Twelve people, three dogs, three cats and a 25 pound turkey taking up the entire oven.
We did Christmas on Boxing Day; as children become adults who pair off, it can sometimes be tough navigating colliding schedules. I’ve always been of the mind that my kids should go where they need to go and stay put. I don’t want them spending hours in the car dashing around eating double dinners to make someone happy who has deemed that it isn’t Christmas unless all are assembled under one roof — theirs. I also think people with little kids shouldn’t have to travel at all, because transporting little ones in the grip of Christmas hysteria is enough to make anyone want to punch Santa in the snout.
When I bought the house from Mom and Dad, I’d had the fireplace in the living room walled over. I know. Stop saying it. But I had little kids and it needed repair, and it was May. Don’t make fireplace decisions in May. A few weeks ago, out came the power tools, down came the drywall, and I went hurtling back in time to my childhood. A mason who promised to have it totally done by Christmas never came back or even answered our calls, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get it cleaned and made safe enough for a fire. The living room wall looks like a giant took a bite out of it, exposed brick and concrete being less than festive in appearance but more than adequate in utility.
Everybody walked into the house, greeted by a roaring fire. We pulled the couch around, moved a table, and hung decorations on Dad’s wine press in the corner.
Ari and his girlfriend Taryn were first over the threshold, their dog Shelby making a beeline for the snow laden backyard that had once been her domain. Ari handed me a giant bottle of wine, frozen near solid.
“Sorry, I left it in the car overnight,” he explained. I put it on the counter, laughing. He trundled off to hook up my computer in a new location, and I was reminded the best gifts are those that save my sanity.
Shelby came in shaking snow, and immediately plopped on the couch. Mark the cat remained in the cat perch, not even blinking. A fire was enough to make these two, usually mortal enemies, declare a truce.
As my niece Kat started lighting candles on the table she’d set for 12, Roz and I debated the annual turkey to wine ratio: how much can we drink while still being on turkey duty? We’d waited for Gilly to arrive because you have to hand off responsibility like a baton in a relay race. The men were just trading beers like hockey cards, stoking the fire, cranking the music and marching around with chairs. By the time Christer and Pammy arrived, three dogs were making sure nothing hit the floor, one cat was hiding in the basement, one was hiding under a bed, and I believe one had called for a cab and left home.
I looked around the table. Twisted paper hats in various states of disrepair perched on the heads of a dozen people knit together by blood, love and tradition. Three vegetarians, one kid with his nose in his phone with a girlfriend who’d had to work, and Gilly’s husband announcing New Year’s bowling plans — a surprise to everyone, especially Gilly. The three dogs were snoozing on the couch in front of the reclaimed fire.
So many of the pieces can change and yet still, the song remains the same.