Scenes Five and Six – I just stood there flushed and stunned without any recollection of what occurred although I suspect it concluded with a visit from an angel suspended from the ceiling and announcing “Peace on earth and good will to all men.”
“… and may there finally be peace on earth,” my mother finished her dinner prayer using less time than it took to burn the two long candles illuminating the dinner table. My father added a brief Norwegian prayer in his native language. Then there was a moment of silence serenaded by the crackling wood fire that my father lit in the fireplace only once each year. Too much heat goes up the chimney.
The seating arrangement was non-negotiable, Uncle Herman at the head of the table, his wife, Cora, sat to his right, then Aunt Tillie, her brother, Bill, then my father at the other end and to his left my mother and completing the family, us boys. The Christmas Eve meal reflected some ethnic competition. For the sole Norwegian and his offspring, Lutefisk, kulb, a block of cow’s blood mixed in flour and cream, and oysters. For the Swedes, which was everyone else, I guess, mashed potatoes, and Swedish meatballs. Before we passed a platter, my father raised a glass of dark red Mogen David wine and toasted his wife and the ladies who’d prepared the feast. I took the opportunity to steal a glance at the tree, still without a single gift beneath it. I resisted the urge to add a salute of my own to my mother’s cooking for fear it would be too transparent as an attempt to remind her about the part of Christmas still missing, but at least we had the gifts we’d bought earlier in the day and the aunts were always good for a silver dollar and some black socks. Those gifts had to be delivered personally and were always attached to a kiss leaving a year’s worth of red lipstick on my cheeks and the lingering smell of Woolworth’s finest perfume, Ode to Joy, in which the older ladies never failed to bath prior to dinner.
The platters had all made the first pass when a meek, barely audible, knock summoned our black dog, Duchess, from under the table and to the front door. I almost beat her there having deluded myself into believing it was the postman making an emergency delivery from Monkey Wards with an entire division of U. S. Army soldiers that I’d circled in the catalog with my mother’s red lipstick. It had to be, or maybe the real Army Jeep and the live monkey I’d found advertised in the back of the Superman comic, required a special courier. God Bless America, a damn Jeep and a monkey, ain’t America great!
I hardly recognized Lucky Joe, his face, head, and shoulders so covered by fresh snow. And I’d never seen his brother without a beard and with his hair slicked back and a broad smile. The two boys peering between their uncles, I recognized from our morning shopping trip. My mother appeared behind me. There was, in adult parlance, what could only be described as an awkward moment. Lucky Joe seemed to sense this and offered, “Little Moose, he invited us to dinner tonight, Christmas Eve Dinner.”
“Of course, yes, sure, please all of you, come in. Dad come here and take their coats.”
The four guests came slowly through the old oak door, stomping snow from their feet and followed by a tall dark skinned woman with hair as black and glossy as a raven. Rhonda was her name and her relationship to the others was left unspoken. She had soft eyes, large and the color of a tanned deer hide. They stood in the living room taking in the strange smells and shifting uncomfortably. “Dad, you and Bill move the kitchen table into the dining room, I’ll get the dishes. Little Moose, YOU, help me in the kitchen.”
Blissfully unaware of the tumult I’d initiated, I followed along with Duchess, who misunderstood our move as a change in venue to get table scraps. In the kitchen, my mother pivoted on me faster than a NBA point guard. “What is this about? You never told me about this. Did you ask your father? Did he know?” She continued firing questions at me. My thoughts moved to formulate a response that would be required as soon as she ran out of steam. A short-term solution would have been to blame my father. He was famous for ignoring such information, and had I truly told him, he truly would have forgotten. But by golly it was Christmas, I was under a lot of stress what with memorizing my lines, Butchie farting in my face, and a very conspicuous dearth of Christmas presents.
“I invited Mister Joe and his family when I saw them in front of Greenbergs this morning.”
“What were you thinking? What …”
“You’re the one who cancelled Christmas. You’re the one who said I was greedy and that Christmas is about giving not taking.”