Growing up, I loved the idea of a family Christmas as depicted by The Waltons on TV.
Grandpa (Zeb) and Grandma (Esther), Libby and John, John Boy, Jason, Ben, Jim Bob, Mary-Ellen, Erin, and Elizabeth all together at the table, saying grace and oozing with love and sentimentality. Somehow real life didn’t work out that way, but we had a brilliant Christmas one year which came pretty damn close, or started off that way…………….
Our family was spread out over about 60 miles, so getting together wasn’t exactly easy. This particular year, it was decided to all descend on Mum and Dad for a family Christmas dinner. The fact that it was only the beginning of December didn’t enter into it, yet due to ‘family commitments’ of his new ‘other half’ which took up every weekend until New Year (so we were told) , my eldest brother couldn’t make it.
My parents’ home was a very modest semi, which although having 2 reception rooms, wasn’t all that big for 15 of us to squeeze into one room whilst waiting for the meal to be served in another. So, we came up with a master plan that the visitors would meet up at the town swimming baths first. There were 5 of us, my sister’s family of 4 and a further 4 of my brother’s all having a splashing time to help tire the kids out and curb some of the excitement until we could get to Mum’s for around 12.30, dinner being set for 1 o’clock.
After our swim, we were actually the first to arrive home, and my Dad answered the door in floods of tears. I was really worried and immediately put my arms round him, asking what was wrong, thinking something had happened to Mum. I got a smashing bear hug back as he said,
‘No. No love. Everything’s fine. It’s this horseradish. It’s so damn strong, it’s making my eyes water!’
The smell of roast dinner was making my mouth water as we were ushered inside, getting first pick of the seating arrangements in their lounge where Mum had put large cushions of the floor for the children. When everyone had arrived, it was decided to do the meal in 2 shifts, kids first. It worked out really well because the adults could take it in turns to relieve whoever was feeding the youngest, make sure everyone was behaving themselves and no food fights were in the offing. They were all enjoying their dinner, wearing their party hats and basically having a good time pulling crackers, comparing novelties inside and reading out the jokes if they could. Even when there was a choice of squirty cream or custard on the Christmas pud (no alcohol in or on theirs, but a fifty pence piece assured per child) , no-one argued over the can or custard jug. Bearing in mind their ages ranged from 2 to 11, and boys outnumbered the girls at 5 to 2, it was all quite civilised.Dad had hired a video for them to watch whilst we had our meal, and plastic tumblers were replaced with wine glasses and all the condiments, including Dad’s fiery homemade horseradish sauce, were placed in the centre of the table. Mum had excelled herself in the kitchen and everything was cooked to perfection. We also wore party hats and between courses would sneak a look into the lounge to check on the first shift, who were quite happy dipping into the chocolate tin and watching their film. The youngest was already asleep on the biggest cushion.
I don’t know what started it, or how it happened, but suddenly there was fisticuffs at the table between my sister and sister-in-law over the cream can. Someone got their finger on the nozzle and it was going everywhere! The two women had it in their hair, on their clothes, everywhere but on their dessert, and my brother waded in to take it off them, only to get a faceful himself which made him look like Father Christmas but without the suit. It was suddenly so hysterically funny, that some of the kids came in to see what all the noise was about. We must have looked a sight, our hats all askew, cream everywhere, and 8 adults trying to get their act together to look non-plussed and innocent. It was my 5 year old nephew who piped up and said ‘ And they told US to behave!’
Once the washing up was done, we settled down to open pressies and sang carols round the piano. It had been a wonderful day, and luckily, other than egos and feminine pride taking a knock, no damage was done but my sister and sister-in-law have never really seen eye to eye since.