The last Christmas dinner
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From the notebook
         John F. Kennedy had won the presidency. Dwight D. Eisenhower would be leaving the White House in a few weeks. Our family would be gathering at Mom and Dad’s house near the park for Christmas dinner. It was 1960.
          My own family looked forward to spending the day with my Mom, Dad and Gram. 
          The kids were excited. Santa had brought them the toys they had wanted. 
          Mom and Dad were delighted that dinner would be at their house, as it always was. Gram, nearing eighty years old, looked forward to the family dinners when her own son and daughter would be with her. There was a warmth that enveloped Gram when her daughter and son were together with her. It brought back memories of the best of times.
          Mom’s brother, Gram’s son and his wife, and their young sons would be sharing the day and dinner with us.
          Dinner would be served around five o’clock, but everyone arrives before noon. The day becomes an old fashioned family occasion. It is reserved, to be spent with kinfolk. The children have plenty of time to sit on the floor and play with their new toys. It also provided time for the adults to renew their shared memories of the year almost passed.
          Gram and Mom would do the cooking. Great attention would be showered on the turkey as it spent its three hours baking in the oven. One by one everyone would stroll through the small kitchen, becoming familiar with the many pots and pans bubbling - their lids, vibrating with the heat, making slight rattling sounds.
           Around noon Dad would go to the hall closet and bring out the ceremonial schnapps. Toasts to good health and family would be made. Later, Dad would walk to the closet - returning to the living room with a bottle of whiskey. The men would swig down a couple of shots accompanied by toasts to good health and family, shalom. And that would be the end of the holiday drinking.
          The aroma of the roasting turkey and the cooking foods spread throughout the small house – a house that bulged with the twelve people celebrating being together again. The modest frame house was congested when it was home only to Mom, Dad, Gram, my Sister and me. At times the five of us complained about the lack of personal room, but the twelve residing in it for a few hours never grumbled. It was almost as though the limited space served to bring the family in closer unison.
          My mother was the quiet authority in the house. She never had to raise her voice or make a show of her leadership. It was just taken for granted that Mom would be the guiding force, not only during the holidays, but day in and day out. Mom saw things and understood what she saw. During our Christmas day with the family Mom was the hostess and the chief chef.
          As the turkey simmered Gram would watch the pans on the stove. She added her touch of seasoning. She stirred and salted. She took her cooking responsibilities to heart. She wanted to please everyone – especially her daughter, my Mom.
          This Christmas Mom moved a bit slower. She sat and talked with her brother a bit more than in past years. She played with the children and patted her own daughter’s flowing hair. Maybe Mom was showing her age. She was forty eight years old this Christmas, 1960. She sat and rested more than usual.
          After the toasts my Dad sat on the small, swiveling stool in front of the piano. Dad couldn’t read a note of music, but played masterfully by ear. The piano was an upright with a length of a mirror above the keyboard. His fingers skipped across the keys, producing, “Jingle Bells,” then “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Dad sang as he played. He had enormous talent.
          My Uncle, proud of his vocal talents, sang along with Dad. Soon everyone was singing. The small house was filled with the sounds and scents of the holiday season.
          Mom wasn’t singing. She looked tired.
          Gram would frequently walk from the kitchen to the couch to report to Mom on the progress of the cooking turkey.
          Dad continued to play Christmas songs. My Uncle stood by the piano and crooned. The children played together on the floor in the larger of the two bedrooms. The rest of the family sat in the living room and sang, appreciating the live music.
          Years later I would tell the grandchildren about these Christmas dinners and how important they were to me. No matter how I tried I couldn’t adequately portray the warmth and family caring that took place in that small, frame house by the park. My memory of those days remain fixed in my heart and will be there until the end of my days.
          As the turkey’s cooking reached completion it was Mom who would always say, “Dinner is served.” Dad would carve the turkey with his strong, sure hand. Gram, Dad and Mom would bring the food to the table and everyone would help themselves. 
          There were always compliments about the moist, tasty turkey and the scrumptious dressing. Mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce – everything was tasty.
          After dinner the courses were cleared, replaced by the desserts – pies, cakes, cookies and ice cream.
          Following the desserts everyone pushed away from the table and headed for couches and stuffed chairs in the living room.
          The talk centered on the wonderful sights and tastes of the dinner.
          Mom remained sitting and calmly told Gram which foods to save in plastic containers.
          Dad returned to the piano, playing and singing Christmas songs. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” The children were urged to sing along.
          The quantity of foods had made everyone drowsy. The day was growing long.
          Gram was washing the pots, pans and dishes, aided by volunteers.
          Mom, for the first time in memory, didn’t lead the clean up. She rested in the living room. I watched her.
          Night fell. The moon rose and picked up the fading rays of the sun. Moonlight bathed the small house.
          My Uncle and Aunt and thanked everyone and said goodnight. Gram hugged and kissed their sons. They left.
          Mom remained on the couch, smiling and thanking everyone for coming.
          I hugged my sister, my grandmother and my dad. I bent over to offer a kiss to my mother. I said, “Thanks, mom. It was all wonderful. I love you.”
          My mom touched my cheek and said, “I love you too, son. Drive carefully.”
          That Christmas dinner was our last as a family.
          In a few weeks Mom would be diagnosed with cancer. By the following September she had quietly passed away in the hospital.
          We never again had a family Christmas dinner like the old ones.
          Mom, Dad, Gram, my Uncle and Aunt are gone now.
          Every Christmas I sit down for an hour or so and remember the feelings I had way back then. I can almost smell the turkey roasting. I can see Gram tending the pots on the stove. I can hear dad playing the piano and singing “White Christmas.”
          I can see mom, sitting on the couch with that little smile she always had
Ron Cruger
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