(This is Part 3 of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas’)
Christmas was no joke to Rida.
What it was, was a hell of a lot of work.
It all began shortly before Thanksgiving and then progressed, as if drawn out on a blueprint.
At least the menu didn’t need planning. The menu for Christmas dinner was set in stone. Rida’s family were accustomed to certain things, and they expected these things to be the same each year.
A few times over the years Rida had tried new recipes, wanting to show a bit of creativity.
As she diced and chopped and stirred she imagined all the faces around the dinner table at Christmas. They would all break into wide smiles of enjoyment and the chatter of discussion would rise merrily about the new dish, as it was passed from hand to hand. The voices were filled with admiration.
When she did try some of these new foods, the grumblings and displeased faces that rose instead of what she had imagined shocked her slightly. But Rida was not by any means a drama queen. She just nodded, with a slightly guilty air. She said “Oh. Okay. I won’t make it again” and the offending New Recipe was moved quietly over to the sideboard, to be discarded at the end of the meal, with a bit of a longing glance from Rida as it went into the kitchen trash bin.
It was Christmas, after all. Her family deserved to be happy.
But still, she thought – there might be something she could make to add to the Christmas dinner table that would spark life into the dinner. It was a good dinner as it was, but always the same.
It never seemed as if everyone were completely comfortable, but this was Christmas dinner. Somebody was usually angry at someone else for some minor reason, and the food did not make this disappear – as much as Rida would have loved it to do so.
The new recipes tried now and then became smaller, more self-effacing. Instead of the extra main course, a vegetable side. Instead of a vegetable side, a relish. Instead of a relish . . . instead of a relish. Nothing, really – instead of a relish.
At other times of the year, the table that would hold the Christmas dinner was just a deserted table, unused, sitting in a room nobody ever entered. The rarely used good linens were stored in the chest, the decorative china received as wedding gifts firmly stuck behind the glass windows on shelves – that sometimes needed dusting – in the big solid piece of matching furniture which sat firmly on the other side of the room.
The view from the window was so pretty in this room. When it snowed, the panorama was just like a painting.
It was perfect.
But the table during the days before Christmas became a workhorse.
The day immediately after Thanksgiving, it sprouted a life of its own. Rolls of wrapping paper, tape, and ribbons grew in neat piles upon it. Boxes and piles of gifts for her family were laid at the other end, and the serious endeavor of preparing dozens of gifts (or maybe hundreds? it seemed there were hundreds of gifts under the tree on Christmas – the unwrapping took all day long) began. The gifts were destined to be stacked into huge piles of colored shiny exuberance under the lit tree in the front room that close-to-hit the ceiling.
The wrapping and be-ribboning and labeling started in between many trips to the mall to buy the gifts, the army of gifts the table held close – all tucked away in the room that nobody went into, till their holiday dinner had begun.
Rida moved quickly at these tasks, for though she was a homemaker, a housewife – without a job or profession in the outside world – her usual tasks remained to be done. The house had to be cleaned and dusted each day. The clothes laundered – her husband’s shirts starched just so, with heavy starch crisply formalizing the edges of cuff and collar into impermeable immovable stiffness.
Dinner had to be on the table (the kitchen table) at 6:30 each evening. Her husband would become upset if it was not. He expected his dinner at 6:30.
And the usual taking-care of the house, little things . . . like making sure nobody ran out of batteries or toothpaste – that had to be kept up with. “Buy two – always have backup” was the rule set by Rida’s husband, for nothing should ever run out . . . and Rida still went to Mass at least twice a week – for that was where God lived. He lived in the church, with the priest named ‘Father’.
Christmas expanded outwards from the workhorse table during the second week of December. It spilled out onto Rida’s kitchen table. The cards draped themselves together, falling sideways, entangled with stamps and envelopes and pens, handwritten notes to be done on each singular one, then the whole to be neatened up and hidden away before dinner preparations were started.
Somehow it all marched forward in an orderly and calm fashion. Everything got done.
Christmas came but once a year.
And at the end of it all, Rida had once more given her family a Christmas to remember.
Her gifts were apparent to all. A perfect Christmas, just as everyone expected!
There was an extra gift hidden within this perfect Christmas. Two gifts, really.
One was the gift to her children and husband. They knew they could rely on her completely.
The other gift, more hidden in the recesses of things, tucked into the corners of wrapping paper and ribbons, peas and ham – under postage stamps and licked onto the glued flaps of envelopes – was a gift to anyone who wanted to recognize it. It was something to be considered, held, and mulled over – wondering if it was an example to be followed. Or not.
It was the not-small gift of selfless devotion.
That was one Mother’s Christmas, balanced ever-so-discreetly on the head of a pin . . . along with who knows how many angels.
(To read further click on Part Four here)