part of the plastic, and adhere itself to the bottom of the bin.

My wife was still in he shower by the time my family arrived. I never had the chance to take one that day, and their car rolled into the narrow path we created in the driveway as I was frantically scribbling some holiday greetings into their cards.

Somehow, we survived. The house eventually smelled less like burning pizza and we were able to use the oven successful to make food for my family. Pleasantries were made, gifts were exchanged, and another year of splitting the holiday concluded.

A handful of holidays have come and gone since this one, but none of them have stuck with us the way this one has. The first Christmas you spend together as a married couple in your new home is suppose to be memorable—but for happier, or at least more cheerful reasons—not because you find yourselves, both literally and figuratively, knee-deep in a horrible comedy of errors.