The only Christmas cookies in my house this year were baked by a Jewish friend, delivered yesterday afternoon while I was up to my elbows in potato peels. I can't recall a year when I didn't bake in December — even my early years were spent in sugar-dusted glee, with sprinkles afoot most of the month. I work too many hours these days to spend much time in the kitchen, dog-tired at the end of each day. Not a complaint: I am blessed with a job that sustains me in many ways. There are trade-offs involved, and things are good. And if the only cookies in my kitchen were baked in someone else's house, then so be it.
Yesterday's dinner guests were all refugees from changing lives of their own, the shifts that occur when loved ones age, when marriages crumble and houses, metaphorically, fall. I wasn't even sure of the guest list until Christmas morning. It kind of felt like musical chairs: when the music stopped, we all sat down for dinner, and one person was missing. (And yet so many others, too, gone now forever.)
I doubt there was one of us that didn't ponder the make-up of this new, loosely-formed family. But no matter: we wasted no time getting to the important stuff: laughter. Rolling explosions of laughter, rising and falling gales of laughter, for hours on end. I think that from the outside we must've sounded like a party of twenty or more, but there were only seven of us.
A failed attempt to set the Baked Alaska aflame provided additional entertainment (a blow torch was involved) and fears from my nephew that the house would, at any minute, go up in its own fiery blaze. We did manage a trickle of blue flame down one side of the meringue-flocked Mt. McKinley, and the dearth of alcohol-fueled drama didn't in any way mar the fabulousness that is Baked Alaska (cake, ice cream, meringue).
A stupor of exhaustion set in once dinner was finished, in everyone, it seemed. No charades, no Cards Against Humanity. We sat in the candlelit, tree-twinkled living room, slumped onto couches, as our stories and laughter dwindled, most of the dishes done, the melting Alaska ferried back to the freezer.
The day after Christmas possesses its own happy wreckage — the kitchen overflowing with leftover abundance, emptied wine bottles, and that plate of cookies, still untouched. This morning I sat in misty sunlight with my coffee and read from Louise Glück's new poetry collection:
"...ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth felt it had been revealed."