Except for sawing our tree down, my advent calendar and putting up the lights on the house I’ve practically ignored the holidays. No reason except for our unrelenting schedule and the little matter of an empty pocket book. I have squirreled a way a few things for Quinn and Phoebe but other than that it’s pretty spare.
Oh, we’re eeeking by but the gifts this year like the last couple of years, are mostly homemade. Henry unfortunately, dropped last year’s big gift, his orange ipod nano, in the mud when he was opening up the gate one morning and so as he put it “Merry Christmas – Again”. He’s getting the same thing. Not exciting, but we couldn’t afford to just buy things double.
I was discussing this with the sanitation lady while explaining to her my payment would be a little late this month, “these days it really has to be the thought that counts.”
“You’re not kidding,” she wholeheartedly agreed as she marked my account intends to pay, giving me extra time, “and isn’t that a good lesson for all of us.” As I hung-up I considered us – U.S. and realized that people talk more. Strangers chatting about the economy, their own troubles and people are not judgmental as they might have been in the haughty eighties. The haves looking down their noses at the have-nots, but rather people are empathetic willing to let you pay late or confide they have sent out “75 resumes and not even had the courtesy of a response”. Those with jobs feel blessed and those without would humble themselves to do things like cut cheese, mop floors and make sandwiches despite their previous six figure incomes. “And Denise, don’t feel badly, next year is going to be better for all of us,” said the nice nameless lady from the trash company.
Of course, the spirit of season remains. Henry, Nick and I surprisingly were invited to three holiday parties in the space of eighteen hours. I didn’t really expect the boys would have a good time. They didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t sure there would be anyone their age to talk to, but I made them go with me anyway, after all this is not a democracy, but a benevolent dictatorship. “And no Christmas attire, please,” was my fashion edict.
Our first stop on the party circuit was Marla Braunstein’s Chanukah party. We drove up and searched for blocks to find a parking space. We all walked tentatively to the front door. We knew no one.
“Um Mom? This is a Chanukah party right? Menorahs, candles?” Henry asked already knowing the answer.
“Yes. You know it is. Why?” I asked walking down the street.
“There’s a big guy over there with a giant Santa hat on,” Henry said pointing to the backyard.
“And don’t even tell people I’m Jewish,” Nick said guardedly.
"Uh, Nick, you're not going to be the only one who is Jewish." Henry said.
“I won’t. I’m not going to put you on the spot,” I reassured my self-conscious teen.
"Jesus was Jewish," Henry continued.
"Can we leave Jesus out of this tonight?" I pleaded. "There is plenty of time for Christmas, this is Chaunukah".
The sign on the door said to come in and so we did. I hadn’t been to a party so crowded since the Sigma Chi house during rush week. “Boys we don’t have to stay long, thanks for coming with me.” We made our way through the crowd and jockeyed for a position on the food table. I was determined to get a good spot for my whiskey mocha bread.
“Party rule number 1. Don’t ever drink from a cup you didn’t see poured, your mother was given Everclear in her beer. That one you’ve heard, but the lesser known party rule is take some sort of drink so you have something to hold.
“I’m not thirsty,” Henry argued.
“I don’t care. Take a drink.”
“Dude, just take a drink,” Nick encouraged and of course Henry complied.
We made our way past the latke production toward the tents in the backyard where we ran into my dad’s music friend, Chad wearing the big giant Santa hat. I felt so local bumping into someone I already knew. Marla Braunstein as it happens is the sister of a sorority sister of mine. Marla, by coincidence, lives in Bellingham, but we’d never actually met in person.
Marla was charming and gracious, Chad was funny and accommodating introducing me to various women who stopped by to say hello to Santa.
Nick and I got the very last latke. We shared it in the crisp air near a very toasty heater. Marla had a candle lighting ceremony. True to my word, I offered to leave after about twenty minutes or so, but every time I checked with Henry and Nick they wanted to stay a bit longer. Henry sat across the yard from me eavesdropping on some teenage boys and after awhile insinuated himself into the group. Nick loitered nearby assessing Henry’s efforts. We stayed for hours and had a really good time.
