Saturday, December 29, 2018

Stick a Candle In It

Is it just me or has everyone else lost track of what day of the week it is?

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day felt like a weekend, except that the following day, Wednesday, felt nothing like a Monday. Meaning we had responsibilities.

The plan was to drive to the Northern Neck for some seasonal fam time, in this case with the parental units plus Sister #4 and her posse. My contribution to the evening meal was cookies and a Viennese torte which I'd wisely made before going to dinner the night before and a salad for which I needed to stop and get the ingredients.

Don't judge. Of all the things I needed to accomplish before the official holiday, somehow buying salad ingredients - a task neither sexy nor festive - had fallen through the cracks. At Ellwood Thompson, Mr. Wright demonstrated his superior planning skills yet again by suggesting we snag some lunch makings to tide me over for the long journey from J-Ward to the Rivah.

Car snacks, never leave home without them.

Except that I didn't want to eat in the car. A woman en route to spend the afternoon and evening with eight family members needs a more civilized way to fuel up than gobbling at 60 mph. Since he'd suggested lunch, I suggested the roadside table on Route 3 for the setting.

In 33 years of driving to my parents' house, I never fail to notice the small blue sign near a creek with a picture of a picnic table on it. Finally the day had come when I could see where that table was. Turns out it was multiple well-weathered tables scattered over a fenced-in grassy knoll overlooking the water. Although Route 3 wasn't far away, it felt like it was.

The picnic tables were splinter factories, old and rough, so I laid down my scarf on the bench rather than risk a hole in my cute tights. Our coats stayed buttoned to the top, but the turkey wraps and chickpea, herb and feta salad tasted wonderful in the crisp air. Sitting there munching on the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (Dad's favorite version of the cookie) I'd baked to take to Mom's with a view of pale blue water felt a picnic the holidays forgot.

It was also the peaceful interlude before the family holiday storm.

Don't get me wrong, visiting my parents when only one of my sisters and her family are there is infinitely preferable to going when multiple families convene. Still, their house is so much warmer than what I'm used to and currently so full of Christmas decor that sometimes to cool down and breathe easily, I just went out on the Ledo Deck. That's the  affectionate family name for the glassed-in porch, as opposed to the sleeping porch upstairs or the little porch off Mom and Dad's bedroom.

One of the most charming things about this house is its abundance of porches.

Non-stop conversation and gift unwrapping dominated the afternoon, but it was my brother-in-law I pitied because he'd been up at 4:30 a.m. making his red sauce for tonight's penne with sausage and meatballs.

And while I believe that everyone should have an Italian in the family willing to make such a sacrifice, he did seem to nod off a few times over the afternoon as a result. Or maybe, like me, he felt like he was in a sauna.

The big family meal went off without a hitch, the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers occupying the dining room while the millennials took up their positions around the breakfast nook table. We toasted each other with Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel Rose and my Dad's sentimental words.

Abstaining from Rose was the cook, who admitted to a preference for Chianti. That was Dad's cue to begin telling the saga of the Chianti bottle that has somehow made it 50-some years as part of their household.

As he explained it for those who didn't know - and, mind you, that's not me - he and Mom drank Chianti in the '60s and '70s because it was cheap. But one straw-covered bottle had been promoted to decor after the first time they stuck a taper in it and let it burn down during one of their dinner parties. After that, they made a point to change candle colors every time they burnt it so that the wax drippings would be multi-colored.

I don't want to brag, but in the early '70s, my resourceful father had even found candles made of various colors of wax so they dripped multicolored from one candle. As kids, this was nothing short of otherworldly to us.

To Mom, it was ridiculous to spend that kind of money on crazy candles.

As he's sharing this old chestnut, I quietly leave the table and return with the waxy bottle in question, which I happened to know now resides in Dad's bathroom. The oohs and aahs as everyone admired 50 years of waxy buildup was enough to melt even the toughest Grinch heart.

That or inspire that "Hoarders" show to try to track him down.

I'm not as sentimental as my Dad, so I have no comparable souvenir of my youth with which to dazzle others after the holiday meal ends. Fortunately for me, it looks like my parents will live forever, so there'll be no shortage of bon mots and youthful memories.

Meanwhile, by the time we returned to civilization, I was surprised to discover that we hadn't even turned the page on Thursday yet.

When we first began going down, my sisters and I used to marvel at how slowly time seemed to move on the Northern Neck. Mom's explanation was always that the "day was lasting nicely." It was code for interminable.

This week is lasting nicely.

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