28 December, 2009

in the wake of Christmas

Oh, a quiet day today, making turkey soup, taking a walk with Anne and little Kate across the road, watching Kate choose every dirty snowy puddle she could find. "I can't believe it was snowy here yesterday, and today, green everywhere," Anne marvelled. We could hear the rain thundering down all night.

The stormy night suited my mood of reluctant goodbyes to my family: my mother, father and brother: after two days of reminiscing, giggling over silly shared jokes, family-familiar quotations from movies, "But, Harlot, Scunny!" "I saw it in the window and couldn't resist it," discussions of old high school friends ("I swear he had a crush on you but your nose was always in a book!"), analysis of the plots (truly) of "Days of Our Lives," watching the little girls and Avery share jokes with my mother, my brother playing a toy guitar for them all, my dad watching over all. He was a tremendous help in the kitchen on Christmas Day, quietly washing dishes, supervising Jane's help with my cheesy spinach, listening to all the gossip.

I find if very sad that family, and family time in our lives, is such a rarity. I spent the first 18 years of my life simply cocooned with my family, close and extended, and that life provided a sense of warmth and acceptance that I feel again whenever I am with my mother and father. Why must it be for two days at a time twice a year? It is not enough time, ridiculously not enough, to make them realize what they mean to me. But it's what we have. Perhaps this year they can make it to London, and we can have the fun of showing them our house, Avery's school, our little world. Until then, we've had our Christmas.

And it was controlled INSANITY! Simply loads of packages for everyone to open, especially as I feel compelled to wrap books separately, to be appreciated on their own, each one, and of course I give mostly books! A pull-tab "Miffy" for baby Molly, which was grabbed by five-year-old Jane immediately. My sister broke in.

"No, no, Jane, don't break that. Let Molly break it for herself."

There were the remote-controlled helicopter races between John and Joel - John's gift of the year to everyone he loves, and no matter my skepticism, everyone in fact loved it! Hovering near our heads, threatening to go into the dishwasher, to cut off my knees, to ascend into the double-height kitchen ceiling where no one could reach it! Engine-obsessed Jane was in heaven.

Avery retreated now and then with a favorite Sherlock Holmes book and a throw, to a remote corner, but was soon followed by Jane, and then by everyone else who wanted to be with Avery and Jane! Perhaps the most peaceful moment of the entire day: with Joel in the barn, looking up at the repair braces we've been paying for and receiving email photographs of all autumn. The whole project looks massively official and supportive and quite as if the Big Red Barn might well stand up for another 200 years. Joel and I took several deep breaths in the darkness of the barn and then plunged again into Kitchen Christmas Central, to manage the chaos.

Chief among whose elements was... the Raw Turkey! Slow-cooked was the goal. How long it would have had to cook, at 250 degrees F, I do not know, in order to be ready for dinner, but considerably, painfully longer than the 5 hours allotted to it. Joel, who is my ace carver, approached with carving knife. "Kristen, look at these juices..." Running red and pink. Awful. Panic. "Can we all, including the mashed potatoes and spinach, wait for another hour?" "We'll have to!" So Joel dismembered Mr. Turkey and separated the breasts from the sternum and I turned up the heat (all I was capable of) and we simply waited.

Finally the turkey was deemed edible, the mashed potatoes had survived, the very rosemary-y gravy whisked up with cream, the stuffing out of the oven and the apple gone in. We gathered around the table. Feasting ensued, and by the time we got to the pies with whipped cream, everyone was feeling slightly mad with overeating and festivity. "Don't lick the reindeer!" I had to warn dear Jane, who saw the ceramic centerpiece covered with stray whipped cream. At this, my mother choked into her pecan pie, she who taught us all to love phrases that we feel certain have never been uttered before. "Don't lick the reindeer!" Classic.

So the holiday has come and gone again. Today we were tired. We took a walk up the meadow to John's Dad's Bench, sat to recover our breath, to remember our time with him two years ago, to be grateful, regretful, all at the same time.

And tomorrow: into New York for shopping and the Nutcracker! That's life for you, isn't it? Just when I think I will take a moment to wallow in nostalgia for my childhood, in my love for my too-far-away family, tomorrow appears with its own delights. A lesson, I'm sure, to be learned in the New Year...


Bee said...

Oh dear, the raw turkey. (Were you subscribing to Laurie Colwin's method of slow cooking poultry at a low heat?) My turkey was okay (although it had to sit on the bottom of the oven as it wouldn't fit in with even the lowest rack), but my side dishes (roast potatoes, stuffing, parsnips, chipolatas) didn't want to cook with everything all crammed together. After establishing a perfect schedule, it seemed to all fall apart . . . with a good half hour delay and furious reheating at the home stretch. Ah, well. Cooking Xmas dinner for a large crowd is stressful!

I have been reading through the last week of your life (illnesses included; goodness, doesn't it seem like everyone in the UK is sick?) and it sounded absolutely exhausting! BUT WHY do you only see your parents for two days at a time? It is strange to get a peek into this personal diary of your life -- without knowing so much of the information that would fill in the gaps. I tend to see my parents only twice a year as well, but always for two weeks at a time . . . which is TOO much, and always helps ease the parting.

Kristen In London said...

Ugh, Bee, the turkey! My side dishes were on the stovetop: mashed potatoes, cheesy spinach, caramelized carrots with brown sugar. Why do we even COOK turkey!

My parents, my parents. They drive in from Indiana in summer and at Christmas, and their theory is that houseguests, like fish, start to stink after three days. They stay with my sister because my mother in law stays with us, so my sister gets them for their arrival day and we get to share them the next two days. What I need is time to go to THEM, but in our current bicoastal life, it's just not practical. So difficult.