Archive for December, 2011

The Gift of Lau…

The Gift of Laughter

      The light on the oven goes out signaling time to put in the lasagna, homemade of course. It starts with my special sauce that simmers for hours with just the right blend of garlic and spices. Four kinds of cheese are layered between the noodles and sauce in my largest ceramic pan.

            “Wow, this pan must weigh twenty pounds this year. If the family keeps growing I’m going to have to go to two pans or wear my industrial strength back brace to put it in the oven.”

No comment is forthcoming from my mate who’s stationed in front of the television oblivious to everything that doesn’t wear purple and gold. Basically I’m talking to myself, which is not unusual in football season. The Vikings are lined up to score another touchdown so their number one fan calls out plays to the quarterback from his recliner in the next room.

            Tonight’s our special night. The one we look forward to all year long. My three stepsons and their families will all be at the house for our annual Christmas celebration. Mike and Sandy will arrive first with their daughter, Hannah. Ron and Paula follow with Kyle and Kayla in tow. John, Kim, and the three girls, Ashley, Amber, and Abbey, always arrive last, somewhere between thirty minutes to an hour late.

            Outside is fresh snow, courtesy of the jet stream’s meandering down intoIowa. This dip allows frigid Canadian air to swoop in with below zero temperatures. Icicles that hang from the trees in the yard give the impression that Mother Nature trimmed them for the holidays. The pungent smell of wood burning in fireplaces fills the evening air.

      Road crews had been out early to plow the roads so they are passable. My husband shoveled the steps up to the house several times during the day, and then applied a layer of salt to keep ice from forming.

            “I hope there’s no black ice on the interstate overpasses,” I yelled from the kitchen.

Still no reply from in front of the TV.

            Inside the house has been decorated with the traditional trappings of the holidays. A fragrant Douglas fir spreads out its limbs and welcomes the strings of multi-colored lights and ornaments. The ornaments are a combination of sentimental mementoes made by my kids throughout their younger years, souvenirs picked up on our travels, and purchases made from the many talented artisans in the area. The cherub-faced angel Herb and my daughter purchased our first Christmas together has taken its place at the top. The manger is placed on the floor at the center of the tree and lit with a white light. A reminder of what we are really celebrating.

      Stockings with each child’s name are filled with trinkets and adorn the antique oak cabinet. Presents occupy the corner of the living room waiting to be opened by giggling children. Christmas carols play softly in the background.

            My day started early in the kitchen baking sweets. First out of the oven, the traditional pumpkin pie requested by my husband. Some of the grandkids wanted apple, so apple pie rests on the cooling rack on the counter.

       A nice mixed green salad, relish tray, and toasted garlic bread round out our meal. It’s a non-traditional menu, but the kids remarked several years earlier they look forward to having something besides turkey and dressing.

      I looked at the clock for about the tenth time.

       Hmm, the kids will be coming soon.

            “Honey, at half time will you please go out with the broom and knock snow off the wreath and throw some more salt on the walk?”

            No answer.

            I walked to the front of the house to get Coach Herb’s attention.

            “Honey, at half time will you please go out with the broom and knock snow off the wreath and throw some more salt on the walk?”

            “Sure. It’s getting close to the time the kids will get here. Anything else you need done?”

            “No, it’s all pretty well organized.”

            I returned to the kitchen to set up the buffet line. The counter that separates the dining room from the living room is arranged with the china, napkins, and flatware.

            Strong arms encircle my waist and a warm kiss is planted on the back of my neck.

            “You know I love you even more for all you do to make this night special.”

            “I know. I love having all the kids together, too.”

            “I’ll go do the walks.”

            Fifteen minutes later, as predicted, Mike, Sandy, and Hannah arrive. Boots are shed at the front door and placed on the vinyl tray to dry. Heavy woolen coats are thrown on the bed. Gifts are placed near the tree.

     “Boy, it smells good in here. I see we are having our favorite, lasagna.”

