Every year on December 23, the women of the family get together to cook the Christmas Eve meal. It is not as “primitive” as it sounds. That’s just how it has always been done, but this year, since most of the women are “working women,” (no offense to stay at home moms – I was one myself for a few years and it is the hardest job there is,) but since most of us work outside of the house and can’t be there for the prep, it has changed a bit over the years.
It started way back when my dad and his brothers were little boys. Their grandma would cook with their mom and aunt and prepare the dinner for everyone. As the boys got married and moved out with families of their own, Gram and Aunt Dee did all of the cooking. A few years before Aunt Dee passed away, (I was still a teenager,) Aunt Dale and my mom asked to be a part of it so that they’d know how it was done. They were given the family recipes and helped each year. After Aunt Dee died, Dale and my mom got more responsibilities and the granddaughters got to help too.
Over the years, as Gram could do less and less, my mom and Dale did most of it and the granddaughters helped. I have been doing a lot more of it over the last few years. As mom’s COPD got worse, she could not do as much so we’d give her the jobs of cutting clams and garlic so she could stay sitting down while Dale and I did the rest. Last year, December 23 fell on a weekend so more of the cousins could help out. I had asked one of my cousins to photograph the process so that we could turn it into a cookbook for all of us. Unfortunately that didn’t work out and we decided that we’d do it this year instead, never knowing that mom would not be here for the preparations this year.
This year, my Aunt Ellen is visiting from Utah so she joined in with us today as we cooked, chopped and created the sauces to serve to 25 people tomorrow night! My dad’s brother Richie was there too. The master garlic chopper we called him as he chopped up three big bulbs of garlic for the recipes. Gram sat in her seat directing and calling out orders letting us know what to do. Dale and I have it down pretty well though. We make a good team. This year, Drew came to help too. He was so helpful. He helped carry the “kids” table up from the garage, he set the table, got the drink table in order, decorated gingerbread men and helped clean up.
It was a long but productive day. We made clam sauce, lobster sauce and mussels in red sauce. They just need to be heated up tomorrow and served over pasta. Tomorrow, Dale will go up to gram’s earlier, while we go to church and then we will all meet up for dinner. There was definitely a missing place at the kitchen table today without mom there, but we kept her a part of it all, reminiscing about past years and stories that although I had heard numerous times, were new to Drew. No tears, which surprised me, since Dale gets as weepy about things as I do. We know mom was there watching over us as we cooked and what sealed the deal was when Aunt Ellen pulled the very last clam out of the container to cut up. She made us all look at it because it had the funniest markings on it and it actually looked like a smiley face. Dale said, “it is like Ellie is smiling at us letting us know she was there.” I am sure she was.