The next morning we wore our Christmas gear. I assembled my tasty Weight Watcher™ type treat– pineapple cut into sections with huge globe grapes affixed with toothpicks. It looked as if Samantha Stevens might have served it to Darren, a little sixties, but it tasted delicious. Nick couldn’t help but snatch a few as we headed to my sister’s annual Cookie Decorating Party. I glanced over at Henry who was pasting pretzels on a house cutout forming a log cabin and when I looked over at Nick he was drizzling pink frosting on a cookie with unadulterated glee. Go figure. I thought I was going to get the complete teenage angst over spending time decorating cookies. Never underestimate the power of girls.
An opportunist, I decorated a plate of cookies to bring to the final leg of our journey – The Everybody’s Store staff party where we were going to meet up with Sherry, Alexis, Fred, Chayse and the whole Everybody’s Store gang for dinner before we went home.
All and all, we were flung pell-mell into the holiday mood. Tom and I had decided not to get each other gifts so I didn’t really have to worry about that one. We each chose people in the family to make presents for. I was to do Lisa & Chris while he took Annie (Nana). Lucky Annie.
Christmas Eve after Mass, while we sipped Wassail and savored a delightful cheese, “Windsor Delice” made with a sweet wine and served with delicate rosemary crackers. I had actually wanted to bring a Bavarian Blue – an unusual triple cream brie with streaks of blue cheese running throughout, truly heavenly, but unfortunately some undeserving couple came in the store and bought a chunk. I wouldn’t be so bitter and say they were enjoying it, but actually, they didn’t seem to like it at all. In fact, they split a slice in half seemingly purchasing it only begrudgingly.
Annie opened her present, there were “ooos and ahhhs” as Mike, Phoebe, Quinn and everyone gathered around the hummingbird watercolor. I saw the look on my sister’s face as she assessed the painting. She noted the TR signature. “Annie, I’m not sure you noticed, Tom painted it.” Lisa pointed to his signature.
“Oh my GOSH, you did!” Annie exclaimed appreciatively.
Not wanting my sister to get her hopes up I had to apologize. “Lis – I just want you to know, I made your present.”
“Uhhhh, did you paint me a painting?” She laughed nervously. “Maybe you baked me something delicious,” she said more hopefully.
They served a lovely tri-tip for dinner Annie and Chris cooked for dinner, they served interesting wines and Lisa whipped up a chocolate mousse she served in crystal glasses for dessert. Henry loves Lisa for her chocolate.
As the evening wound down, I sat by my sister looking at their tree. “Despite what you, Mom and Aunt Lana believed. A Christmas tree can have too many lights. I over did it this year. I wanted a nice glow, not Dodger Stadium,” she said critically.
“Oh I don’t know. I think your tree looks like it could be in a window at Macy’s,” I said.
“That’s a slam. I know you and that is a slam. Don’t try to tell me anything differently.” I smiled discreetly into my glass of wine. It was a slam. It looked too something, too ribbon art directed perfectly around and around.
“I have no room to talk I couldn’t even find my ornaments in the shop and I just gave up. So we have six, count them six ornaments on the largest Charlie Brown Christmas tree that ever was.”
“You know the first year you cut down your tree I felt badly because you did it for lack of money, but now I think it’s great. Such an event, we’d like to come out and cut ours down out there next year. Maybe we can plant some Nobles for you too. For future Christmases.”
Christmas was panettone homespun chai french toast, endless bacon strips, bottomless coffee and lots of chatter. What presents we had we opened in the kitchen while we cooked and chatted. Then when the last goose egg was eaten, Mike who’d come up from Tacoma for the vacation, Tom, Henry and I tidied up the house for the Donaldson’s arrival and overnight stay. Henry blew up the air mattresses June had given us this summer. Mike swept, Tom cooked and I bat clean-up. As I mopped the floor in the game room I looked at my screwball tree and I liked him. He had personality.
We ate. We talked and we drank like people who knew no one was going to have to drive or get up in the morning. Then we played game after game after game of Apples to Apples™ and we laughed until we fell asleep. Another family Christmas.