     Another ten minutes pass.

     “Clang, Clang.” Ron, Paula, and kids ring the small captain’s bell we use for a doorbell. Outer wear are handed over to add a second layer to the stack.

     “I can tell your neighbor is using that wood I brought over in his fireplace tonight. Apple wood has such a great smell.”

     John’s family arrives only forty minutes late this year. Once more, coats, hats, mittens, and boots are shed. The shoe tray at the front door now overflows with melting slush, and the bed resembles an old Indian mound.

            The first thing on everyone’s mind is a quick “hello” and “let’s eat.”

      Out comes the lasagna to cool. In goes the garlic bread to brown. Salad and relish dishes make their way to the counter. Ice tea and milk are poured. Soft drinks are made available. We’re ready.

            Everyone makes a circle and holds hands as Grandpa Herb says the blessing.

            “Heavenly Father, we are gathered here tonight to celebrate the birth of Your Son. Bless our family…”

     Kids are served first. They take their seats at the dining room table with instructions to let the lasagna cool or the cheese will burn their little mouths. Ashley is asked to put back some of the pile of black olives on her plate until others have a chance to get at least one. Abbey doesn’t want dressing on her salad. Hannah wants regular bread and not garlic toast. Kyle wants more on his plate – more lasagna, more bread, more of everything, as if he is afraid it will all be gone before he gets seconds.

      The adults now have an opportunity to fill their plates and find a place to sit where they can balance their food without spilling on the new carpet. Ron and John pile on the food and still go back to refill their plates.

     “I used to be able to eat like that when I was your age,” their dad remarks with a chuckle. “It’ll catch up to you when you pass forty,” he continues as he pats his full belly.

            The main course is completed and the dishes are rinsed and stacked by the sink. Kids color in books with themes chosen especially for them. Barbie and the Power Rangers are the favorites this year. Kyle’s outnumbered by his sister and four girl cousins, but holds his own. Their conversation centers on the best parts of the new Disney movie.

     In the living room the adults are trying to out do each other.

     “I almost beat Dad this year atHudson. If I had sunk that last putt on eighteen he would have been mine.”

            “Paula, what are you getting Ron for Christmas this year?” Mike inquires.

            “You know I’m not going to tell you,” she replies with a big grin.

            “Well, from where I’m sitting, I would suggest membership in the Hair Club for Men.”

            This prompts additional jabs from the other males and Ron’s reply, “How far does a hairline have to recede, Mike, before it’s no longer a receding hairline and it’s called being bald?

            One quip is followed by another. Laughter follows. It’s the invisible bond that brings harmony to the family. All earlier preparation is done in anticipation of this moment. It fills my heart with love and warms my soul.

       How many years of this are left for us before each son will want to move on and make family traditions of their own?

            Time to open presents. The youngest grandchild puts on the Santa hat to help Grandpa distribute gifts. Bows are unceremoniously yanked from the box. Paper is torn off in shreds. Boxes are ripped open to free the toy inside.

      Ten-year-old Amber gets a Bop It and is very patient as the adults take turns playing with her new toy even before she has a chance to enjoy it. Kyle gets a snow board, which will get a lot of use on the slope behind their house. Abbey sticks her Barbie horse under her arm so no one else can touch it. Clothes and board games round out the last of the grandkids’ gifts. We receive loving holiday cards containing gift certificates to our favorite restaurants from the kids.

     Thank yous are exchanged. Boxes are stacked in groups to be loaded in the cars and paper is stuffed into a large green garbage bag.

            “What’s for dessert?”

            Pies are cut. Coffee is made. Milk glasses refilled.

     Chimes from the clock signal nine – the evening soon ends. Coats are retrieved from the pile on the bed. Snow boots and shoes disappear from the tray. Hugs and kisses exchanged.

     “See you soon. Thanks again for the…Happy holidays!”

       The house is quiet again.

            It’s only been a short three hours, but memories have been made that will last a lifetime.


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