My family is big, and given how close my parents live to most of the five of their children, we nearly always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas gathered at their house, about 20 miles from the Oregon coast. In the past several months, our trips to the patriarchal home have been singularly singular. Three children, two adults, one infant seat and no car adds up to Great Difficulty -- even if you ignore the considerable challenges of navigating this new world of troubled children.
Given the challenge and achey tiredness of being, this year, for us it was holidays at home. I expected it to be a negotiation, a problem, I expected feelings of guilt over gifts unbought, wrapping too wrinkled, Santa dreams unfulfilled. But somehow it seemed that everyone in our family was of one mind. An unplanned Christmas party unfolded casually and happily; my parents came to stay for a few days and left suddenly on Christmas Eve, retreating to their home for solitude and rest, bringing very few homemade gifts. I gave the boys wooden toys and Legos and Chutes and Ladders and leftover candy in their stockings, and they were happy, complete. Our only adult presents were an iPod Nano (for me) and a Blackberry Curve (for Jonathan), bought entirely without surprise before Christmas day. I baked leisurely and ate with abandon using butter and heady-flavored goat cheese from Monteillet Fromagerie, jams and jellies from Winters Farms, black forest ham from Niman Ranch. We made five recipes of abelskivers. Someone that I love ate every last one. One morning we ate cheesecake for breakfast.
Despite the almost automatic obligation one feels to see grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles during Christmas, this year, we all curled up into our own little shelters and scooped our nuclear families in arms, under blankets, we all were at home, and it was good.
Late Christmas Eve, after everyone was gone, I got back to the sugar cookies I'd begun that morning. We needed to leave some for Santa, after all. I finished creaming the butter and mixing in the powdered sugar. I looked back at my recipe, only one egg. Oops. No more eggs.
I put on my rubber boots, my hat, my downy vest, and I ran to the front yard. There, in the dark under the camellia bush: one egg. Gilda saved Christmas. And we never had to leave home, not even for a minute.