Of Mice and Martha

Every year about this time, I harvest a new crop of hope that’s been watered by an abundance of denial. I envision a holiday season infused with peace, saturated with a spirit of thankfulness and goodwill. There will be no chaos this year, no crush of time bearing down on us like a frenetic freight train. Order will prevail in my world of good things and gracious living. Martha Stewart will be proud of me.

We’ll be giddy with gratitude at Thanksgiving, goes my fantasy. We’ll gather before a table tastefully turned out and groaning with good food, and I will bask in the awe accorded domestic doyennes such as Martha and me. Gone will be the snickers brought on by past disasters; my mother-in-law will eat crow along with the succulent turkey I place on her plate.

The cranberries will be expertly jelled, the green beans and sweet potatoes dressed up for the occasion, and the pies mighty with meringue.

At Christmas time, there’ll be parties for hosting in my immaculately clean house. My joyfully jingle-belling children will make delightful decorations. There’ll be cookie baking and eggnog making, marshmallows for toasting and chestnuts for roasting. Loved ones will gather near, and hearts will radiate good cheer and glad tidings. It will truly be the most wonderful time of the year.

Psychiatrists have another term for such delusions, but I prefer to think of it as eternal optimism.

My hopeful harvest will soon begin to wither, however, under the heat of seasonal expectations. I’ll turn to Martha for help, consulting her books for guidance. She will perch on my shoulder, a stylishly dressed angel of ambiance, whispering in my ear. Failure will not be an option.

Some people excel at execution; others, like me, are dreamers, those for whom the best-laid plans of mice and Martha almost always go awry. If tradition holds, Thanksgiving Day will dawn as gray and gelatinous as my gravy. My mistakes will be of the classic variety: the cranberries will quiver, and the beans and potatoes lie limp. The piecrusts will pucker, the meringue meander, the rolls run amok with assistance from my brawling brats. And old Tom Turkey, when pierced, will spurt ice-cold juices from the depths of his still-frozen interior.

My in-laws will leave with empty stomachs and wagging tongues, and my ruinous reputation will remain intact.

By December, I’ll be walking on the dark side. We will burn the cookies and scald the eggnog. My formerly angelic offspring, their greed and wish lists growing with every commercial they watch, will grow cantankerous, shredding the decorations, tossing the tinsel and bashing each other with the bells. The dog will manage to knock over the Christmas tree almost every day. The gifts I have purchased will be hidden away so well that they are forgotten, and I will hurry out to buy more, wondering how I can be so disgustingly disorganized. My Christmas spirit will spring a leak.

Martha, now dressed in black – a Darth Vader of domesticity -- will prod and nag and threaten until I am drowning in a sea of self-reproach. I will crumple under her pressure like ill-conceived origami, promising her the world. And still, she’ll want more. Peace and calm will give way to panic.

I will suddenly have a much better understanding of the Grinch, and old Ebenezer Scrooge won’t seem like such a bad guy.Yet, on Christmas Day, somewhere in the midst of all the un-Martha-like mayhem, I will be awakened early by the sharp poke of several young and eager fingers. Breathless voices still full of wonder, from children who don’t care that I’m not the queen of homemaking, will urge me to get up.“Mom,” they’ll whisper, “it’s Christmas!” And suddenly, nothing else will matter.

Later, we will gather at my in-laws, where the food is nauseatingly good. My kith and kin will promptly begin to bicker, in the crotchety, comfortable way only a close family can, over old insults and fresh resentments. Between mouthfuls, accusations will be hurled, political stances scorned and ethical standards questioned. Love will linger at its cranky, unvarnished best. And that’s a good thing.

© Jackie Papandrew 2007 Want to receive Jackie's weekly column via email? Visit www.JackiePapandrew.com. You can also visit her blog at www.jackiepapandrew.blogspot or join her Gather group at www.jackiepapandrew.gather.com..

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