Note – This Christmas was a little like Murphy’s Law – everything that could go wrong, went wrong and for the people involved it took all the Christmas spirit and sense of humor they could muster in this humorous anecdote of the real events surrounding a Christmas dinner.
The Story –
The seven foot tree is trimmed, branches dipping from the weight of ornaments: pine cones, baby’s breath, miniature treadle sewing machines, trains, wagons, lots of rocking horses, toy boxes, ballerinas at the barre, musical instruments, shiny red apples, red and white birds just landing after their long flight from the North Pole and more. High on top is a huge white bird, wings spread in joy. And, draped like a Maypole, are long red ribbons overlaying the tips of the branches so it almost looks like the entire tree has been gift wrapped. Of course there are hundreds of white lights peeking through it all like stars in a forest.
Presents are arranged, not quite symmetrically, amid the needles that have already fallen around the base of the trunk, carpeting the ground, ready to crunch under tiny Elf feet as they unload their burden, a sure sign that Santa Claus needed a little extra time to complete his rounds this year and got a head start, leaving packages where he felt those living there were trustworthy enough to wait until Christmas Eve before opening them.
Nutcrackers are lined up, like sentries guarding the proceedings, across the mantle shelf and the candle chandelier is festooned with more red ribbons.
The table is set with home spun linens, antique pink willow-ware and shining silver. Everything that has to be in the oven is and all that’s left to do is wait for it to finish cooking and for our guests to arrive.
Christmas Eve dinner is a tradition in our home. The menu varies very little from year to year. My wife likes to call it a “Williamsburg Christmas” and, in fact, many of the recipes do come from the Williamsburg Cookbook, adapted from the taverns and inns of Colonial Williamsburg. Even the centerpiece on the table incorporates colonial touches as oranges and nuts nestle themselves in sprigs of pine branches surrounding an oil lamp.
The feast will begin shortly: Caesar salad, standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding, baby carrots with cumin and tiny peas, caramelized baby pearl onions in sweet Vermouth. Coffee and Sherry Trifle for dessert.
After dinner, over more coffee and cigars, we’ll open presents.
Our friends arrive and I turn on a tape of Christmas Carols played on music boxes – another yearly ritual.
Chauncey, our English Cocker Spaniel, chases around the apartment with his friend, Giacomo, who’s entered with his owner, barely noticing the humans and giving little thought to the toys that await them at present opening time.
Anticipation of the evening’s pleasures began weeks ago and preparations started in the butcher’s meat aging room.
Right now, as I survey our home, it all appears idyllic; a scene to warm Charles Dickens’ heart and I try to forget that a scant fifteen and a half hours ago Murphy’s Law had struck.
As I said, preparations had started weeks before, but the final countdown started last night and just as things really got under way the dishwasher died. Normally that would only be a minor catastrophe, but, being fully loaded with bowls, pots and pans, plates and other
accessories, it was nearly devastating. Especially as it died half way through its cycle, leaving a tub full of water to be drained by hand.
Out come the tools, in the midst of all the implements necessary for bread baking, and I try to solve the problem. But the machine is nearly ten years old and I give up. We wash the contents by hand and assign the now dead machine to its new destiny – giant dish draining rack.
By eleven o’clock it’s all done and we sit down for a snack. It could have been worse, we think. We’ve survived our Thanksgiving catastrophe of the kitchen sink drain either springing a major leak or rusting out completely. After four consecutive years of that we’re grateful.
One-thirty a.m. We’ve eaten and washed the dishes, by hand, and it’s time for bed. As I walk into the kitchen to give Chauncey fresh water for the night I step into what seems like the Mississippi River. A quick inspection leads directly to the sink drain which has waited an extra month, but has decided, on Christmas Eve, to completely fall apart; probably from all the extra pressure exerted on it from the vast array of hand washed utensils.
At this point I’m not sure whether to pull out my tools again or call L.L. Bean and order hip boots.
Water is everywhere. Not only has it cascaded through the cabinets, but flooded the dead dishwasher and the refrigerator. Floor tiles have lifted and everything is soaked.
All right, there are choices. We can sit down and cry or we can start mopping up. While crying is easier we don’t give in and begin the bailing process. Everything has to be pulled out, from the bowls and other paraphernalia stored under the sink, to the refrigerator (thank God it’s on wheels). An hour later things are reasonably in order. Floor tiles that were too far gone are
thrown away, the refrigerator’s back in place and I’ve managed to restore the plumbing system to working condition.
Leaving the cabinets open to dry we turn out the lights and go to bed.
So, now here we are, gathered around the table, raising glasses of wine and about to begin our Christmas Eve. We’ve gotten through the trials of last night and even the rain stopped long enough this afternoon for me to walk the ten blocks to the butcher to pick up the fourteen pound roast. All in all it could have been worse. Of course we’ll have to wash the dishes by hand again, but that’s hours off.
For now, as they say, let the feast begin. Here’s to an evening of great food with good friends.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
And, as Tiny Tim once observed, “God bless Us, Every One”.