Monday, December 26, 2011

A Christmas Day Miracle 2011

Photo by Mike_fleming
I fixed Christmas dinner for my aunt, her autistic son, Henry, and her irrational son, Drew, and his wife, Ann. Henry and Drew are in their fifties.  I am some years older.   My aunt is 87 years old and preparation of a major dinner is beyond her.   This year it was almost beyond me.  Two weeks before Christmas, I caught a cold.  One week before Christmas, I had pneumonia.  I got the pneumonia treated and was told I could safely prepare and serve Christmas dinner.

I did not feel up to grocery shopping until Friday.  I went first to a high end grocery store that stocks nothing practical, but does have good produce and a great variety.  I purchased all my produce there, but the free range turkeys must have been gold-plated considering their cost.  That sent me on to my regular grocery where a purchased a fresh Butterball turkey.  I paid a little more for the Butterball, but I was still annoyed at the Thanksgiving Islamic bigotry that led to an internet smear of  Butterball.  I also purchased paper plates, plastic cups, pretty napkins and plastic flatware.  I was finished by 3 pm and totally exhausted.

I did not trust myself to be able to rise early Christmas morning to prepare the whole dinner, so I decided to to most of the cooking on the day before Christmas. I cooked the turkey, smashed potatoes with broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, then headed to church for Christmas eve services.  The next morning, I rose at seven to prepare the cornbread dressing including sauteing the onions and celery in butter.  I used the broth from cooking the gizzard, liver, heart, and neck as the liquid for the dressing.  I chopped the same parts to include in the dressing.  I did this because my aunt said Drew had ordered her to make homemade cornbread dressing because he had decided I would make bread dressing.  Once 30 years ago, I served bread dressing, but if something offends Drew, he never forgets.  She said that with Henry home she could not make the dressing.  I assured her I would make my best cornbread dressing.  Of course, Christmas Day it turned out she had made dressing because she is so intimidated by Drew.  She did not bother to tell me, so I did all that work for nothing. I was hurt and angry when I found out.  More about that later.

Around eleven, I loaded everything into the car to take to my aunt's apartment for Christmas dinner along with small presents for all.  I am so broke these days that I usually eat Ramen noodles 5 or 6 times a week.   This dinner was only possible because friends gave me money for Christmas.  My aunt and Henry were in church.( I did not attend my church's services because I was cooking that dressing.)  I have a key to her apartment, so I let myself in and unloaded all the fixings.  By noon, I had the turkey carved and the meat reheated, all the side dishes warmed, and the table set with festive paper plates and plastic cups.  This was important because Henry eats on a tight schedule.  He has to sit down to eat at noon.  Christmas Day he entered the apartment at noon already alarmed that he was late.  But because I had everything ready, he could quickly change clothes and come to the table where I had his plate waiting.  My aunt had decided to eat with Drew and Ann because of Drew's attitude.  She requested that I do the same.  I fixed a small plate of salad and sat and ate with Henry.  He was content.  My day seemed complete at that point.

My aunt called Drew and reached Ann.  They were just leaving home even though they had been told we planned to eat at noon.  Drew is never on time and in the past has been deliberately late because he knows it upsets Henry.  Drew and Ann live in the country so they were at least 45 minutes away.  Henry was happy to stay on schedule and went to his room to lay down until three.  My aunt dithered about what to do next. while I reset the table.  She finally put away the fresh fruit I had brought her for Christmas.

Drew and Ann arrived a little after one.  Drew would not take off his jacket.  The apartment was warm.  He proceeded to tell us about his last work trip.  He is a truck driver.  He gave us a detailed rundown of every highway and every stop he made.  He totally ignored all the preparation activity as we reheated everything.  The food was on the island so that we could go around and serve ourselves.  We did, but not Drew.  He sat down and continued his comments on his last week of driving.  After she served herself, Ann had to prepare his plate and set it in front of him.  He seemed oblivious to the food.

My aunt interrupted Dre4w long enough for me to say the blessing.  I had expected my aunt to do that but she deferred to me.  Drew continued his monologue all through dinner, but he did eat very slowly.   When Ann made a comment about an area in Oklahoma that she had previously traveled with him, he took that as a personal affront. The conversation had been dismal, but it got worse.  Drew was telling Ann how little she knew when my aunt, his mother, interrupted.  Drew turned and told her "Shut up, I'm talking" in a loud, abusive tone.  That was too much for me.  Drew and I exchanged words,
and he did half apologize to his mother.  (My aunt never wants me to say anything to upset Drew, but there are limits.)

The rest of the dinner went better although Drew spent some time talking loudly to wake Henry.   Henry did come in for a few minutes to grin at Drew who he adores.   Drew finally removed his jacket when he headed for the bathroom, having announced his destination to all.  He dropped his jacket on the floor by my aunt's chair.  Ann was quick though and picked it up before my aunt noticed.  Ann and I cleared the table, then everyone moved into the living room.  My aunt returned to the kitchen and I followed her.  That was when I discovered she had made dressing and concealed it from me, but made sure Drew had some. That was when I lost it.  I told her how put upon I felt and that if she had told me I would not have been up making dressing that morning.  I did not tell that I could have attended Christmas services, but I thought that.   She realized that this day was rapidly becoming a bad scene for me.  She apologized and I accepted that, but I had really been hurt by her thoughtlessness and behavior.

Something happened then that changed the day.  My aunt and I had not raised our voices, but Henry must have heard us anyway.  As I went back to putting food away, there was Henry looking worried.  He reached out and hugged me while he nodded and looked me straight in the eye.   Henry had never hugged me before.  His autism makes it difficult to make normal human contact.  He does not make eye contact.  Yet there he was comforting me.  Nothing mattered  anymore.  It was a wonderful Christmas.

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