Thursday, December 29, 2005



So all was well with the world, my world, if a little chaotic. Mostly. The house was warm. My mother rested after travelling, my sister arrived. J-F was gracious as he can muster, and Helena charming beyond belief.

Christmas Eve day was hectic for all except me, remarkably. I would've liked to do a little last minute shopping, but there was no one on whom to foist the responsibility of toddler watch; alas, they all are left without the intended stocking stuffers: socks, fine chocolate, bookmarks — can Christmas be complete without these elements? — for the acquisition of which there'd simply been no time. Just as well. Other people went for groceries and wine and their last-minute presents. And I made myself a cup of tea, gave Helena a cookie, and thought to myself, Aw, fuckit. Whatever. Sip. Smile. There is peace in this. Que sera, sera.

J-F bought a new set of dishes. Something I'd thought about doing weeks previously, but had ultimately decided against. There wasn't the time or money to do it right, with thoughtful consideration of price-for-value and practicality, let alone taste and preference. So we would eat off unmatched dishes. So what? But J-F at the last minute felt the pressure of the judgment his family would surely pass. And while I didn't care, he obviously did, very much, and I exercised as much support as I could on his behalf in the face of my family trying to convince us it didn't matter. We have new, matching dishes; they're not half-bad.

Being of Polish extraction, I've always celebrated Christmas in "a Polish manner," meaning primarily that we observe the occasion on Christmas Eve, we enjoy a meatless feast, and we open presents afterwards. The evening also bears a strikingly somber mood, though in my adulthood I've learned that has less to do with the Polishness of the celebration than it does with the deep-seated melancholy my mother unveils for special occasions.

(Somehow, throughout the day I break two wineglasses and a (old) plate.)

We were ready. Fridge fully stocked. Presents wrapped, tree loaded. All the clan showered clean and nicely dressed. Food simmering. Yvonne will make us cocktails before we sit down to dinner. She takes a knife to the seemingly unopenable plastic bottle of Clamato and stabs her hand such that she fears she's severed the tendon of the thumb. Blood everywhere.

J-F sobers up fast to drive her to the hospital. My mother, for some reason I don't know — by my instinct this is absolutely the wrong and counterproductive thing to do — decides to go with them. I'm left on toddler-watch, and kitchen-duty clean-up.

Blood. Everywhere. I throw out a dozen pierogi, a plate of bread, and the tomato and onion that were prepped for cooking fish, all of which were uncovered at the time of the incident. Red icecubes on the counter. I repackage herbs and various breads in clean — unspattered — cellophane. I scrub and bleach. I regret not taking pictures. I notice the differences between spatter and transfer. I trace my sister's path through the kitchen, the trajectory of her hand as she jerked it, shook it, raised it above her head.

The toddler wants to watch her movie, the DVD a gift from the daycare, documenting music classes, special visitors, and various outings (to the library, strolling the neighbourhood). I'm a little sad we can't watch it together, but there will be time for that, and it keeps her singing and away from the kitchen.

I've barely finished cleaning, I thought, and had time to pour a glass of wine as they return from the hospital. In the morning I find one remaining cupboard face I'd neglected to wipe down.

Dinner very late. Toddler very cranky. Sister has 5 stitches and is preferring alcohol to painkillers. Mother more anxious, agitated, than melancholy. J-F is more concerned for the following day's proceedings, not quite fully realizing that it's the day at hand that holds the weight of import in my family. But dinner is great.

Helena knows we're about to open presents. We all take a breather, a cigarette, brush our teeth, clear the table. I hear the rip of giftwrap from the next room and assume someone is taking advantage of a private moment. Helena soon pitter-patters into the kitchen exclaiming excitedly over her cadeau, un livre, how heavy it is. I see that it's Doris Lessing's Time Bites she wields, and think to myself, Hmmm. She's reluctant to relinquish it me, it's rightful new owner. But she does so when she realizes she can seize this opportunity to run for the tree and open more cadeaux. They're not quite all for her, and it doesn't matter.

Then there was Christmas Day, and J-F's family descended upon us, and it was fine. The turkey was cooked to near perfection (upside down). J-F made stuffing, cuz he really wanted to make stuffing. I "invented" some carrots with cranberries, which I'd resolved if reception were poor to blame on Jamie Oliver, even tho' he has nothing to do with it, but nevermind — they were delicious.

We drank.

There were a million incidents, words, glances. But really, none of it matters.

My mom spent Boxing Day in bed, still battling the effects of a day's travel, or a new cold. She tires easily. Awful daughter that I am and ever suspicious of people's motivations, I wonder how much of this behaviour is psychosomatic. (Sshhh, I didn't say that out loud.)

Our little nuclear unit pays a visit to the grand patriarch (J-F's grandfather).

The women spend an afternoon shopping.

All without incident. None of it's exactly easy, or normal, but it could be so much worse. I know that.

It's Christmas; what's the worst that could happen?


Anonymous said...

Well, I suppose sister could have cut off her entire arm; one should be thankful for the little blessings.

This Christmas mini-saga of yours is beautiful in its unapoligetic imperfection. Words cannot express how much I enjoy your writing; your view on life in all its grittiness (and blood spatter).

I would love to be as candid in my own family get-togethers, but alas, some family members read my blog, and quite frankly, I haven't the courage to face the consequences of such a brazen act of honesty. One day, perhaps.

I wish you a very Happy New Year. Can't wait to read about what happens!

Suzanne said...

Ah, Christmas. That was a cute read but I did wince a bit--not just through the bloody parts--because I empathize with you.

Nothing quite so dramatic here.

Re: H. opening your gifts - D. opened pretty much all of mine, too.

As they say in (half) my family: Happy Christmas and a good New Year!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a memorable Christmas-- the kind which makes for very good stories after the fact. I can't think of any Christmas that I've been associated with where one had to clean gore off of everything. And Happy New Year to you and yours!