Monday, December 21, 2009

The Perfect Christmas

Ted frowned at the turkey on the cutting board. “Is the meat supposed to be that color?” He sniffed the air. “And what’s that weird smell? It’s kind of like Old Spice mixed with shoe polish.”

Sally gave him “the look”, the one developed and honed through years of practice, the one that told Ted he was being a complete yutz.

“You’re hallucinating, Ted. There’s no smell.” She leaned over to look at the turkey. “It does look a little pink, doesn’t it? Maybe we should pop it back into the oven for awhile.”

Ted contemplated further discussion of the objectionable smell, and then thought better of it. His normally unflappable wife had morphed into a stressed out bundle of nerves. This was the first Christmas since her mother’s passing, the first Christmas she'd planned all by herself. Her family was coming for Christmas dinner and Sally wanted everything perfect. Ted lifted the turkey back into the roaster and heaved it into the oven, his arms trembling under the weight.

“Was this thing a sumo wrestler in a previous life? How much does it weigh?” He adjusted the temperature on the oven, moving it up to five hundred degrees. They did have to eat this Christmas, after all.

“It’s about thirty pounds,” Sally replied. She studied the magazine in front of her with its glossy photos of beautiful, yet edible garnishes. Unfortunately, the tortured tomato in Sally’s hand bared no resemblance to the elegant rosette in the picture. “It’s hopeless.” She plopped her mangled tomato onto the counter. It sagged, its star shaped points flattening against the counter’s surface like a dying jelly fish. “Maybe I’ll just slice the tomatoes.”

Ted watched tomato juice ooze onto the counter and down to the floor. “Good idea.”

The doorbell rang and Sally shot Ted a look of horror.

“I’m not ready yet.” She pulled at her apron strings. “I haven’t changed, or finished setting the table. I didn’t even light the candles.”

Ted turned her around and unknotted the apron. “It’s not like Martha Stewart is coming for Christmas dinner. It’s just your family. They’ve seen us before, warts and all.”

“But this is different. This is the first Christmas . . . our first Christmas alone. I’m the oldest. Christmas is my responsibility now.”

Ted didn’t know where she got that misguided notion, but there was no time to argue. “The kids and I will set the dining room table. You answer the door before someone freezes to the front step.”

She gave him a nervous smile before hurrying to the door. Ted found his offspring in front of the TV in the basement, ten year old Adam flicking channels with the remote, and thirteen year old Brittany lounging on the recliner. Ted pulled at the ear buds of her Ipod.

“Hey,” Brittany protested. “I was listening to that.”

“Not anymore.” Ted took the remote from Adam’s hands and clicked off the TV. “We’ve got company and your job is to set the dining room table. Tablecloth, napkins, the whole nine yards. And do a good job. Your allowance depends on it.”

“Is Uncle Dave here?” Adam asked. Sally’s brother Dave was Adam’s favorite uncle, which wasn’t surprising considering that Dave was such a big kid himself.

“I’m not sure. Let’s check it out.”

Upstairs they found that Dave had indeed arrived, along with Sally’s sister, their respective spouses and assorted nieces and nephews. After greeting their guests, Ted shooed Adam and Brittany into the dining room. He followed Sally into the kitchen.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Sally looked around her kitchen to the dirty dishes heaped high in the sink, the countertops sticky with cooking remains and the mound of mashed potatoes on the floor.

“Aside from blowing up this room? No, I don’t think so. Why don’t you fix everyone a drink while I get things ready.”

Ted poured rum and eggnog for the adults and gave the kids glasses of punch from the bowl Sally had set up on the sideboard. Presents were stacked under the tree to be opened after dinner. Ted sat back in his chair and enjoyed the conversation around him. Even Sally would have to agree that everything was going well.

Sally’s four year old nephew tripped over Ted’s shoes, landing face first on the carpet. The boy laughed, a glazed look in his eyes. Ted frowned at Sally’s sister and her husband. What were they giving the poor kid?

Sally walked into the living room, her smile dying slowly. Ted watched her gaze settle on the punch the kids were drinking before turning on him with “the look”. Now what had he done?

“Please tell me you didn’t give the kids that punch.”

Ted winced. This was not good.

“Ted, I put a bottle of vodka in that punch. That was for the adults.”

For a second the room turned deathly quiet. Then parents scrambled to their feet and grabbed what remained of the punch in their children’s glasses. Sally’s sister Karen picked up her son.

