We had our first guests at Easter House. Christmas night, after dinner at my sister's, three of my brothers, their children and their wife and significant other followed our car up Main Street to our place, to eat some more, play some cards, and crash on our new beds.
I thought of it like the "Friends and Family" soft opening we and our partners held at Krupa Grocery last spring.
New restaurants typically host a "friends and family night" before they throw their doors open to the general public. The event gives the chef, the line cooks, the wait staff and the bartenders a chance to work out the kinks in their hospitality operations with a friendly crowd, one that won't post a snarling review on Yelp if the food is cold or the waitress forgot your order of mussels.
At our post-Christmas brunch in Ada, no one seemed to mind that the Martha Stewart Pecan Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake was falling apart and lying in big chunks on the plate (not your fault, Martha, I didn't use a tube pan with a removable bottom, as you wisely suggested. I used a Bundt pan, and had to dig the cake out of it with my fingers and a fork. I did not look like the Doyenne of Domesticity as I did so, either).
No one said anything, either, about the dark brown bottoms of the Martha Stewart Cranberry Scones . My brother-in-law told me they were delicious, toasting me with a crumbly, warm piece of scone held aloft in his right hand. And no one seemed to notice the mismatched placemats or the Easter-themed water glasses, with pink and yellow chicks and rabbits painted on them, or the fact that there was a ten-minute interval between the moment they asked for more coffee and the time they actually got some, due to our need to boil more water and steep more grounds in the French press.
There wasn't even enough space at the table to accommodate everyone. I freed up a chair by busying myself with the coffee refills. Others opened up when the nieces -- too young to sit in one place for more than five minutes -- left the room to hunt down the cats for a castor oil petting session. You don't know how much you need me to hold you. You'll thank me later.
Afterward, on the flight back to New York City, I flipped through some of the Christmas-themed home decorating magazines I had bought several weeks ago, subconsciously measuring my efforts against What Might Have Been, had I invested more time and effort to the endeavor. According to Home & Lifestyle's "Make It Christmas" edition, I could have sewed "flouncy napkins" for each guest out of organza fabric, "securing the middle with a piece of narrow ribbon and a miniature gold decoration." Or I could have used half-cored apples as candle holders, placing them down the middle of the table as part of a "modern Nordic look" made complete with large pine cones tied with grosgrain ribbon. Or I could have set the table with a "shimmering stack" of silver or gold-rimmed plates, placing a silvery ornament in the dessert bowl.
Well, I know one thing for certain: My husband would not have eaten out of that dessert bowl if he had to pull an ornament out of it first. Especially an antique one, coated with lead-based silver paint.
These decorating ideas look luscious and pretty on the (well-designed, perfectly-photographed-and-staged) page, but the reality of my holiday entertaining was a helluva lot messier. Even the sleep-over was thrown together. It was BYOB -- Bring Your Own Bedding. The sheets I had ordered hadn't arrived by the time my family did. Everyone appeared to rest well, regardless.
But, like the transformed Mr. Scrooge, we were still able to "keep Christmas well." The magic only partially resides in the trappings of the season -- the pretty ornaments, the glittering trees, the delightful, exotic characters of the creche. The real keeping of it was in the hearts-wide-open spirit that everyone brought to the table.
The best part was the ribbing Mark got from my brothers for Easter House. "How's it feel to be the owner of out buildings?" my youngest brother asked during a hand of poker, as Christmas Day stretched into Christmas Night. He was thinking of the gazebo, the smoke house and the "carriage house" in the back yard. "It's like you're some retired Southern colonel, sitting in a rocker on his front porch and calling for a drink." Mother! I say, Mother! Fetch me another lemonade!
Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe it was the beer, or the buzz from too many handfuls of red and green M&M's. But that comment had us all guffawing well into the night. I laughed so hard, my cheeks hurt.
And isn't that what makes Christmas merry? Isn't that joy and fun the "rest" God intends us to have in lives darkened far too much this year by financial insecurity, marital strife, sickness, infirmity and death?
I imagine even Martha Stewart would toast that sentiment, with a cranberry scone and a bottle of Blue Moon beer.