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And here we are: The Holiday Aftermath has arrived.

If you are among the fortunate for whom the holidays brought fellowship and giving and celebration, you may hope that memories of those times will sustain you as you face the stark days of winter’s depth and the blank page of the New Year. If you are one of those for whom the holidays mark shadowy times of isolation and unrelenting longing for the departed or the bounty out of reach, you are understandably relieved to emerge on the South end of another holiday season. Either way, up or down, the Aftermath is upon us.

Lucky enough to be in the former category this year, I was wandering around the house a few days after Christmas, swatting weakly at the detritus of celebration. As I puttered, flattening the occasional box here, tossing the ripped ball of tissue paper there, I mused on the times just concluded, on small ones who had grown and others who had aged, on gifts given and received, meals shared, rituals renewed. Pondering the inevitability that future Christmases will be different, I found myself wishing I had stopped to snap a few more photos. There are a few, to be sure, but generally, it was more appealing in to participate in the action at hand than to capture it for history.

When the puttering eventually morphed into a more serious effort to restore order, the time was ripe to load up a trunk full of recycling for deposit at our local collection site. Joining the throngs of Aftermathers clustered around doing the same, I popped open the car hatch and stared into the bags and bins for a moment. There I noticed a rather colorful portrait of the times just concluded, a sort of disorderly burst of concluding holiday color, a bit like the heightened brilliance in the sky just before the sun vanishes, on a day when the clouds are kind of ugly. Here was a more authentic portrait of our holiday, it struck me, than any photo from the scene might have been.

There on top of the bin, a few morsels of brilliant ruby contents still clinging to the sharp tin edges, is the can that held 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes for the slow-cooker beef brisket marinade. There’s a small, wistful sigh at that sight; the Christmas dinner roast mysteriously simmered itself into tough this year, failing to generate the universal acclamation it garnered last time. Ah, well. Nestled next to it, butt side up in the bin, is the empty bottle of that excellent cabernet we poured. It was dang good quality for the price, I recalled, with the estimable side benefit of a label featuring illustrations and a name that fired the holiday imagination: Freakshow. Perhaps that cab was good enough to dull the disappointment in the meat, at least for the adult participants who tried the red.

As usual at this recycling center shortly after Christmas, there was a line of Aftermathers waiting to stuff the bins for discarded cardboard, so I began to break down my boxes while awaiting my turn. Ah, yes, here is the carton that delivered the matching shoes I bought for the family, pink velvet topped with soft bows for three generations of us girls, my daughter, granddaughter Sis, and me, along with smart gray, leather-trimmed canvas for the boys, father and son. That experiment seemed successful and yielded some of the few entertaining photos I did manage to get.

And here is the carton that affirmed my passing into a brave new phase of Grandmother Gifting: This year, I gave our six-year-old Buddy a game I could not define or explain. Really, I had no idea what it was. That applied when I ordered it (trusting his mother’s excellent instincts regarding its priority on his wish list) and remains the case, now that I have seen him and his father play it. Something about spinning tops that joust each other, or something…another sigh. Perhaps G-ma’s task is to rejoice that he loved it, and relinquish my own need to understand. Never easy, but one endeavors to persevere.

Finally, it is time to toss the outer paper wrapper from a box of old-fashioned assorted chocolates, the kind my father always bought my mother, to have treats at hand for the ever-present holiday sweet tooth. Four years after Dad left us, I still couldn’t quite hand it to her and say, ‘This is from Dad.’ Instead, I stumbled awkwardly on my tongue and mumbled, ‘This is from an old friend.’ To which my mother cracked, ‘When you get to be my age, all your friends are old.’ Age may be depriving her of certain things, but crackerjack delivery of a smart line is not one of them.

And so, that was that. Thanks for the memories, Trash. Off you go, to be born again in some other form, maybe as a new can of beans destined for a pot of soup in some far away kitchen. Or recast into another solid cardboard carrier, waiting to land efficiently on some other doorstep, proudly offering a new sweater to warm aging bones on a chilly day. Into that giant green dumpster you went, so that you could rise again, once again useful, in some other place, at some other time, in a future I believe in but likely will never see with my own eyes.

Dispensing with the last bag, I slammed the hatchback, and climbed in to head home—with a welcome, but unforeseen and surely unorthodox, reason to ponder rebirth this season, now that I think of it.

4 Generations visiting New York