“Christmas is a time for family.”
Standing alone, that statement generally has a positive connotation, but as those of us who are past our 12th birthday know, it is in fact a two-sided coin.
My mother broke her hip 5 weeks ago, and she, being a 60-something mother of two sons and no daughters, has had a rather rough go of it. Not from the pain – that subsided in a week or so – but from her inability to carry on the cooking/cleaning/shopping/entertaining load for her family through Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. She’s hopped about on one foot and a walker for more than a month now, trying not to look injured while being virtually helpless, unable to put even the slightest pressure on her right leg.
Thanksgiving was tough enough for Mother. And after that she had to sit through her oldest granddaughter’s wedding, in early December, unable to walk down the aisle. She was just “there,” on the second row, permanently affixed to her pre- and post-game seat of honor. Ever resilient, she would occasionally hop up on one foot and try to appear able-bodied and two-legged to greeters who hadn’t seen her lately and didn’t know her hip had been broken.
But then Christmastime was coming, and who on God’s green earth could possibly make her Christmas dinner? Certainly not my brother or me.
In desperation, she turned to her daughters-in-law. My sister-in-law Lorie drew potatoes and green bean casserole, but the piece de resistance – the dressing – along with several other dishes fell to my spouse of 30 years, the lovely and talented Rothann.
As in most families, very specific recipes have travelled down through generations and must be perfectly replicated when rubber meets road at holiday time. My mother has great love for and faith in Rothann, yet she still called her daughter-in-law’s cell phone at least 10 times, over the two-day span leading up to the fateful December 25th date. She had to deliver the intricate and near-mystical details of dressing preparation to the next generation.
The step that created the most buzz between Mother and Wife during their walkie-talkie, pre-Christmas contact was the amount of celery to be included in the dressing … and more importantly, the degree to which it would be chopped.
“Fine. Very fine. Very, very fine,” my mother exclaimed on eight separate occasions.
“I mean really fine. Maybe you should just come get my food processor,” she resolved.
Rothann tried to explain that she had in fact worked with celery before – in tones similar to how a nuclear physicist might have discussed working with plutonium – but she abandoned that line of discussion when my mother felt the need to go over the difference between a “bunch” of celery and a “stalk” of celery.
What my mother didn’t say, but Rothann and I both knew, was that the real reason for the fine chopping requirement was that my brother would in no way EVER knowingly eat a piece of celery. Therefore, the offensive vegetation – a vital component of our holiday standard – must be pulverized beyond recognition.
I was not oblivious to all the goings-on surrounding the dressing. As I watched Rothann plan, prep and deliver masterfully two pans of dressing, a broccoli and cheese casserole, macaroni and cheese (my dad’s mother’s recipe), and a shoe-peg corn casserole for our Christmas lunch, I was more than impressed. I even heard her talk directly to my brother about the dressing.
He told her bluntly, “If I bite into a piece of celery, I ain’t eating it.”
Unshaken, she retorted, “I’m going to make it the way I make it, and if you don’t eat it, I don’t care!” Rothann’s been around as a Richey for 30 years. She doesn’t sweat my brother.
Nonetheless, she put me on food processor duty, and when I had pureed 4 stalks of celery down to an unrecognizable green liquid, she allowed me to pour it into the dressing.
I felt satisfied and confident enough with the situation to have a little fun, so I called my mother on Christmas Eve. We discussed many things – presents I’d picked up for her, how she was feeling, if she needed anything from the grocery store, etc. – when I delivered the haymaker.
“By the way, Mama, Rothann is NOT chopping the celery up nearly fine enough for the dressing for tomorrow.”
There was dead silence, complete silence, on the other end of the line for a good 10 seconds. Finally, my mother squeaked out, “ … oh, Lord … ”
I continued and told her that Rothann hadn’t pulled any strings off the stalks either. I listened to my Mother’s labored breathing on the other end for a few seconds more, before I finally relented and laughed. She still didn’t accept that I was joking for another minute or two. A day later, she told me how her mind had raced through multiple contingency plans in the split second after I threw her the curve and she thought her dressing recipe had been derailed.
She didn’t think any part of it was as funny as I did.
Christmas day came, and we had perfect dressing and plenty of other dishes. And if you know my brother or me, you know we ate plenty of it. We were happy. Our wives were happy. And my mother was happy. One big, happy, well-fed family eating dressing with a hint of celery but no noticeable evidence that it had been included.
Rothann said “everybody” thought it was the best dressing we had ever had. I agreed, of course.
Christmas is a time for family.