Every bride should be told that eventually she will have to learn to say no.
Whether it's a sweetly reluctant "not now" to Afternoon Delight; a firm "no, thanks" to chocolate-pecan pie or a great BIG negative to hosting yet another (darn) Christmas dinner.
I first noticed a strong itch to walk away from my maternal holiday obligations in the middle of an unusually uncomfortable hot flash.
Temporarily delusional, I honestly believe I heard the Almighty telling me to join the legions of other long-suffering grandmothers and move directly into a small mobile home, therefore avoiding the seasonal mass feeding of relatives, which in our case, is bigger than the crowd in the loaves and fishes scenario.
Ignoring a strong history of hospitality won't be easy. My husband's Scandinavian grandmother and her sisters labored feverishly to prepare great quantities of culinary delights for their holiday tables: Spritz cookies, gallons of ligonberry sauce, caldrons of lutefisk (cod preserved in lye) and platters of korv (a sausage in which mystery meats are stuffed into animal intestines, served for no apparent reason). Today, just deciphering their handwritten recipes brings on a sweat.
My own mother, who was less into sustenance and more into image, spent days hand-washing linen napkins, polishing a dazzle of family silver, chargers, teapots and platters, including every pickle fork, demitasse spoon and candelabra she could lay her hands on. I learned my first swear words at my mother's knee, my little hands blackened from Wright's Polish while "helping."
It was great
We actually managed to escape Thanksgiving hosting duties — an even lesser dining experience than Christmas — despite our children and grands all whining and pleading mightily when we announced, "Guess what, kids? We're skipping town! We're outta here! We're blowing this pop stand! Yer Grandpa and I are planning a Thanksgiving cruise . . . alone."
Ignoring the panicky texts and faint childlike voices crying "Noooo! Don't go! What are we going to do-o-oo?" from the distant shore, my husband and I gleefully sailed away and fully enjoyed Carnival's (almost) guilt-free Thanksgiving food fantasia in the ship's elegant dining salon with a bunch of strangers.
But it doesn't look as if we can get outta town again. With the prospect of yet another Christmas dinner looming, and living in the only home with that dinosaur, an actual dining room, I doubt that I can pull off that one again.
The big question: Who takes over the holiday chores when Granny just won't carry on?
All the usual attendees apologetically claim heavy workloads, too small apartments or "can't boil water." Actually a well-meaning lot, they all generously offer to "bring something," usually consisting of red Jell-O or a jar of pickles since a mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy and a 29-pound hunk of bird flesh "doesn't travel well."
Or was it?
So Grandpa, groaning, will once again drag in the borrowed church tables, inflate a giant lung-busting vinyl snowman and tug up the Christmas tree for the 50th time. In the kitchen, I'll struggle with a million details, pore over pages of ads in search of the lowest frozen turkey price and search for one decent tablecloth, all the while considering the dismal state of my housekeeping skills.
Then, while deciding between china or Chinette, silver polishing or plastic forks, I'll sag. Any last iota of holiday spirit will suddenly descend into a deep, dark pit. I feel old. And tired. And deathly bored with the whole shebang.
Head in hands, I flash back on all the other evenings we spent together eating this traditional meal, and the dozens of photos of family members happily stuffing their faces around the table.
I sniffle a little recalling that our dear children are scattered throughout the country. The cousins and sibs rarely see each other. This twice yearly holiday at the family home is a chance to reconnect, give hugs, see new babies, gossip and just have a good laugh. They travel long distances for badly cooked turkey. Obviously, this means so much to them.
I ask myself, is begrudging holiday hosting duties just being mean? Am I turning into a grouchy old lady? Heaven forbid. This isn't about me. This is all about handing out love in the guise of a free meal. Suddenly even the likely prospect of organizing that final yuletide dinner while lying prone at the old ladies' home doesn't seem so bad.
I'll carry on.
Jan Dutton, proprietor of Gulfport's funky Cottage Bookshop hates paperless technology. However, readers can send constructive criticism (or other messages) to her 1989 email address, [email protected]