I hosted the Family Christmas Dinner this year.
Conversation with my brother, who lives in town, three weeks ago, in which I volunteer to host Christmas this year because his wife, the previous host, has pneumonia. I called to speak to the wife, of course, but she was sleeping, because, hey, she has pneumonia. "That would be wonderful
!" he declares. "She's been wondering for weeks how on earth she'd cope this year, she feels so weak."
Chat with my sister two weeks before Christmas, asking what she might bring. Since they face a six-hour drive, I pick something simple. Christmas crackers
. Simple and dispensable. "Great! We can do that! No problem!"
Two days later, a call from my brother, feeling patriarchal. His wife is upset. "This is her contribution to the family, and she feels like it was taken from her."
"You do know," I observe to my baby brother, "that your wife enjoys
being the martyr, don't you?"
"Now, now, now." He'll get burn marks on his butt, he's backpedalling so hard. "I'll just leave it between you girls. Just don't tell her I called you! She'll be mad at me for interfering." No trouble. If she doesn't call me and you haven't called me, I don't know there's a problem, do I?
She didn't call. No problem.
Call from my sister, on the 29th, two days before the event. "I won't be bringing the crackers. I went shopping for them yesterday, and you can't find them anywhere."
The preparations for The Meal started early in the week, each day with its household chores and dishes to prepare, leaving only mashed potatoes and turkey to prepare on The Day. Nonetheless, every minute, from 7 a.m., when I popped the turkey into the oven, till 1:00, when dinner was to be served, was carefully mapped out. The family was to arrive no sooner than 12:30.
11:30, I get a call from my sister and her contingent. They are en route, about 45 minutes out. Perfect, say I! You'll be here right on time!
"Yeah, but we were only an hour out of town at 9:00. We were going to surprise you by dropping in early!!"
Because that's how my family thinks. Or doesn't think. And don't YOU be thinking an early arrival means that they'd pull up their sleeves and plunge right into the preparations, either. Oh, no. Arriving early is so that they can visit
. "Visit" means "sit on our asses and talk your ear off while you bustle around us". (But if you "ignore" them in your bustling, they, particularly your mother, will be offended.) Indeedy.
"We thought we'd be there by ten, but there were a couple of accidents on the 416, and traffic was crawling
. Thirty km/hour, if we were lucky."
Thank heavens for small mercies, say I.
All guests have assembled by 1:00. My sister's small grandson (he's three) opts not to eat, seeing terrorizing my poor old 15-year-old cat as a preferable activity.
"Isn't he so cute, the way he loves animals?" my sister gushes, as wee Brennan grabs fistfuls of the cat's fur and hauls skyward.
"Isn't he so observant, the way he catches sight of small details?" she coos as the little man hauls ornaments from the tree.
"Isn't he so clever, the way he figures out mechanical things?" she bubbles, as Bendy-brendy bypasses the latch on the piano so as to pounds on the keys with gravy-spattered fingers.
My mother tries to remonstrate. My niece leaps to baby's defense. My sister leaps to baby's defense. My niece objects to her mother's interference. My mother subsides into silent dudgeon.
I start to slice dessert, provided by SIL - three-layer black forest cake. "I wanted four layers, but your brother
wouldn't let me." She offers him an arch smirk, me a superior "the-things-we-girls-have-to-put-up-with-from-our-men" sneer. "He thinks he knows so much about cooking." More smirking. The top layer of the cake suddenly gives way, and slides in an avalanche of whipping cream to the tablecloth.
Small silence, into which my brother leaps. "I guess you forgot to slice the third layer flat, dear
!" His voice rings triumphant.
My Zoe fills the gap before outright war breaks out. "Isn't this great? It'll be one for the family history! 'The year Aunt J's cake went skiing!'" Nice try, but not good enough. Aunt J. the Martyr joins my mother in silent dudgeon - whereupon mum promptly hops out, proclaiming that "Not to worry! It'll look worse by the time we're all done with it!"
Next Christmas, I'm sure my SIL will reclaim the Family Dinner.
Labels: domestic bliss