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White Christmas

The oysters rode a wave of milk out of the saucepan and kerplopped into a mason jar on the stove. It was nearing 8 pm on Christmas Eve. My brothers and step-father sat in the idling Volvo in our driveway. They were waiting, as they did every year, for my mother and me to pile into the car with a day’s worth of cooking. Throughout the afternoon while we worked in the kitchen, our house had been visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Dads: the fathers of families we knew who delivered holiday delicacies made by their wives. I’d hear a rap at the door, brush the flour from my nose, and run to greet our visitor. Often there was no one there, just the rear-end of a Ford Country Squire fading in the distance. Left behind on the welcome mat were the annual treats we’d come to expect: the bottle of Glogg with its sack of raisins and blanched almonds, the pan of lasagna covered in snowy mozzarella, and the plates of cookies dusted with sugar.

As night fell, it was my family’s chance to reciprocate. I turned quivering loaves of zucchini bread onto squares of brown paper cut from Kroger bags, and bundled them loosely with string. My mother pulled buttery cakes from the oven, their tops split like burst zippers. Then Mom would break the seal on a jar of oysters and empty it into a saucepan. “Wonder if there’s a pearl,” she’d say, reaching for the onions and milk.

The baked goods we made were headed to the nearby homes of friends in the Highlands section of Louisville. The oyster stew, on the other hand, was bound for the across-town residence of our auto mechanic, G. My step-father had a penchant for used Scandinavian cars. Over the years, he’d become a frequent flyer at G.’s imported auto service. It was probably during a routine oil change/engine replacement that my step-father learned that G. liked oyster stew. So we started taking him a quart every December 24th—our last stop of the night. During the drive, I’d hug the warm jar and look through the windows at the Christmas decorations, which grew more elaborate as we approached his street.

“You think G. takes the jar straight back to the kitchen and pours it down the drain?” my mother asked one Christmas as we sat in his driveway. “What if he doesn’t even like oyster stew?” She turned and looked at my brothers and me in the back seat. We pondered the possibility while we watched my step-father ring G.’s doorbell. The large gathering of family in the picture window turned, all together, towards the sound. “Oh, I’m sure he likes it,” I said. G. accepted the white quart and waved in the direction of the driveway. It was too dark for him to make out our faces. Maybe he was just waving to our car.

“Either way, you were born to kerplop those oysters,” my daughter joked tonight, after I told her the story of our Christmas Eve deliveries. “Yes, I was,” I answered. The closing scene of the film, “Smoke” came to mind, in which the paths of a Brooklyn tobacconist and an elderly, blind woman cross. The two strangers spend Christmas Day together, pretending to be kin. Usually pretending is dangerous business. But at Christmas time, the white lies we agree to believe are their own type of covenant. They make a fleeting place where Santa is real, where a gift arrives from the beloved teacher who never wrote back, and where jeans make your butt look small. Realizing this was the first Christmas miracle of 2013. The second was receiving not just one, but two Christmas Eve deliveries, for the first time since the days of oyster stew.

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  1. Ashley says

    It’s been a long December.

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