Thursday, December 24, 2009

In the Eyes of the Beholder

When Mama was young, her family had a Christmas Day Open House every year. When the excitement and flurry of Christmas morning was over, Gramma Rhetta would whip up some of her famous eggnog, set out the snacks, and friends and neighbors would come a'calling.

Mama said she always got some new item of clothing or jewelry for Christmas, and right before the guests arrived, that shiny new finery went on her body. I always kind of liked that image of Mama, hustling to her room, anxious to break out her treasures.

Christmas Day Open Houses were always well attended. Now that I think about it, it makes sense. I mean, as the day wears on, after all of the gifts have been opened and the magic starts to's kind of boring, don't you think? There's a hella long time between present-opening and Christmas dinner. Hours where perhaps, just maybe, some of your nearest and dearest are sort of grating on your nerves?

It would kind of be nice to have somewhere to go during those dead hours. Somewhere that, hopefully, had a lot of space so you could ditch the relatives for a while and soak in the balm of friendship?

Christmas Day Open House. I like that idea.

A few years back, Mama mentioned to me that her sister, Patricia, kept the tradition of Open House alive on her side of the family. At the Jones residence, Open House flourishes, bright with hilarity and good food and company.

We never had Christmas Day Open House. It was not our family's tradition. When I was a teenager, I asked Mama, "Why don't we do Open House?" I mean, it seemed like such a wonderful idea?

Mama's voice grew hard, eyes narrowing slightly. "I always hated that Open House."

Whaaaaa? Why? How? Whaaaa? How can that be so?

"Because your Grandfather was a drunk. By the time Open House rolled around, he was already well lubricated, and by the time it was over, we never knew which version of Daddy we were going to see. Most likely, it was going to be the nasty version."

Poof! And just like that, my perspective is upended 360 degrees.

Things are not always what they seem.

For Mama, Open House was something to be endured. A trial. Several hours of anxious waiting, watching her father out of the corner of her eye.

Mama doesn't talk much about her father. Mention his name and something shifts behind her expression. There's a reason that scabs are hard crusts with ragged edges.

I am saddened by Mama's wounds, for the Christmases she spent in fear. I cannot take those away for her.

But we heal as best we can, given love and time. And if we keep our hearts open, there are new joys waiting for us.

I'm so happy to be able to spend my Christmases with Mama now, bathed in silliness and hugs and the raucous rattle of children.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thank you for sharing some of your time with me this year. I'm so grateful for my friends, new and old.

Wishing you all a magical holiday season.

Gramma Rhetta's Famous Eggnog

6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups brandy
1 cup rum
1 1/2 quarts milk
3 cups whipped cream

Separate eggs. Beat yolks until very thick and light lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, beating constantly. Still beating, add brandy and rum, gradually. Chill for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add milk gradually and fold in whipped cream. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into the eggnog. Store in covered jars in refrigerator for a day before serving.

Ladle from a glass punchbowl and sprinkle with nutmeg.


  1. Love you and your insane writing talents. Glad you finally started this blog because the world is a better place for it.

    Happy Christmas.

  2. Merry, merry Christmas, TKW! You are right, things aren't always what they seem, which is why I think it's so great that we get to form a supportive community through our blogs. Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself...what a gift to the rest of us.
    Peace to you and yours.

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. It's always interesting to learn about something that was to the contrary of assumption. You are a good daughter. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

  4. Merry Christmas to you and your family! I enjoy the insight that I see when you write. Your talent for going from funny to touching to well thought out instruction is amazing.

  5. Christmastime seems to be the brightest and the darkest for so many...

  6. Oh, my! I couldn't imagine how much pain your mother felt during that time! It makes me more grateful for my wonderful family.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. Merry Christmas, here's hoping that you enjoy your holiday! I can't imagine what your mom went through, it's so nice now that you and your family can make new happy Christmas memories with her.

