In 2005, on Christmas Day, I was picking up a dozen croissants to contribute to the holiday feast. It was exhausting. I sighed heavily as I waited in line behind a thrifty rotund woman who for some reason needed to cash in every coupon she had saved since Groundhog Day. She then insisted on scraping the bottom of her purse for the exact change that had escaped her coin compartment. I shrugged and resisted irritation; I would not allow this to spoil my mood.
As my eyes scanned the checkout crowd, I noticed they all seemed to be content, almost euphoric. I nodded knowingly... they are the detailers. Their job is to purchase sparkling cider, lovely floral candelabras, dinner rolls or perhaps a fireplace log. It showed in their eyes, they were enjoying the holiday because someone else was cooking.
I smirked as a distracted driver swerved in front of me, I recognized him, my neighbor frantic to get home to deliver the forgotten sticks of butter to the hysterical cook. A woman who vaguely resembled his wife who’s job it was to produce a six course meal for thirty-five, serve it by three p.m. and arrange it attractively on china plates donated by Grandma Tucker, a true veteran of holiday cookery. Grandma Tucker doesn’t cook anymore; she just plants herself in a strategic location and watches the kitchen activity with the corners of her lips tipped up and a double shot of bourbon in her glass. An honor truly earned.
My eyes misted at the memory of being the crazed one in the kitchen. Over the years I have stuffed my birds, casseroled my beans and crusted my pies. I have paid for my retirement with frazzled nerves and kitchen disasters such as undercooked birds, lumpy gravy, stopped up garbage disposals and the roasted marshmallow that mysteriously flicked into my sister’s eye upon offering yet another helpful hint from the comfort of the family room.
Then there was Aunt Dorty who would pass through the kitchen to leisurely drag her index and middle fingers over the surface of the gravy to sample for consistency and seasoning. She developed calluses over the years from this practice; at least I hope it was from gravy tasting. Each year, I would complain that I couldn’t remember the exact measurements of flour, rosemary salt and pepper. Her croaky voice would ring out, “Just forget about what you don’t remember…cook dammit.” And cook I did, for the next twenty years.
Yes, the baton has been passed to new stuffers, new casserollers and new crusters equipped with younger hands and virgin nerves just begging to be frazzled. Their young faces still lack character, but in time definition will be added with deep forehead furrows and sturdy anxiety lines.
My niece was cooking, her wide-eyed innocence was refreshing and her anxious desire to produce the perfect banquet quite heartwarming. The new generation stepped forth to select a healthier genre of turkey, drug free… the free-range type.
I can almost imagine this lovely creature standing on a grassy knoll, its wattle gently swaying in a soft country breeze. No access to steroids or antibiotics, a noble beast bravely awaiting humane euthanasia. Alas, its flavor is also lacking in definition, I think it’s the absence of preservatives or perhaps it was just devoid of personality.
My niece began to hyperventilate; a blue line is formed around her lips yet she refused help. She dashed about the kitchen arranging platters and spooning gravy into a boat big enough to seat six. With deft fingers she spells the words Happy Thanksgiving atop the green bean casserole in dried onions then paws the stuffing from the free-range cavity into the family crock. All would have gone without a hitch if she hadn’t slipped on the bit of stuffing that had dropped in the middle of the floor. It was unfortunate that Animal World wasn’t there to film the turkeys’ last greasy flight beneath the recessed florescent lighting.
My sister and I sat in our strategic location sipping sparkling cider from Waterford glasses. Our eyes met in a rare moment of understanding; there was no need for words.
A few Christmases have passed since then. I have remarried into a family with different traditions. My husband and his brother cook the holiday meals now, no more turkey, no more stuffing, no more casseroles. They have been replaced with the most delicious spinach dip scooped up on fresh bread rounds and a divine pan of flavorful lasagna. Am I lucky or what?