Tuffy’s tail wagged erratically as he worked the family like a hummingbird in a flower bed. With his cold wet nose he lifted every accessible hand hoping to receive a loving scratch on the head.
Grandpa Ed sat perched on the edge of his recliner, intrigued by the strange wooden brain teaser he held in his hands. He discussed the best strategy to solve the puzzle with grandson Jacob. Ed’s eyes lit up knowing Jacob shared his love for enigmas. There would be no talking to them until they either solved the puzzle, or Grandma Mary interrupted by announcing “Its time to eat!”
Multiple conversations simultaneously whirled through the small house resembling the frenzy of traders working the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. Uncle Tom was debating the pros and cons of collecting baseball cards, while Uncle John relived his near hole-in-one last summer on the eleventh hole at Urban Hills Country Club.
Tommy and Jeff argued over whose elbow touched who first as they fought for a seat on the now overcrowded living room floor. Cherie and Kristen giggled in the corner behind Grandma’s favorite chair.
Mary peeked in from the kitchen doorway. A smile filled her glowing face as she watched her family interact. Few things brought her more joy than having us all together for the holiday. She caressed Janene’s shoulders and then quickly turned her attention back to her stove top. “I sure hope this tastes all right” she said. It never tasted just “all right,”. Her cooking was the very best—with the exception of soup. Her concept of soup was different from the rest of ours.
A bitter wind ushered in yet more family members. After piling their winter coats high on Ed and Mary’s bed they squeezed into any available space left on the floor of the living room. The windows fogged as the room filled beyond its capacity. So crowded that if someone needed to get up to use the one and only washroom, at least five people would have to move out of the way to let them through.
“Who wants something to drink?” was more than a considerate question, it was a mission. Drinks were kept in the utility room at the far end of the house. It took a well orchestrated plan to work one’s way out of the living room and through the kitchen filled with Mary’s worker bees helping to get the meal together.
Three choices of beer, numerous flavors of soda, and a collection of the finest five dollar wine money could buy only complicated the task. Uncle John looked for the bottle of whiskey he kept tucked away in the pantry.
“Mom, where’s the whiskey?”
“Oh, I threw that out.”
“I thought it was getting old.”
John stared off into the distance in disbelief.
“Its time to eat!” announced Mary. Ed and Jacob looked up from their puzzle like beagles that just flushed a rabbit. Tuffy jumped to his feet and weaved his way to the head of the line only to be told, “Go lie down.”
The family gathered together as near to the kitchen as possible and joined Ed in the traditional dinner prayer. Mary then made-up the first plate of food and handed it to Ed. He returned to his favorite chair and the feed was officially on.
It was an every man for themselves frenzy as we loaded our plates with more food than we could ever hope to eat in one sitting. The sound of conversations competing with the clanging of utensils was music to Mary’s ears. She was in her element, she was content.
From his position near the back-bedroom doorway, Tuffy surveyed the floor for falling crumbs. Mary quietly slipped him a few pieces of meat—she thought her gesture went unnoticed.
Outside the winter wind continued to blow wildly against the house windows—but no one cared: for inside, the house was filled with the warmth of family love and the glow of Christmas joy. At that moment in time, there was no better place on earth to be…