Parents, cousins, new generation … all came. It meant hotel reservations in the nearby town and great supplies of food and drink for a long holiday of closed stores.
It meant wood stored under cover for the fireplace in case of rain (it poured), and bandages and liniment (my nephew and my two-year-old daughter fell off a boulder into the pond), and self-control (my favorite male shot several of my favorite quail).
It meant a lot of work: I was cook, and before the festival I had food prepared, or at least in line, for an average of twelve persons a meal, three meals a day, for three days. And the right good wines. And the other potables, right, good, and copious. That, I say smugly, is no mean feat.
It was exciting and rewarding and completely deliberate. Nothing, to my knowledge at least, went wrong. There was a cloud of gaiety and affection all about us … and that too, with people of different ages and sexes and beliefs, political and religious and social, is also something of a feat to attain and to maintain. The whole thing, for a miracle to bless me, worked well.
This is most often the case in planned celebrations, I think. Now and then there is a happy accident, in families, and brothers and cousins and grandparents who may have been cold or even warlike suddenly find themselves in some stuffy booth in a chophouse, eating together with forgotten warmth and amity. But it is rare. Most often it must be prearranged, with care and caution.
It must not simply be taken for granted that a given set of ill-assorted people, for no other reason than because it is Christmas, will be joyful to reunite and break bread together. They must be jolted, even shocked, into excitement and surprise and subsequent delight. All the old, routine patterns of food and flowers and cups must be redistributed, to break up that mortal ignominy of the Family Dinner, when what has too often been said and felt and thought is once more said, felt, thought: slow poison in every mouthful, old grudge, new hateful boredom, nascent antagonism and resentment…. Why in God's name does Mother put her arm always that way on the chair, and why does Helen's girdle pop, always, as she lifts the denuded meat platter up and away from Father, and why does Sis tap her finger always thus tinnily against the rim of her wineglass? Poison, indeed … and most deeply to be shunned!
It takes courage to do that, and at least once I had enough for it, being mightier in my youth than I am now (perhaps). I was flat, stony broke, unable to take no matter what judicious collection of relatives to a decent restaurant. So …
I summoned my father, mother, brother, and sisters to a supper in the ranch dining room, to celebrate nothing at all. I paid for it, almost to the last grain of salt: silly, but a sop to my young, proud soul. I set the table with the family's best silver and china and crystal (especially the iridescent and incredibly thin wine goblets we have always had for “party”).