“It’s not so bad, Sal. They didn’t drink that much. We’ll give them something to eat and they’ll be fine.”

Sally nodded, tight-lipped and mortified. Ted hung his head, feeling like the world’s worst husband, father and uncle. He followed Sally into the dining room, staying a respectful three paces behind her. He could practically feel the waves of anger that rolled off his wife and tumbled towards him.

Sally abruptly stopped in the doorway. She turned and stared at him, her eyes wide.
“What have you done?”

She pointed at the dining room table. Mismatched dishes sat on top of what appeared to be a pink and white flowered bedsheet. Instead of dessert spoons, soup spoons sat next to the paper napkins which had been hand coloured with childlike Christmas scenes. Serving as centrepiece, Adam’s favorite decoration, a Santa dressed in a Hawaiian grass skirt and lei, did his animated hula dance to the tune of “Tiny Bubbles”.

Dave and Adam began to hula along with Santa. “Isn’t it great Dad? We went the whole nine yards, like you said.”

Ted smiled weakly. “You sure did, son.”


Karen’s husband Mike began to wheeze. “It’s my allergies,” he managed between sneezes. “Is someone wearing Old Spice?”

Karen sniffed at the bowl of potpourri that Sally had painstakingly arranged. “It’s this stuff. We have to get rid of it.”

Sally grabbed the bowl, marched to the front door, and dumped the contents into the snow.
“So that’s what smelled,” Ted said as Sally walked by. She glared at him.

“Something else smells, Sal,” Dave said, sniffing the air. “I think something’s burning.”

Ted rushed into the kitchen. Black smoke billowed out of the oven when he opened the door and Sally threw baking soda on the grease that had ignited. The smoke alarm shrilled and children cried. Ted grabbed the pot holders and pulled the roasting pan from the oven, praying it wasn’t as bad as he feared.

It was worse. The turkey lay dry and shriveled in the coffin shaped pan, parts of it burned beyond recognition. The only decent thing to do now was to bury the poor thing.

Sally stared at the turkey, her shoulders slumped in defeat. Ted’s heart broke. She’d wanted so much for this Christmas to be perfect and he’d ruined it for her.

Though everyone crowded into the kitchen, the room seemed unnaturally quiet. And then from somewhere near the back of the room, Ted heard a chuckle. The chuckle grew into a guffaw and then a full blown laugh. Everyone turned to look at Dave, who was bent over with spasms of laughter.

“Sal, this is priceless. This is so Mom.” He wiped the tears from his eyes. “Do you remember how many times she burnt the Christmas turkey?”

Sally looked confused. “But Mom’s Christmases were perfect.”

Dave grinned. “Take off the rose colored glasses, kid. Mom couldn’t boil water.”

Sally shook her head. “I just remember things being so . . . right.”

“Yes, they were.” Karen smiled. “Mom was a terrible cook. But Christmas was always perfect just because she was there.”

After a moment Sally began to smile. “Do you remember the time she made that marshmallow and sweet potato casserole? It was the most vile thing I’ve ever eaten.”

Sally and her brother and sister reminisced about disasters of Christmases past over pre-dinner drinks. For the first time in days, Ted saw his wife relax.

Just after they paid for the pizza, Sally gave Ted a kiss.

“Does this mean you’ve forgiven me?” he asked.

“Only if you forgive me.” She winked at him. “You may even get lucky tonight.”

Ted tucked away that delightful thought. “What about your perfect Christmas? I thought you wanted it to be special.”

Sally smiled. “It is special, and it’s perfect. Just like Mom used to make.”

Don't forget to add your comment for a chance to win a gift basket from the Chicks to celebrate our upcoming first anniversary. Be sure to use at and dot when you leave your email so we can fool the evil trolls! Have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year.

From Jana and Lou (who's keeping watch for the evil mailman!)


DebH said...

you really captured a slice of family life with your story. our family didn't have any fiascos like what you presented here - but then again, we have had small things similar enough to make me smile as I read your story. 'Tar Jelly' and 'motorcycle bread' are at least two food experiments gone awry that we kids remember with a smile.
this week is going to be so fun reading the Chick's stories!

Karyn Good said...

Thanks for the great story, Jana! It made me chuckle. I loved the bit about the punch and I could just picture the table :)

Great job!

Janet said...

Great story, Jana. How many of us go crazy over the holidays trying to make it 'perfect' - when it's the memories and the laughter and the family that make it 'perfect'?