    We make our own Christmas traditions, living as far aways as we do. This is nice for my daughter seeing what it's like with the whole family. (maybe she'll appreciate that we live 1300 miles away!)

    We do love gathering for some good eggnog!! :)

  8. It's interesting how things can be so different for people. Merry Christmas! Keep writing...

  9. Have a lovely holiday Witch!
    hugs, jc

  10. Merry Christmas dear! Hope that it is a special one for all in Chez T. xoxoxo Phoo-d, Mr. B & Oscar!

  11. Merry Christmas lady! It is interesting how traditions are looked at differently from each person involved.
    Enjoy some peace tomorrow :)

  12. Awwww, I'm so glad you are able to spend happy Christmases with your mom now, too. Happy, happy Christmas to you and yours! And I am so glad I've found YOU, TKW. Checking in with you is my favorite part of my day. Wishing you all the best this holiday season and into the new year!

  13. Merry Christmas, TKW! You never told me you were related to Alec Baldwin. And to think he attended these open houses and sat on your couch. Wow. (Red is definitely his color.)

  14. ck,

    You naughty thing. I'm up at 6am, checking to make sure that HamsterMan hasn't croaked during the night, and now I'm giggling. What a great way to start the day!

    Thanks, everyone, for your warm regards. Y'all are the coolest bunch of cats in the blogosphere. I'm honored to know you.

  15. Merry Christmas! If I weren't so hungover I'd make this eggnog in a heartbeat!

  16. Merry Christmas, TKW. A heartfelt post as always. Hope today and the days to come bring much happiness.

  17. Merry Christmas, TKW! You're phenomenal. I wish you all things wonderful.

  18. I hope your day today was all you hoped it would be! I feel lucky to have "met" you and look forward to spending time in your Kitchen in the New Year!

    Merry Christmas!

  19. eggnog is dangerous stuff. dangerous, i say. that recipe looks potent and delicious. happy holidays to you (and your mama). :)

  20. Looking forward to another year of your fabulous, funny and often inspiring blog posts.

  21. I know, I know. I am sorry for the bad things your mother endured and happy she can now enjoy Christmas with you.
    We all have things like this in our past (and some of us in our present) it makes me sad. And so grateful for my family, noisy, boistrous, funny and full of love and hugs. Sometimes we can actually do something right....and I, if I may say so, raised three super kids. I hope they do as well with theirs!
    Happy New Year!!!

  22. I swear, I was 26 when my older sister confessed to me how much she always hated the family open houses, too. Not because of our parents, but because it was always at my aunt's house where the air was ever thick with cigarette snoke.

  23. Good for your mom for not feeling like she has to keep up a pretend memory. You're pretty special for understanding; that doesn't always happen. Some people had rather keep propping up the tattered image, even if it never really existed.

    Saw a Christmas card that said something about how happiness is having a large, close family in a far-away city.

    Happy New Year!

  24. Great to read other people perspectives on holidays....not always so happy, however it sounds like your family makes your mum remember all the fabulous bits and pieces. God knows my kids have ironed out the bitterness holidays can bring.
    I'm looking forward to reading and sharing stories with you in the new year TKW

  25. Merry Christmas to you and your family! I have so enjoyed getting to know you these past months - looking forward to getting to know you better in 2010! :D

  26. A little late but Merry Christmas to you and all your family - so cute that last piccy! We had a christmas as a whole family for the first time in seventeen years which is pretty special and shows time does heal...not one argument either! Double bonus! xxx

  27. I hope you and your family made it safely and happily through Christmas. I am always amazed how perspective and time can shift the way we see something. So blessed to have TKW in my world to keep my laughing...and tearing up :)

  28. I hope your Christmas was magical.

  29. Your stories and your openness has been a great gift this year. I'm so glad to have gotten to know you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  30. Beautiful story. You're such a great story teller. I think a Christmas Open House would be awesome, but I feel horrible for what your mother and her family had to endure. Thank you for sharing.