Do you have a holiday memory that makes you laugh whenever you think of it?
This article on avoiding disappointment at Christmas had me mulling about expectations and how we confine our enjoyment when our definition for a good Christmas is too narrow. Point 7–on memories being made by mistakes reminded me of a funny story that happened nearly twenty years ago. (How can it be that long??)
We were having a jolly family gathering with my dad’s extended family. The dining room and kitchen were crammed to the gills with thirty or more parents and grandparents and children, toddlers and teens. We’d stuffed ourselves with mashed potatoes and turkey, glasses had been filled and refilled, stories told, and please-pass-the-pecan-pie for just another sliver.
With bellies full we pushed back from the table–the men stretching and heading toward the comfort of couches and armchairs in the living room. The aunts scraped out serving dishes and discussed how tender the meat turned out and that there had been just the right amount of sweet potatoes. We girls stacked plates and collected silverware and glasses.
At my aunt Esther’s house they often poured the leftover tea, water and coffee into an empty pitcher then carried six or eight empty glasses to the kitchen in one trip. I guess having six children in one family makes you efficient with clean up. I emptied the glasses that day. On my way to the kitchen I passed my cousin Phil and asked him jokingly, “Aren’t you thirsty for a drink?” He laughed obligingly at my joke.
We washed the dishes quickly, but really it was fun working together since we had so many cousins to work beside and talk with while we banished an enormous mound of dirty dishes through a pre-rinse, sudsy water, a quick rinse, a swish of a dish towel and finally placing them into the cupboards.
The afternoon was always fun with the whole gang of cousins. Most of us were teenagers and we often played board games, laughed uproariously until even the adults came by to see what was so funny, then got into some seriously fun debates. Dorcas snapped pictures for her photo albums, we all took turns holding the newest baby, and Aunt Esther set out clementines and nuts and mints to snack on during the afternoon.
In the evening there was more food, more talking, more laughing and game playing. We stayed up much later than the adults because it was a holiday. After people started drifting to bed the girls would group up by ages and settle in for slumber parties.
This night my cousins Julia, Barb, and I were sleeping on a floor bed in a tiny office–we would much rather improvise than spend the night apart. Before we settled in for late night talks we stocked up on snacks and drinks from the kitchen.
Jul crunched on a chips as she described the latest shocking tragedy. We unwrapped more chocolates–who was counting? The tea was so good. “Mmm,” I remember saying, “this tea is even better than it was at lunchtime. I thought it was a little weak then (I had made it, so I could call it), but it’s delicious now.” The others agreed and we went back to commiserating with poor Jul– her stories were so descriptive we were often laughing until we cried. We did our best to keep the noise down because as Barb reminded us, Grandpa was sleeping in the next room and had trouble enough sleeping through the night.
The next day always started a little groggily after our late nights, although my cousins always seemed a little unnaturally cheerful in the mornings. (I don’t know their secret, or I would share it.)
While discussing the plans for the day and assigning cooking duties to us girls, Aunt Esther mentioned that I could make tea again. “But make an extra gallon or two this time because we ran out yesterday.”
“Oh, but there was still half a pitcher left;” said one of my cousins, “we drank some of it last night.”
“No, we ran out.” more people chimed in. “I wanted a refill, but there was none left.”
“Then what….” Realization washed over us and Jul, Barb, and I stared at each other with mouths hanging open. “No. No. No…..We didn’t. Please don’t tell me….”
“We must have…”
“What???!” everyone in the kitchen wanted to know. With horror we told them that we must have been drinking the tea from the pitcher that had collected all the leftover beverages from the table. Apparently, since both sinks were filled with dishwater, I had set the pitcher on the kitchen table to be emptied later, and while I was drying dishes someone else came by assuming it was tea and placed it in the refrigerator. That night we girls looked for something to drink and pulled out the same pitcher to fill our glasses.
Everyone shrieked with laughter at both our mistake and our dismay. Between laughter and gasping for breath I managed to eek out, “And I said it tasted better than the tea we had a lunch! Remember that?”
“I know!” gasped Barb and Julia. There really was nothing we could do but laugh. Well, that, and make sure the pitcher of leftover liquids got dumped immediately after the next meal.