I hope you're Christmas plans are coming together and you haven't spiked the punch just yet ;)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Very nice story, Jana. You've made me very thankful there are only two of us for Christmas, and our bird will be smaller than our cat ;) Great work.

Jana Richards said...

Thanks Deb,
I'm not even sure I even want to know what "Tar Jelly" and "Motorcycle Bread" are! I hope you enjoy this week's Christmas stories.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I'm looking forward to your story on Wednesday.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I firmly believe there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas. It's whatever works for you. You can make yourself crazy looking for perfection. And no I haven't spiked the punch yet!

I hear Nova Scotia got hit by a big snowstorm. Hope you can dig your way out. Surprisingly, the weather is perfect here on the prairies today!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
I hope you and your hubby have a lovely Christmas together with your little bird!

I loved your story yesterday. Very imaginative and well told. And I really like that the adulterous miller got punished in the end!


Margaret Tanner said...

What a great Chrsitmas story. Thank you so much, I loved it.
Best wishes for the festive season

Tiffany Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tiffany Green said...

That is a story right out of my past! Thanks, Jana.

Mary Ricksen said...

There are just some holidays that stay in your mind for the rest of your life and seem like they happened yesterday. To me the beauty of memories like this is that you take them out and relive them whenever you need too.
The more memories the better it is. It's great fodder for wonderfully entrapping me into the short tale you told us. Thanks for sharing this story.
I look forward to the rest. Please remind us all on the loop!

Celia Yeary said...

JANA--Ahhh, those holidays. Why can't everything go according to plan? Very cute story, and one I'm sure many of us can identify with! Have a Merry Chrismas, and I'm looking forward to the other stories. Celia

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Jana, while I may not always write romantic endings, I think my miller's story can certainly fall in the category of 'happy endings' eh? ;)

Helena said...

Jana, that's a gem of a story. I think you've one-upped Stuart McLean! (Dave and the turkey story)

I'm not sure why, but I watched Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation last night on TV. They didn't think of spiked punch but everything else that could go wrong did, and even so they ended up misty-eyed with the emotion of the Season.

When people ask me if I'm ready for Christmas, I always say I am, no matter what is left to do. I know that I will be ready, because when the big day arrives you go with what you've got and if everyone's together, that's all that really counts.

Thanks for reminding us of that, Jana.

(Got sidetracked yesterday and didn't comment or welcome Hayley to our ranks. Mea culpa. So glad you are now a regular, Hayley.)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Margaret,
Thanks for stopping by. I'm really glad you enjoyed the story. Please stop by for more stories this week and some Christmas leftover recipes next week.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Tiffany,
I'm a little afraid to ask about your Christmas past! I hope you have a good one this year.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Celia,
Things never quite go the way we plan at Christmas. Our expectations are sometimes unrealistic. I wanted my characters to realize that the only thing that really matters is being with the people you care about.

Come back soon.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
While I've never had quite so many things go wrong in one Christmas, we've had our share of crazy events at Christmas time. Like the time the water main broke on my inlaws street in Moose Jaw. Six adults and five kids in the house and no water! Actually I felt worse for the city workers who spent most of Christmas digging up the street in the cold. Poor guys.

So glad you enjoyed the story. I'll be sure to put a reminder on the loops.


Jana Richards said...

Hayley, your story definitely fell into the "happy endings" category, at least for the wife and family!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Thanks for comparing my story to one of Stuart McLean's. I'm blushing over here! I think Stuart McLean is a wonderful story teller.

Every year I think about all the stuff I have to do at Christmas and I get all stressed about it. And then I think that I always get stuff done, eventually. So I try to keep it all in perspective.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Helena. All the best.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Good story, Jana. Just goes to remind us that everyone's perception of perfect is different.

I really enjoyed reading this.

Jana Richards said...

Thanks Anita. I'm looking forward to reading your story too.


Silver James said...

Oh, Jana! That was priceless and reminds me of the Christmas my Newfoundland ate all the roll dough (already made out into rolls and in pans, waiting for delivery to friends!)

I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and will have a very Happy New Year!

silverjames @ swbell dot net (heh, I remembered this time!)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
I'm glad you enjoyed it. The story about your Newfoundland is too funny, but I'll bet you weren't laughing much at the time! I guess it was one of those times when you could truly say "The dog ate my Christmas gifts."

Hope you had a good Christmas.