Well I made it through my first mom-less holiday season more or less intact. Some extra moodiness for sure, but all in all it went much better than I would've thought. I think it was helped by the fact that I've long been over the hype that is Christmas and have been striving for low-key traditions for years.
I spent the days enjoying the family I have left, which is considerable, and enjoying quiet (blessedly quiet) times with Jess.
Christmas eve we went to my dad's annual dinner, which includes fifty or so of our closest family, friends and probably a few folks who heard there was a good meal to be had and showed up. There's always a core group that I knew and recognize and then a much larger percentage of folks that I only see once a year and wouldn't recognize on the street if I saw them again. My strategy is to hug everyone who hugs me and it seems to work out well. I warned Jess not to expect introductions.
Jess came down with a cold that included a four day sinus headache so she was even less prepared than usual to deal with the madness that is large numbers of my family combined in a small space, but she was a trooper. Walking into the house was like walking into a wall of sound, such as you might find in a football stadium. No one's ever heard of an inside voice and the volume just escalates as people try to out shout each other to be heard. The children are quiet by comparison, though most of them are relegated to the basement game room. Even I was overwhelmed, and I grew up with it.
Jess forgot her lactose pills (there's no hope of avoiding dairy and we gave up trying until '08) so she ran back home to get them. Meanwhile, I found happiness in a bowl of sausage dip. Living with a vegetarian has definitely given me a greater appreciate of well prepared meat, since I rarely bother to cook it at home. I barely managed to tear myself away from the dip, but I didn't want to fill up completely before dinner.
When the time came to eat, we managed to squeeze everyone into the main room for prayer. I always marvel that we all fit, it reminds me of the time I saw a six foot tall Yoga master squeeze himself into a three foot square box on That's Incredible.
Then my dad's wife announced the rules for the food line; people 40 and over first, followed by people with children under the age of 10.
What? I felt betrayed. I was suddenly glad for all that dip I'd eaten. I couldn't bare to stand around and watch the line crawl by, so Jess I retired to the quietest room, one just off the kitchen while we waited for people to get through. We ended up at the back of the line, something that's never happened to me at a family gathering.
You know those people who wait for someone else to go first in line, or cut the first piece of dessert? I'm not that person. In fact, I feel it's my sworn duty to help those people by being the first in line so they can feel free and unencumbered about getting their food.
The line at least moved quickly, but as we got into the kitchen and started to see the food choices awaiting us, it became clear that Jess's options weren't just limited, they were non-existent. Every vegetable dish was filled with meat--hamhocks flavoring the greens, bacon floating in the cabbage. There wasn't even any mac and cheese in sight. There was potato salad but Jess hates potato salad as much as mom did.
Luckily she's learned never to go to my dad's house hungry. She'd eaten some not long before we left so she wasn't starving. As they saw her approaching the table, the servers realized the situation and Faye took control. "Hang on a few minutes, Jess I'm going to make you something." She wouldn't hear any protesting from Jess, who looked to me for help. I just shrugged. "They have to feed people, it's what they do," I said. In due course, Faye brought over some Uncle Ben's wild rice with vegetables.
We sat in our 'quiet' room with some cousins, visiting, eating and eventually sampling desserts, before making a fairly early exit. I heard the final count was sixty-six people.