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“Home for the Holidays” by Robert Benchley (1922)
Report to Moderator Old 05-14-2012 11:45 AM
Views: 40,713
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If you think that dysfunctional family holiday gatherings are a modern development—read American humorist Robert Benchey’s account of a college student’s experience when he comes home for the holidays (circa 1922).

Click here for a printable version.

If you enjoy this Christmas piece by Robert Benchley, you may also enjoy:
"Christmas Afternoon"
"A Christmas Spectacle"

* * * * * * * *

“Home for the Holidays”
From Love Conquers All by Robert Benchley (1922)

As a pretty tribute to that element of our population which is under twenty-two years of age, these are called “the Holidays.”

This is the only chance that the janitors of the schools and colleges have to soak the floors of the recitation halls with oil to catch the dust of the next semester, and while this is being done there is nothing to do with the students but to send them home for a week or two. Thus it happened that the term “holidays” is applied to that period of the year when everybody else is working just twice as hard and twice as long during the week to make up for that precious day which must be lost to the Sales Campaign or the Record Output on Christmas Day.

For those who are home from school and college it is called, in the catalogues of their institutions, a “recess” or “vacation,” and the general impression is allowed to get abroad among the parents that it is to be a period of rest and recuperation. Arthur and Alice have been working so hard at school or college that two weeks of good quiet home-life and home cooking will put them right on their feet again, ready to pitch into that chemistry course in which, owing to an incompetent instructor, they did not do very well last term.

That the theory of rest during vacation is fallacious can be proved by hiding in the coat closet of the home of any college or school youth home for Christmas recess. Admission to the coat closet may be forced by making yourself out to be a government official or an inspector of gas meters. Once hidden among the overshoes, you will overhear the following little earnest drama, entitled “Home for the Holidays.”

There was a banging of the front door, and Edgar has arrived. A round of kisses, an exchange of health reports, and Edgar is bounding upstairs.

“Dinner in half an hour,” says Mother.

“Sorry,” shouts Edgar from the bath-tub, “but I’ve got to go out to the Whortleberry’s to a dinner dance. Got the bid last week. Say, have I got any dress-studs at home here? Mine are in my trunk.”

Father’s studs are requisitioned and the family cluster at Edgar’s door to slid in a few conversational phrases while he is getting the best of his dress shirt.

“How have you been?” (Three guesses as to who it is that asks this.)

“Oh, all right. Say, have I got any pumps at home? Mine are in the trunk. Where are those old ones I had last summer?”

“Don’t you want me to tie your tie for you?” (Two guesses as to who it is that asks this.)

“No, thanks. Can I get my laundry done by tomorrow night? I’ve got to go out to the Clamps’ at Short Neck for over the week-end to a bobsledding party, and when I get back from there Mrs. Dibble is giving a dinner and theatre party.”

“Don’t you want to eat a little dinner here before you go to the Whortleberry’s?” (One guess as to who it is that asks this.)

But Edgar has bounded down the stairs and left the Family to comfort each other with such observations as “He looks tired,” “I think that he has filled out a little,” or “I wonder if he’s studying too hard.”

You might stay in the coat-closet for the entire two weeks and not hear much more of Edgar than this. His parents don’t. They catch him as he is going up and down stairs and while he is putting the studs into his shirt, and are thankful for that. They really get into closer touch with him while he is at college, for he writes them a weekly letter then.

Nerve-racking as this sort of life is to the youth who is supposed to be resting during his vacation, it might be even more wearing if he were to stay within the Family precincts. Once in a while one of the parties for which he has been signed up falls through, and he is forced to spend the evening at home. At first it is somewhat embarrassing to be thrown in with strangers for a meal like that, but, as the evening wears on, the ice is broken and things assume a more easy swing. The Family begins to make remarks.

“You must stand up straighter, my boy,” says Father, placing his hand between Edgar’s shoulder-blades. “You are slouching badly. I noticed it as you walked down the street this morning.”

“Do all the boys wear soft-collared shirts like that?” asks Mother. “Personally, I think that they look very untidy. They are all right for tennis and things like that, but I wish you’d put on a starched collar when you are in the house. You never see Elmer Quiggly wearing a collar like that. He always looks neat.”

“For heaven’s sake, Eddie,” says Sister, “take off that tie. You certainly do get the most terrific-looking things to put around your neck. It looks like a Masonic apron. Let me go with you when you buy your next batch.”

By this time Edgar has his back against the wall and is breathing hard. What do these folks know of what is being done?

If it is not family heckling it may be that even more insidious trial, the third degree. This is usually inflicted by semi-relatives and neighbors. The formulae are something like this:

“Well, how do you like your school?”

“I suppose you have plenty of time for pranks, eh?”

“What a good time you boys must have! It isn’t so much what you get out of books that will help you in after life, I have found, but the friendships made in college. Meeting so many boys from all parts of the country—why, it’s a liberal education in itself.”

“What was the matter with the football team this season?”

“Let’s see, how many more years have you? What, only one more! Well, well, and I can remember you when you were that high, and used to come over to my house wearing a little green dress, with big mother-of-pearl buttons. You certainly were a cute little boy, and used to call our cook ‘Sna-sna.’ And here you are, almost a senior.”

“Oh, are you 1924? I wonder if you know a fellow named—er—Mellish—Spencer Mellish? I met him at the beach last summer. I am pretty sure that he is in your class—well, no, maybe it was 1918.”

After an hour or two of this Edgar is willing to go back to college and take an extra course in Blacksmithing, Chipping and Filing, given during the Christmas vacation, rather than run the risk of getting caught again. And, whichever way you look at it, whether he spends his time getting into and out of his evening clothes, or goes crazy answering questions and defending his mode of dress, it all adds up to the same in the end—fatigue and depletion and what the doctor would call “a general run-down nervous condition.”

* * * * * * * *

The younger you are the more frayed you get. Little Wilbur comes home from school, where he has been put to bed at 8:30 every night with the rest of the fifth form boys, and has had to brush his hair in the presence of the head-master’s wife, and dives into what might be called a veritable maelstrom of activity. From a diet of cereal and fruit-whips, he is turned loose in the butler’s pantry among the maraschino cherries and given a free rein at the various children’s parties, where individual pound-cake Santas and brandied walnuts are following by an afternoon at “Treasure Island,” with the result that he comes home and insists on tipping every one in the family the black spot and breaks the cheval glass when he is denied going to the six-day bicycle race at two in the morning.

* * * * * * * *

Little girls do practically the same, and, if they are over fourteen, go back to school with the added burden of an affaire de coeur contracted during the recess. In general, it takes about a month or two of good, hard schooling and overstudy to put the child back on its feet after the Christmas rest at home.

* * * * * * * *

Which leads us to the conclusion that our educational system is all wrong. It is obvious that the child should be kept at home for eight months out of the year and sent to school for the vacations.

* * * * * * * *

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