by Frances Edstrom
Well, it’s over. All that shopping frenzy, the last minute panic attacks, the wringing of hands on Christmas Eve, the whooping it up Christmas morning. Done for another year.
Our most beautiful Christmas tree ever fell over, with all the ornaments on it. Twice. And we don’t even have a cat anymore. When La Belle was alive, the fishing line automatically came out with the Christmas tree stand, and we tied the tree to the window latches. This tree fell over on its own. We had to recruit a friend, Tom, to come over to help John put it back up. We wanted to have an intact family on Christmas, or at least one in which the members were talking to each other.
Thankfully, I hadn’t adorned it with homemade decorated gingerbread men (would they be persons now?) like I used to when the kids were small. One year, I went in to water the tree, and noticed that all that was left of the gingerbread men on the bottom branches were the little red ribbons I had used to tie them on. And worse than that, the poor guys on the middle branches looked like double amputees. What was going on? I figured it out when I saw the dog slinking into the room, eyeing the rest of the cookies, but unable to get to them without knocking the tree over and calling down the wrath of Fran upon herself (she was a smart, if rash, dog). She was then banished from the living room. The cat looked on, licking her paws and grinning.
I have so many memories of Christmas disasters (too strong a word, I know). There was the year that someone, meaning to turn off the timer on the stove, turned off the oven instead, leaving us with a standing rib roast that could not even be passed off as rare. John came up with the idea of cutting it up and broiling the meat as though it were steaks. It worked fine, because no one but us knew what the meal was supposed to be.
Then there was the year that we were supposed to have two vegetarians at the meal, and I cooked up a garden full of vegetable dishes. But they didn’t show up. They thought “there wouldn’t be anything we could eat.” The meatatarians (our son Jake’s word for it) were puzzled by the presence of vegetable dishes other than the command performance of Green Bean Casserole. Maybe I made a stew from the leftovers, I don’t remember.
My worst Christmas ever, and I think John would concur, was when he was in grad school in Seattle. It rained on Christmas (it rained every day). It was cold and damp. We were invited to our friends Holly and Marty’s house for Christmas Eve. Holly, who worked as a server (back then she was a waitress) in an Indian restaurant (and was a vegetarian), made an Indian vegetable feast. John was about crazy about how awful it was and vowed never to eat Indian food again.
At that time in my life, I hadn’t discovered Indian cuisine. John and I lived mostly on mashed potatoes and pork steak (19 a lb.) and the occasional crab or salmon caught by our commercial fisherman friend Dexter. Later, when I did have a good Indian meal, I was amazed by how little Holly’s feast resembled good food of any cuisine.
But it did put a little damper on the holiday for us. The next day, we exchanged gifts. I had saved and saved to buy him a pair of gloves (he had none), but unwisely wanted him to wait to last to open my gift. So he opened his gift from his mother first. Gloves. Bummer. Big bummer.
Then we took the six-pack of beer out of the washing machine to cool it down in the refrigerator. It was kept in the washer to protect it from our neighbor, Tom, who thought nothing of not only walking into our house after a cursory knock, but helping himself to whatever of an alcoholic nature was in the fridge. And he had prodigious appetites. But we’d just seen a little car pull up to his house and a woman and a couple of babies get out, and figured he’d be too busy to come bothering us. He had two or three ex-wives who just couldn’t get enough of him, and would show up on a regular basis to become impregnated. Merry Christmas, Daddy!
We called our families that night, trying not to sob and beg them to send us airfare to get out of the Pacific Northwest the very next morning. Bad Christmas. Even the dog was morose.
The wonderful Christmases don’t stand out as much, do they? In fact, in our forty years of marriage, most of the Christmases have melded seamlessly into one. We remember Christmases when our loved ones were still with us — but love expands and morphs to accommodate our losses and gains. Who can compare the love of a parent or grandparent with the love of a child, or grandchild. Love is love.
And what I should be weaving into the fabric of my present and future is not that Christmas has passed us once again, but the reminder of what exactly Christmas is about, shouldn’t I? I’ll try to remember.