The three grown sisters are in the kitchen attempting to make the cranberry sauce. “Where’s the zester?”
“Just use a grater.”
“Don’t give me ‘just.'”
“I don’t know how to work this food processor. Where do I put the stuff in?”
“Here, geez. Snap it like this.”
“But how do I get everything back out?”
“Just use a spatula and scrape it into the bowl!”
On the stove, the berries are boiling hard. Sugar in, orange zest in. Their mother is back in her bedroom “resting.” This is code for preparing for the next bout. When the avalanche of family has pushed tempers to their limits, napping is the only way to re-boot. I have done so twice already today and Bug is back on his little pile of blankets right now taking his siesta.
We started out the day at the local Y. The nice man at the counter must have seen the desperation in our eyes. He smiled gently as he handed us a week guest pass.
“How much?” I asked, reaching for my wallet.
“It’s on the house,” he whispered. “Merry Christmas.”
Bug climbed non-stop in the Adventure Zone for kids, I shimmied in a mega-Zumba class that had three rotating instructors and took up the entire gym, and my dad fought his way onto an elliptical for some hard sweating. The place could not spare a single square inch for stretching. Every medicine ball had been claimed. We were not the only ones looking to pump endorphines into our systems to offset the pre-Christmas crazies.
Naps and exercise are sure bets, it seems. At least until we start drinking.
People enter and exit my grandmother’s house in threes and fours. The front doorbell rings then the sliding glass door squeaks. More cousins and uncles. Unfixed dinner plans. Re-routed afternoons. We crowd into the breakfast nook and leave the sprawling rest of the house unoccupied. “Why does everyone always sit in here?” Bug asks. “That dining room has a lot more seats.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Anyone?”
A cousin shrugs. She is tucked into the corner in a low chair. “Because this is how we have always done it.”
Three bottles of wine are on the counter.
The wheels on the ancient drawers scream in protest as an aunt digs in the back for missing tools. My mother is on her knees in front of the buffet. Her head is halfway into a cabinet searching for a China bowl which may have been here once. She pulls open a drawer, looks in, and sighs.
“Well, here are the candles I was looking for.” She still has not found the bowl. She glances up at me typing here in the dining room and narrows her eyes.
“Don’t you dare write about us.”