There is Christmas.
But before Christmas, Christmas morning–a bustle of last-minute cleaning, of folding sweaters and piling laundry and filling the dishwasher and wiping the spilled gravy from the stove. Then, when the guys come in from the barn, there is a last-minute wrapping of presents, the office crinkly with wrapping paper and tape, the kneeling bodies, the marker-scrawled names.
“Where do we put our orange carrot gifts?” Elizabeth asks.
Orange carrot gifts?
Oh, she means the white elephant gifts.
This year, just for fun, everyone is bringing something they own which they don’t want, and we will play a game of Bingo with wrapped white elephants as prizes. We play it dirty, which means you can steal someone else’s prize if you get a bingo.
My married sister Jennie, her husband Jeff, and two little nieces, MacKenzie and Madison, arrive at ten thirty. Then Chris, a young guy who will spend Christmas with us this year. Then Kathy and Kirby and baby Jaxson. Then Dora and Jerrold, the newly married, right before lunch time.
They come with ham, with mashed potatoes and cheese ball and cranberry salad.
MacKenzie and Madison bring their Christmas presents, shiny remote control jeeps. My brother Benny perches his Go Pro–a small video camera–on the top of one of the jeeps and shows the little girls how they can sit in the living room and maneuver their jeep through the kitchen, spying on the folks making Christmas dinner.
The girls (and adults) play with our scary old-man mask.
My brother Jeffrey put it on earlier this morning and walked into the bird room where Mom was sweeping bird seed from the floor. She threw up her arms and screamed–full-volume, raw-throated–and he walked out hunched, sheepish, laughing.
Now someone tries it on Baby Jaxson.
He’ll need time to grow into it.
“Time to eat!” Jennie announces.
We gather around the two tables pushed up next to each other–the rectangular oak table Dad hand-built and the long plastic folding table we store behind the couch. Both tables covered in white tablecloths and many dishes of food.
“Eleven main dishes,” Jeffrey says, counting.
Ham. Sweet potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Fried turkey breasts. Corn. Broccoli and cauliflower salad. Cranberry salad. Cheese ball. Crackers. Homemade bread. For dessert, three kinds of cookies and mixed fruit.
After we eat, we gather in the living room to watch MacKenzie and Madison open their gifts from the grandparents, the four aunts, and the three uncles, amid a flurry of wrapping paper and excitement.
Afterwards, we adults gather around the dining room table–now cleared of food–for our five dollar blind gift exchange. The guys will exchange with the guys, the girls with the girls. We throw dice to decide who gets what.
Chris and two of the brothers-in-law get do-rags–the gift of choice from my three brothers–and never having worn such a thing before, they tie them on, grinning. Jerrold perches his on the back of his head and ties it under his chin like a bonnet. We all bust up laughing.
Jeffrey brings out extras and the guys mass in the living room for a picture.
Time for white elephants and dirty Bingo. Kirby takes the prize, with a box of nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes–Dad’s contribution to the white elephant game.
Afterwards we play games. Quiddlers. Set. The hand-designed memory game Mom gave the little girls.
In the evening we scatter, then regroup at seven thirty for supper. This time Grandpa and Grandma join us, and Great-aunt Marlene, and Marvin, another young guy whose family is gone over Christmas.
There is even more food than before–chicken noodle soup, dinner rolls, lettuce salad, fruit tapioca, and various cookies, candies, and party snacks, added to the leftovers. We set up buffet style on the kitchen counters and put a dessert and snack table in the library.
More games. For the young people, an interactive memory game called Confusion, boys against girls. There are more boys, but, “Oh, well, girls are smarter,” I say, unwisely.
Too bad I’m the one to mess up at a crucial moment.
Too bad the boys constantly feed each other hints and advice, leaving the girls fuming and furious.
Jeff and Jennie, opting not to play, sit on the sidelines and yell advice.
The boys almost win. The girls hang on. No one gets anywhere. After an hour, we grow weary and call it a draw.
“See, boys are smarter,” Jeff tells me.
“Boys are smarter when they table talk.”
He grins. “We’re better communicators. That’s important.”
The families leave, one by one. “Christmas” is over at ten, twelve hours after it began.
Mom puts away the leftover food. I fill the dishwasher–the fourth load for the day–and gather paper plates and cups from scattered corners of the house.
To see photos of our Christmas baking day, check out this post.