Three Casseroles, Two More Cookies, and a Pile of Uncles on the Floor

The kids wake up too early and rush to open presents while binging on cookies Santa was supposed to eat. Go get dressed; we’re going to be late. Fine, bring it with you. That too. We have to go back, we forgot the green bean casserole. Do we have everything now? Well, we can always mail the school pictures. Can’t you kids stop arguing? It’s Christmas.

Over the river and through the woods — or maybe it should be through the snow-covered cornfields — to Grandmother’s house you go.

The snow crunches under your feet as you walk up the driveway and into the old farmhouse. No need to knock because everyone is welcome on Christmas. You call out greetings from the foyer. Hello, hello, good to see you! You take off your shoes so as not to track slush around and send the kids to pile your coats in the spare bedroom. Then squeeze around your family members to find your place in the house. How are you? Merry Christmas!

Aromas of roasting turkey, warm pumpkin pie, and coffee swirl to greet you as you pass through the kitchen. The aunts and their oldest daughters chatter while preparing the turkey and mashed potatoes (and ham for that one cousin who refuses to eat poultry). Debating where to place that third dish of green bean casserole and maybe next year there should be a signup sheet for who’s bringing what? No, no, it’s okay this year. It’s not your fault you didn’t know Aunt Sue brings it every year.

Move into the dining room, with the big farmhouse table that sits at least twenty. Reach over and snag several cookies — sugar cookies, fudge, Grandma’s divinity that’s so much better than anything you could get in a store. Nothing store-bought here. Merry Christmas, everyone!

The kids run off, eager to play with their cousins or, more likely, to show off their presents. Upstairs to the attic bedrooms to drag out the old toys Grandma keeps from their parents’ childhoods, or maybe if it’s not too cold out to the barn to jump off the musty hay bales or search for ancient animal skeletons or chase around the semi-feral cats who are unsure of what to make of these loud little humans.

Catch up with the family you only see a few times a year, patiently (or not) waiting for your conversation partner to finish bragging about his or her kids so you can brag about yours. Dance team? Straight A’s? Who doesn’t have a perfect child at family holiday celebrations?

An aunt calls out that dinner is ready. Kids fill up their plates first, or last, or alongside their parents who force turkey and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and fine, just eat the roll. But we’re not stopping at McDonald’s on the way home. Big decisions are made: stuffing cooked inside the turkey or next to it? Why not both? It’s Christmas. The plates aren’t big enough; sides and salads this trip or dessert? Good thing there are second trips!

Now decide where to sit. You’ve earned your spot at the grownup table. How did there get to be so many grownups this year? When did all the cousins get so old? Does that make you old now too? No, of course not, and to prove it you sit at the card table in the spare room, or the living room, or Grandma’s bedroom. Anywhere but the couch. No one sits on the couch during dinner.

The farmhouse quiets as you eat. The food is so good it leaves no time for idle talk. Pass the salt. Can you get me another napkin while you’re up? Eat just five more pieces of turkey and you can be excused. Okay, three, and I’ll finish the rest for you.

Now you’re stuffed. Can’t eat another bite — okay, just another piece of turkey. And a cookie or two. Cookies don’t count on Christmas.

As if by instinct, the uncles drift into the living room. They fill the couches and gaze at the football game on TV. They spill over into the recliners, their eyes fixated on the score. Still they come, sprawling on the floor. The rest of the family looks on with bated breath until YES! The first snore of Christmas! One by one, heads fall back or down onto chests as more snores ensue. A hand darts towards the remote and changes to It’s a Wonderful Life, maybe a parade. Hey! I was watching that!

The aunts put away dinner, wash enough dishes to not leave too much of a mess for Grandma, and drift into the dining room, to chat about their kids and lives and the relatives who couldn’t make it today. She’s a lovely person, but can you believe she actually said that? Yes, I love him too, of course, but I can’t help but shake my head at that.

As time ticks away in the old farmhouse made warm and cozy by the sheer number of conversing and dozing bodies, the kids creep back in from upstairs or outside or wherever it is they spent the afternoon. Is it time to go? Shortly. Can we leave yet? Twenty more minutes. Here, we already got our coats. Fine, let me just say goodbye.

You rise to leave, nearly pulled out the door by your kids. Merry Christmas! Good seeing you! Safe travels!

Outside, dusk has fallen.Strands of Christmas lights, the big bulbs you can’t buy anymore, wind around the porch and bushes and softly illuminate the pine trees lining the gravel road. A peaceful stillness permeates the yard, spreading into your mind and heart and soul.

It spreads to the kids in the backseat, their bickering at a rare detente. Radio carols you’ve heard for the last two months float over the radio, but you don’t mind tonight. Tomorrow you’ll be back at work, nearly ready to send the kids back to school, thinking about how soon you can get away with taking the tree down, about when the snow will melt and the flowers will bloom. But tonight, as you munch on the plate of cookies you brought home, none of that matters. The Christmas lights you pass, the flakes of snow drifting down, your day spent with family, your belly full and warm — this is what matters.

All is calm, all is bright. Merry Christmas!


E.D. Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. Born and raised in Illinois, her past incarnations have included bookstore barista in Indiana, college student in southern France, statistician in North Carolina, economic development analyst in North Dakota, and high school teacher in Iowa. She draws on her experiences to tell the stories of those around her, with a generous heaping of “what if” thrown in.

She currently lives in Illinois where she job hops while attending grad school and working on her novels. Read more of her stories at her website.

This story was originally published in Winter Holidays in the City of Pearls: Stories, Poems, and Essays, November 2016.