Monday, January 01, 2007

2006-12-29, 30 and 31

Christmas, Rueckert-clan-style, came to Camelot on the 29th. We Rueckerts have a Christmas Day ritual instilled in us three siblings by our mama, who adored Christmastide and was its devotee all her life long. She had a large collection of crèches, wreaths and candles for the season. Her tree was always decorated absolutely beautifully, which was a good thing, since my dad always waited until the last conceivable moment to buy the tree, and so always showed up with a bedraggled orphan already dropping its needles in a pine-y panic. Mom would turn the tree around and around until she found its best angle. Then she would carefully wind the lights, hang the ornaments and – her trademark – hang strands of “tinsel” on the tree, strand by strand and branch by branch, until the whole tree glittered gloriously.

Under the tree would go her packages. She loved lots of them. She would put one sock in one box and the other in another box just to have more packages! She did not only wrap them well. She also made her own bows. To the bow, she would attach charming wooden figures, pine cones and other dressy details as well as lovely ribbons. When we saw the tree with its burden of gifts on Christmas morning there was always a part of me which did not want to disturb the perfect beauty of the ensemble.

These days, with me at the helm, things are a good bit more relaxed. But still the moment on Christmas morning when we just start to distribute the gifts is a thrill. I have now taken my parents’ place as senior elf – the oldest Rueckert alive now. So I crawled under the tree and pulled out all the presents. The junior elves were the “kids” – 3-year-old Naira, 8-year-old Fluke, and high-school-age Rosie, E. J. and Ted – and they did the delivery honors.

We like to open the presents slowly, so each of us can see each gift. We start with the youngest and wind around to the oldest and then start all over, until all the gifts are opened. This takes a while, when the group consists of 13! It was probably about 2 PM when we finished opening, thanking, hugging and smiling and exclaiming. People had snacked on the breads I had made ahead – coffeecake, gingerbread, cranberry bread and pumpkin bread – all day, so by then we were ready for some substantial food. Mary, Tommy, Carlos and Christiana went for a run while the rest of us set out all the elements of the traditional feast: turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed peas and fresh tomato and onion slices marinated in vinegar and sprinkled with Florida crystals.

Tommy, Christiana and I then disappeared for a while in order to practice for some special singing we had wanted to give to the family. We eventually reappeared and regaled the group with some pretty carols. After our special numbers, we all sang other carols, until everyone’s favorite had been covered.

I was exhausted and stole away to sleep for a while. When I awoke, Kai had prepared a special Thai supper of soup, rice and chicken and pork seasoned just so – not too hot but delicious. After the late supper, everyone got up a game of rummy and played until bedtime.

The next day was good-bye day for Jimmy, Kai and Fluke, who headed to the airport for their return to Denver, and for Tommy, Mary, Rosie, E. J. and Ted, who headed back to Falls Church, Virginia. I slept most of yesterday, letting the world go by for a while as our remaining guests, Carlos, Flora and Naira, first went to the mall, looking for coffee mugs like the Mary Alice Hadley mugs we have here at home, and then spent the remainder of the day visiting with Carlos’s best friend from college days, Alan Steinberg, who was his counselor and ESL teacher back then, as well as living across the street from the old homestead on South Peterson Avenue in Crescent Hill, where I spent the last seven years of my childhood, ages 14 to 21.

Mick spent this day and today as well working on cleaning all of his equipment as well as the garage and the potting shed, taking everything off of every shelf, cleaning it and then putting back only those things we really need and use. He was happy as a lark to show me that he really is ready for the New Year! All his working tools are in order.

Today was New Year’s Eve, and I spent the morning at church, singing a service, while Jim cleaned the house. Carlos treated all of us to a luncheon at The Captain’s Quarters, where we looked out on a river increasingly swollen with rain and decided to put off a proposed trip to Avalon until the New Year, when it is supposed to be dry.

I had a difficult afternoon, and spent a good part of it napping, which was a lovely luxury. We ordered in pizza for a late supper and Carlos and Flora taught Mick and I their custom of making wishes as the bell chimes midnight. For each chime, one eats a grape and makes a wish. Jim was using our prayer gong for the chime, and golly, it was hard to keep up with him! My mouth was full of twelve grapes at once and my head was full of infinite wishes!

We watched Dick Clark, who for so long looked eternally youthful, navigate carefully through his speeches as he helped emcee the Times Square New Year’s Eve bash. Ryan Seacrest was also on hand, which was certainly a good thing. Mr. Clark has had a stroke and it is evident that he has difficulty enunciating well. Nevertheless, he was so full of good cheer that it was a blessing to share the moment with him. Carlos and Flora brought out some champagne and we toasted the New Year in great style.