What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

What is your clearest childhood memory of holidays? The turkey? The decorations? The family gatherings?fire and truck

My clearest childhood memories are of the day and morning prior to each holiday. Because at that point, my mother, who was normally an indulgent follower of Dr. Spock, would metamorphosize into a frantic cleaning machine. We would all stand around trying our hardest to project helpfulness. Even my father. He would look pained and confused, and move his belongings back and forth between various household surfaces. It was a long day until, finally, the guests would arrive and our mother would begin to act normal again.

When I was first married I religiously followed this holiday tradition. Clearly, the recipe for a happy holiday was two days of hectic shopping, cleaning, and cooking, seasoned by high anxiety, and lots of yelling.

This annoyed my husband, who didn’t seem to understand the importance of it.

He would say. “Carol Ane, what’s the worst that can happen? The meal will be overcooked? Undercooked? Someone will notice that our house isn’t clean and be horribly shocked? We won’t manage to hide the clothes under the bed before the guests arrive? We’ll forget to brush down the cobwebs in the living room? Someone will take a good look inside our refrigerator? C’mon Carol-Ane, they’re our relatives! They’ve been here before! They know enough not to look under the bed. They’ll close their eyes when they open the refrigerator. After all, if they criticise, they’ll have to host the dinner next year!”

This year we did something different. Instead of having the holiday at our house, we decided to cook the dinner at my grandmothers. This was a mission of mercy because my grandmother, at 96, is housebound, and my aunt, 75, could not leave her. We would do the cooking, because my aunt hasn’t quite acquired the hang of it yet. My original plan was to bring very simple dishes that could be easily made elsewhere and transported, but my husband soon decided that the dinner must include lamb, potatoes and vegetables. We would just show up early, and cook everything there. This sounded like a fine idea until we realized that the lamb had to be put in the oven in Rehoboth at the same time that we would be in church in Foxboro.

“C’mon” I said, “My aunt was a successful career women. She is capable of putting a lamb in an oven… even if she is related to me.”

So the day before, we trooped down, armed with the lamb, vegetables, and spices. My husband carefully prepared the leg of lamb, put it on a rack, placed it in the refrigerator, and left a set of very detailed instructions on the inside of a kitchen cabinet.

In the morning, my cousin and I arrived at my grandmothers, as scheduled, to set up. When we got there, the house was full of smoke, my aunt was at church, and an uncle was frantically opening doors.

“Has anyone here ever cooked a lamb before?” my grandmother wanted to know.

“Isn’t gramma’s fire alarm hooked up to the fire department?” my cousin asked. “Is it still a volunteer fire department in Rehoboth? Do you think we should put hor-deaus out for them? Should we have brought potato chips and beer instead of all that low-fat vegetable stuff?”

Later, after the smoke had cleared and my husband arrived, we reminisced about past holidays.

“Remember the Christmas that everyone got the Carol-Ane disease?” My husband asked.

“What about the great turkey rescue?” I added. “When we started cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the morning and we both got sick? Your sister Jeani came over and took the turkey out of our oven, grabbed the uncooked potatoes and cans of cranberry sauce and drove the whole holiday down to your other sister’s house in Attleboro. And then my parents took our kids, so they wouldn’t have to miss the holiday.”

‘Oh, yeah, that turned out to be a lovely quiet day’, we mused. ‘I think everybody got sick after that one too though.’

These days our holiday tradition has shifted. After the first few years of celebrating holidays my way, my husband did a very un-guy thing. He started to help with the preparations. More and more extensively. Now, he metamorphosize’s into ‘Holiday Dad’. He becomes a frantic cleaning and cooking machine while I move my belongings from surface to surface and stand around trying to telepathically broadcast extreme helpfulness.

And I chant the holiday mantra. “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the worst that can happen?”

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