In the Eyes of the Beholder

December 24, 2009

When Mama was young, her family had a Christmas Day Open House every year. When the excitement and flurry of Christmas morning was over, Gramma Rhetta would whip up some of her famous eggnog, set out the snacks, and friends and neighbors would come a’calling.

Mama said she always got some new item of clothing or jewelry for Christmas, and right before the guests arrived, that shiny new finery went on her body. I always kind of liked that image of Mama, hustling to her room, anxious to break out her treasures.

Christmas Day Open Houses were always well attended. Now that I think about it, it makes sense. I mean, as the day wears on, after all of the gifts have been opened and the magic starts to fade…it’s kind of boring, don’t you think? There’s a hella long time between present-opening and Christmas dinner. Hours where perhaps, just maybe, some of your nearest and dearest are sort of grating on your nerves?

It would kind of be nice to have somewhere to go during those dead hours. Somewhere that, hopefully, had a lot of space so you could ditch the relatives for a while and soak in the balm of friendship?

Christmas Day Open House. I like that idea.

A few years back, Mama mentioned to me that her sister, Patricia, kept the tradition of Open House alive on her side of the family. At the Jones residence, Open House flourishes, bright with hilarity and good food and company.

We never had Christmas Day Open House. It was not our family’s tradition. When I was a teenager, I asked Mama, “Why don’t we do Open House?” I mean, it seemed like such a wonderful idea?

Mama’s voice grew hard, eyes narrowing slightly. “I always hated that Open House.”

Whaaaaa? Why? How? Whaaaa? How can that be so?

“Because your Grandfather was a drunk. By the time Open House rolled around, he was already well lubricated, and by the time it was over, we never knew which version of Daddy we were going to see. Most likely, it was going to be the nasty version.”

Poof! And just like that, my perspective is upended 360 degrees.

Things are not always what they seem.

For Mama, Open House was something to be endured. A trial. Several hours of anxious waiting, watching her father out of the corner of her eye.

Mama doesn’t talk much about her father. Mention his name and something shifts behind her expression. There’s a reason that scabs are hard crusts with ragged edges.

I am saddened by Mama’s wounds, for the Christmases she spent in fear. I cannot take those away for her.

But we heal as best we can, given love and time. And if we keep our hearts open, there are new joys waiting for us.

I’m so happy to be able to spend my Christmases with Mama now, bathed in silliness and hugs and the raucous rattle of children.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thank you for sharing some of your time with me this year. I’m so grateful for my friends, new and old.

Wishing you all a magical holiday season.

Gramma Rhetta’s Famous Eggnog

6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups brandy
1 cup rum
1 1/2 quarts milk
3 cups whipped cream

Separate eggs. Beat yolks until very thick and light lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, beating constantly. Still beating, add brandy and rum, gradually. Chill for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add milk gradually and fold in whipped cream. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into the eggnog. Store in covered jars in refrigerator for a day before serving.

Ladle from a glass punchbowl and sprinkle with nutmeg.

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