December 15, 1996
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at the Old Barn. Freshly starched curtains flap in the draft at the windows, there's a Sunday shine on the chandelier and gaily wrapped parcels on every available flat surface. And nothing to eat anywhere.
My men hang on the fridge door, peering gloomily. "What have we got to make a sandwich of, Ellen?" Phil asks, plaintively. "Well, there's that little scrap of beef from Monday," I tell him brightly. "And a bit of cheese and lots of peanut butter. If you scrape down the sides, you can probably get enough jam for a slice of toast. Just don't touch the lettuce or the sour cream."
See, there's lots of food in the house. There are two fat turkeys in the freezer along with a half-skin ham, six salami sausages, several pounds of bacon and two icecream pails plumb full of Danish meatballs. The pantry shelves are piled high with chips and cheesies, Breton crackers and smoked oysters. Cranberry sauce and pickled beets sit cheek by jowl. Every tin and pot in the house is crammed full of candy and nuts and butterscotch fudge and wild strawberry jam and even now, just a few days before Christmas, I rise at the crack of dawn to bake more cookies, more buns, more pastries, more, more more.
But it's not for eating. It's for Christmas.
And now that the big day is nearly at hand, I'm delighted to tell you that I've got all of my Christmas shopping done. As the family get more, and bigger, selecting just the right item for the right person at the right price gets tougher every year. And every year, moments after after we have racked up and totalled our loot, without fail someone says, "Hey, I've got a great idea. Next year, let's draw names."
And we all nod enthusiastically and sit there, beaming our goodwill, clutching a couple dozen assorted gift items in our fat little paws while visions of burgeoning bank accounts dance in our heads. Drawing names out of a hat seems like a dandy idea and we'll give it a lot of thought before next year. After all, this year's money has already been spent and though we stewed and fretted - well, SOME of us stewed and fretted - while it was going, it's gone now and OK, next year we'll be cool. Draw names. Put the binders on the annual outlay.
So what happens? You KNOW what happens. About mid-November somebody tentatively brings it up. Immediately, we all start exchanging uneasy glances. "Draw names? Are we really gonna do that?" "You mean, if I get something for Gran, I can't buy anything for Dad?" "But I already bought something for Mom at a Garage Sale, in August!"
One of the little ones hits closer to the heart of the whole idea. "You mean I'm only gonna get ONE thing?" she wails. "Well," I hedge, "we don't have to decide right this moment. We'll talk about it again." Faces brighten and conversation resumes.
Last week I stopped shopping long enough to have coffee and let my credit cards cool off: they were beginning to curl up at the edges.
"Just about done?" enquired Keeley, who was tagging along to help carry things. "Yup, just about," I replied, making my list and checking it twice. "Have to get that video for the girls, a hat for Dad and one more thing for Norma." "But you've already got something for Dad. And that whosa-whatzit for Norma," Keel protested. "Oh, I know," I said comfortably, fanning myself with my chequebook, "but I always get that extra something for Dad and Norma would really love one of those."
Keel looked at me for a long moment. "Whatever happened to drawing names?" he asked softly.
"Gee honey, that's a jim-dandy idea!" I said heartily. "We'll have to try that next year."
And next year is soon enough, too. Because I love Christmas just the way it is and really wouldn't want it any other way.
I love the way the house looks, shining clean and bright with lights and holly and special holiday wall hangings.
I love the pale vanilla smell of fragile Christmas cookies.
I love the secrets and the giggles and the mysterious rustlings as I hide my eyes while someone hurries through the kitchen with a big something that must be for me.
I love getting cards and letters from far-away friends and relatives and I love re-living the personal little pleasure and minor triumphs of our own past year as I forge more links in the slender bonds of friendship that criss-cross the country at this time of the year.
I love the familiar songs and the huge pile of gaily wrapped gifts and the sound of children laughing and the almost perfect tree with the hole turned toward the wall and the angel slightly askew and, speaking of askew angels, the whole family home from wherever.
As I wrote in my letter to Santa "...and please don't change anything again this year. I'd like to have the same hustle and bustle, the same old songs, the same dear faces. And maybe a new housecoat. And a book. And please, dear Santa, if it isn't too much bother, I would like, most of all, to have just a teensy bit larger corner of the bed!"
And now my friends, I must be getting on with it, that vanilla smell I was telling you about is taking on a decidedly dark brown tinge.
A Merry Christmas to you all and a great year a-coming.
Love and kisses, Ellen.
P. S. Enjoy your dinner, enjoy the carols and the presents. And please don't spend even five seconds worrying about all the money you spent. We'll sit down right after Boxing Day and talk about drawing names. I promise!