Saturday, December 26, 2009

And so this is Christmas, as the song says. I am pleased to still be upright and in it.


It’s Christmas day in Las Vegas, Nevada, and although it’s been pretty cold for us (32 degrees last night), there is no snow. There hardly ever is.

My turkey is in the oven and I have opened my presents. There are no cars in my driveway, nor will there be. I’m doing Christmas this year for me.

For the first time in my life, I threw away the giblets and the neck. I’ve never liked them – and the only person, who did (my dad), is long gone: dead now these six years. Old habits die hard.

I’m cooking my turkey in a stove I’m not accustomed to and my mother (who’s been gone two years) isn’t around for me to ask about its idiosyncrasies. It’s taken me four years to get used to living in my parents old house, although I now own it. It’s taken me much longer to let go of my disappointment every year that Christmas isn’t what it used to be.

But I’m in my sixties now and maybe it’s time to figure out why I’m disappointed every year. The Christmases I long for are from long, long ago; fifty years or so. I was much shorter then and less observant of emotional undercurrents in those days.

Threading my way through the forest of legs that were my aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, I was easily distracted by the noises and smells of the family holiday. All the adult’s conversations pulsed far above my ears, a tide of words flowing around up there from one to another. There were Christmas carols on the radio in the living room, and a baseball game on in the den.

Outside was the cacophony of the cousin’s continuous pecking order argument, centered on the inherent prerogatives of age. Being one of the youngest, I knew that no matter what game was in progress, I would never get to be the rule maker or the star; be it teacher, superhero, or queen. And since I was continuously informed that I was lucky to be allowed to play at all, I settled for one of the lesser parts. But I fought against being the bad guy; that was the worst role and always got foisted on the youngest. I knew my rights; there were three younger than me.

Back inside the house there were no uncomfortable politics at my height, though there were still rules of conduct. I was allowed in the male dominated den if I kept still and quiet, an unimaginable demand on my natural tendencies. There was something in that room that drew me and it wasn’t the ball game or the chess matches. I kept drifting in and getting thrown out all day, trying to figure it out. My grandfather smoked cigars and pipes, was it that smell?

Food etiquette was easier to swallow; if a platter of food was on a table and the saran wrap had been peeled off, it was fair game: no limits and no time frame. There was never just one platter of food or one table. But each table held its array of specialties. Care for a pickle? I grazed through the gherkins with delight: from tiny to gargantuan. Sweet or dill, homemade or store bought. I decorated my fingertips with black olives, and sucked the pimento out of the big green Spanish queens.

The meat table was loaded early in the afternoon, ham and turkey, garlic stuffed pork roast all carved in the kitchen by one of the men. I never understood why a husband or uncle had to be drafted for the duty. If the women were capable of producing the bounty with all its mysterious rituals (and they were) why couldn’t they do something as simple as cut it into slices? But since I was too young for cooking duty, I never asked. Besides the kitchen held no allure for me, it was simply where the food came from.

The desert table was my favorite of course. Though every woman made something, a pie or a cake; my Great aunt Francis was the queen of deserts. Her cookies and candies were works of art. I remember White Divinity packed with nuts, exotic cookies elegantly decorated, Gingerbread men with perfect white frosting buttons marching from throat to belly. My mother seldom even made oatmeal cookies. No contest.

Three paragraphs of food here I see, and though I remember it well, that isn’t what I long for. It was something less tangible than edibles. A certain aura of belonging, and also possibly the carefree habitation of my youthful age are closer to the mark. And the sheer numbers of the tribe made it easy to blend in or test the boundaries of. There was a swirling bustling flow of family through those rooms: cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents who loved me as one of their own and bestowed their pats and words and hugs without restraint.

I’m thinking it also had to do with the ratio of adults to children. Not being limited to merely two, as I was at home, I had the luxury of other adult attention and input. Not what I’d imagined was the crux when I started writing this, but I’ve learned to trust the words that spill out of the ends of my fingers when my brain is not watching.

So what do I yearn for: my carefree, irresponsible youth, or the extended family that is long dispersed? I carve my little turkey (it’s not that difficult), stir my gravy, and set out my plate. I dish up the bounty and dig in. It’s delicious.

I pat my little belly and say my blessings now. And I find that I am thankful for the lovely memories and still able to be happy for my bountiful table of today; set for one.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very kewl and introspective piece - love it...