I always love my Family’s Christmas Celebration. Boozy and filled with laughter, we destroy whatever kitchen we are in with flour from Czech-style homemade potato dumplings as a caraway-covered pork shoulder bubbles in the oven and sauerkraut reduces on the stove. Beer-filled pitchers stand ready to be enjoyed by all, with glasses sized to the ages of the drinkers. Once we kids all owned homes, Mom, cocktail in hand, pronounced in detail that we would celebrate anywhere but in her kitchen. She had had enough of scraping potato-glued flour off her counters, floors, and walls.
California snow can be as unpredictable as Family holiday dynamics. Despite past years of sparse snowfall, that year it had snowed enough to muffle Truckee in a thick skid of white. As we drove down the long driveway to my Sister’s new house, we watched the cousins gadding about on snowmobiles, my Brother-in-Law in the yard tuning the last few machines so that they were ready for upcoming misadventures. Cocktails in hand, my Parents and Sister greeted us from the front porch as we bounded out of the car and unloaded.
The house was stunning, tall windows and steel overlooking a huge snowy meadow. Heated concrete floors and a massive fireplace cozied the cavernous living room. A 25-foot tree sat in the corner, spare and lovely. My Dad (lover of disaster) shared the story of eight men hauling in, then out of what turned out to be a 35-foot tree; after shortening and replacement the tree tumbled down two hours before my Brother-in-Law’s Company party, shattering most of the glass ornaments. Miraculously, my Sister added, the ornaments most precious to her remained unbroken.
The kitchen bar and counter easily seated twelve, sitting across from the industrial stove and warming drawers ready for the next day’s destruction. The counter stepped down at the end, where a mix-your-own cocktail set up was ready. We toasted tree survival and great snow for play, and our gathered family, missing those away that year. As the afternoon progressed, I noticed that Mom had availed herself heavily at the bar. While this behavior from Mom happened, it rarely started during daylight hours and was usually in good cheer. Whomever was in from snow play was regaled by Mom with stories of woe from their over-55 Villa: friendships gone sour over some HOA offense or party not planned or attended properly. My Sister and I, long calling the Villa crew High School for grown-ups, rolled our eyes and made a pact to keep an eye on Mom’s sippy cup.
Mom started again the next day as Dad covered the Kids’ hands in flour during dumpling making. This time it was “advice” to her Grandkids. Mom was maudlin and a little sloppy. Oh Mom, I thought, don’t scare the kids. I had let them forge their own relationships with her, and they all fiercely loved their quirky, creative, book and play loving Grandma despite all experiencing an over-drinking adventure at some point. Mom was crying quietly by the end, and my Sister and I, concerned, decided that we would talk to her in the New Year.
It wasn’t to be. Mom died of a massive stroke on the eleventh day of that Christmas. If it was premonition, medication, or fear that had Mom’s alcohol mood swinging so, I’ll never know. My siblings and I gathered to celebrate Mom’s life, and together with full sippy cups we determined that there was something she did know.
Family Christmas continues, every year a blessing with Dad, made even more poignant as the Kids and cousins grow, marry, and bring significant others. Mom would have loved this. I watch myself now, keeping my sippy cups reasonable. No promises to stay that way once I become a quirky, creative, book and play loving Grandma.