"C'mon, guys! Come over here now!"
That's Josie, on Christmas Eve, calling us for the second time that evening, urging us to get over to her house. Marian had said anytime after 5:00, and at this point it's about 7:30 as we're scrambling to finish wrapping presents and get everything together that we'll need for Christmas morning at their house.
"I'm just getting ready to load up the car, Bug. We'll be out of here in another twenty minutes."
It's Josie's fifth Christmas, but the first Christmas morning in her own house. It didn't really occur to me, until we were making our way from our house to theirs, in the cold driving rain, that this was the first Christmas Eve of our marriage that Lynn and I would not be spending Christmas Eve at our house. It feels good to graduate that to Marian.
The pattern these past years has been that Marian & Josie come to our house on Christmas Eve. I'll have spent the afternoon assembling Lynn's traditional spaghetti & meatballs sauce and we'll be finishing up the wrapping & the last of the decorating. Christmas morning I'm always first up, so I've got time to get the coffee going and have a few moment's of writing time to myself to admire the tree and the profusion of pretty packages. Marian & Josie are not quite the champion sleepers that their mother/grandmother is, but I'll still usually have half an hour before they make their way down the stairs.
It was no different this year, except that it had been Lynn and I in their guest room rather than the other way 'round. I was still first up and still had some time to write before the girls came downstairs, all grins & rubbing out the sleepiness, big eyes and excitement at the stockings and what was underneath the tree.
The location may have shifted slightly, but the pattern was the same. After gift opening, I headed to the kitchen to start the potato pancakes. Josie helped a bit, as she usually does, although she was distracted by the board game the girls were playing in the dining room. Then brunch, with champagne.
And what is Christmas without the male head 0f household spending part of the afternoon assembling stuff? This year it was Josie's 14 ft. trampoline. We all pitched in, but it was quite a project and after a couple of hours I was a muddy, cold, exhausted mess. But the trampoline was up, along with the safety net, and Josie was bouncing and giggling wildly. We had to force her to come in before she froze her nose.
Lynn and I gathered up our stuff and headed home. Marian & Josie headed for a nap. I took a very long hot shower and settled in on the couch with a martini and The Absolute Sandman (gift from Lynn). The first part of the day had been particularly fine, mud and cold notwithstanding (and from this vantage point, nearly two weeks later, I'm even fond of the memory of the mud and cold).
Early evening, Josie & Marian arrive at our house. Josie brings along the drumset that Lynn gave her and I bring up my guitar and we make music and sing and laugh like crazy. Then she helps me with the final preparations of the spaghetti sauce and with setting the table. We all have our Christmas antlers on. At the table, we compare this year's meatballs to those of years past. We tell stories and thank each other again for the day's presents. This is the culmination of the day, what all the rest has been leading up to -- the four of us at the table, eating spaghetti & meatballs made from Lynn's grandmother's recipe, stepping our way through all of the little rituals that make us a family.
Dinner is done, and I put up the big screen, and we watch "Return to Oz" (this being very much of an Oz themed Christmas -- when Josie opened the "Wizard of Oz" DVD I'd gotten for her, she screeched, "It's the Dorothy movie!" and threw herself around my neck). It's getting late, and Josie and I doze through some of it, but that's part of the tradition too.
It's late when Josie & Marian head home. I decide to leave the dishes from the morning and Lynn and I tumble into bed.
In the quiet of the next morning I think back on the wonders of the day. I think back on fifteen years of Christmases with Lynn & Marian, five now with Josie as well. The details shift slightly, year by year. The essence remains.