Thursday, December 22, 2011
Christmas Memories # 22
Sometimes I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall, spitting in the wind, running as fast as my arthritic knees will allow... without getting anywhere, and perhaps worst of all, about to run out of cliches and analogies. As Christmas nears, it does this to me.
December comes in on a wave of beautiful music, delightful store displays, myriads of lighted trees, and once-in-a-year events to be penciled in on the last page of the calendar. It's going to be the best Christmas ever! A promise I always make to myself . But more events show up, demanding to be penciled in; the to-do list keeps getting longer; the traffic keeps getting more congested and then,when the big day is almost here, I wind up cooking. Not much but quantity doesn't really matter because I basically hate cooking.
And dishes - dirty dishes pile up and around here, there is no automatic dish washer. We're it. Which means much of the time, I'm it. And so, even with the Christmas tree lights shining, presents under the tree, and Andy Williams singing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", I still have been known to throw a fit or two over a sink full of dirty dishes, making dark sotto voice comments about how I'm sure I just washed all the dishes not thirty minutes earlier and wondering how it is that I'm the only one who knows how to stack said dishes on the counter top in this family instead of dumping them all in the sink??
I don't know how my grandmother and my great aunt did it. When I was a child, these women clumped across wooden floors (covered at regular intervals by rugs) in these heavy black shoes with thick hose; starched (i.e., uncomfortable) dresses; fussy, over-sized aprons; and managed to produce a feast. Pots, pans and bowls everywhere. Mashed potatoes, turkey and dressing, ham, green beans (canned variety - not store bought), corn, cakes and pies galore. Their tables were always heavily laden at Christmas time (and at other times as well), dishes were always cleaned quickly and set to dry on a "draining board", and I don't remember hearing any complaints or heavy sighs over these chores. (I do remember that my Great Aunt Jewel had a China "plate" hanging on the wall - a decoration that had the words to a kitchen prayer imprinted on the white background in black letters. Lord of pots and pans and things... And she seemed to embody the words of that prayer).
At this point, I'd like to transition a bit, if I can.
About 10 years ago, we were at a Christmas Eve service at our church and as part of the program, the pastor asked for volunteers to share about their favorite Christmas. Quite a few people did and it was interesting to hear what made Christmas special for them. As we were driving home, an international who was with us said that she would have liked to have shared about her favorite Christmas. Only she was afraid that people wouldn't understand her English.
I asked her what her favorite Christmas memory was and she told me. One December her family was really broke. In her country, Christmas meant a church service on Christmas Eve plus a huge meal on Christmas day. But at that time, her family was down to the simplest of fare. Tea but no sugar. Bread but no butter, etc. So on Christmas day, she didn't even want to get out of bed because she knew there would be no feast of any kind. In fact, she said that for days she had been dreading the rather bleak Christmas meal that lay ahead.
However, when she opened her eyes in their one-room apartment on Christmas morning, to her amazement she saw a table covered with food. Not only the staples of a Christmas meal but even delicacies that she couldn't imagine ever seeing. She was stunned and that wonderful bounty, that un-looked for smogasboard of plenty, made that Christmas the best that she could remember.
As I think about my grandmother and great aunt who turned out tons of food routinely without microwaves, crock pots, Sarah Lee frozen pies, and other labor-saving devices, I'm pretty sure I can cook the few dishes I have to make as part of my contribution to family get-togethers. (As I've indicated, I don't provide the meal - I just show up with a covered dish or two. And that, frankly, is a great blessing! I still remember the days when people gathered here and I infinitely prefer not cooking the whole meal!) At any rate, I think I can handle a salad, some deviled eggs and a dessert or two without losing my sang froid.
And when I think of how others celebrate Christmas, sometimes saving forever and doing without in order to have a special meal on Christmas day (no presents -just food!), I think I can go further than just cooking and cleaning with a bit of grace. I think I can actually get on my knees (arthritic though they may be) and give thanks for what I have...