An Antigen Test Family Christmas

Twas the early afternoon before the night before the day or two before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for five frantic Galeones who’d just found out there had been positive COVID exposure.

It seems that the youngest Galeone, a one and a half year old who has a predilection for launching food items across any room she inhabits, had been in contact with another such aged chap who had the plague. Fortunately, that boy was neither bothered by nor understood that he was carrying the plague, but nonetheless, all adults were stressed. It seemed, sadly, that Christmas might actually be ruined.

I don’t have to tell you about traveling in the time of COVID. Even with vaccines and masks and tests, the best laid plans can be thwarted by the terms “exposure” or “positive” or “omicrom,” “delta” or just plain ole “COVID.” My trip to the U.S. involved 20 hours of sweating in an itchy mask and popping out to eat food and guzzle wine like I’d imagine a trapdoor spider would if he visited relatives in Philadelphia and enjoyed a merlot with his airline chicken pot pie. But it was all worth it.

Like many, COVID has thrown off my life in a variety of ways. They’re probably the same for you: less travel, more worry, far less doorknob licking than I am used to enjoying. For many, myself included, there has been a huge slash in face-to-face time with friends and family. For me, this is difficult. I live far from my family, but we have two prescribed visits each year – at Christmas and in July – that refill my familial saddlebags.

In those times I am reminded of why I love those people more than any other people on earth and am equally amazed at how after spending a half hour with them that I am somehow not in jail for third degree murder. This is the duality known as “the family paradox.”

When I stepped into the arrival hall at Philadelphia International Airport on the Friday night a week before Christmas, I could not have been happier. My brother was in the hall, my travel was almost done, my mask was peeled away from my beard the second I stepped out of the airport. We zoomed towards home with the knowledge that cheesesteaks were awaiting us. There was talk of Christmas Eve fare – the ever present meatballs, ziti, sausage, eggplant parmesan, and dueling lasagnas (the result of a bet between my brother and our Uncle Dan). Joy was afoot.

For most of the week I lived in utter joy. I was home for the holidays. I visited the mall Barnes and Noble, where I got a coffee and browsed books. I mourned the ghost town look of the mall in which I had gotten little tastes of freedom throughout my young life. Across from the food court, next to the Bath and Body Works and nearby a calendar shop I got my booster shot with my sister. We ate, we chatted, I watched football with my dad and cooked with my mom.

But then on the 22nd the text came from my sister’s quarters in the attic: bad news, baby has been exposed. Mayhem. We drew a cross in lamb’s blood (OK, red crayon, but the symbolism was heavy man) on the attic door (where, by the way, she lives willingly watching Blacklist and Cocomelon). Could Christmas be ruined? No. There were meatballs at stake. Something must be done.

We were on the hunt for tests. My mother got hers at her doctor’s, my brother got his at work. The baby got hers from a doctor who ducked a launched sippy cup. My dad and I called places, but to no avail. We visited Urgent Care, whose waiting room looked like a familiar Christmas Carol: 12 lumps a leering, 11 ladies swelling, 10 coughers coughing…five golden ringworms.

We left Urgent Care. Fast. We had no tests and we were suddenly feeling sicker than when we had come. On the way to the CVS, we began finding symptoms. A dry cough garnered an uneasy glance. A sneeze elicited a wail of despair.

In the end we were convinced by my aunt the nurse that at home tests were our best bet. She had twelve and we could take six. My dad went to get them. And so my mom, dad, and I stood around the living room table the day before the day before Christmas and jabbed our noses with swabs and then mixed solutions like mad scientists with tears in our irritated eyes. We waited the ten minutes. All negative. It was a Christmas miracle!

I don’t need to tell you the jubilation felt. We had Christmas Eve and drank and ate. We mingled and told the story about our frantic search for tests and scooped meatballs into our gullets. We visited family friends and told the same story there. I drank a gin and tonic. I was warmed. After last year of no family at Christmas and a halt on tradition, this was wonderful. It wasn’t 100% as it used to be, but it was a few big rungs up the ladder from last year. We went home and prepared for a pleasant Christmas morning.

We had it. The baby turned out negative. We removed the blood cross from my sister’s door. There were gifts and good moods and coffee and cake. All was well. We went to another party on Christmas Day and came home to watch football in our sweatpants, which is what Christmas is all about. All was well. More than that, there was hope – all would be well. The day after Christmas, the Eagles won decisively over the hated Giants. I had chicken wings. Nothing could shake the optimism.


Twas the night before the night before the day before my flight, not a creature was stirring, except for a tired Galeone whose mother had just received a text: a family friend had been exposed. She turned the corner and went back to bed, but I heard her mutter as she turned out the light: “negative antigen test to you and you will get on that flight.”  

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