The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.Unfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.As it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.
Up on the roof there arose such a clatter! Nothing like a good dawn thunderstorm to ring in Christmas Day. No, really. Great rain falling here is an excellent present, and the drum rolls and fireworks that introduced it just made its entrance the grander. It’s not exactly the fabled White Christmas for which so many yearn, but I’ll take a good Texas rainstorm as a true gift all the same. Somehow it makes the need for cozy nesting seem all the more apropos and real in a place where I’ve yet to fully adapt to the concept of a two-week-long winter season. So, Merry Christmas to me.
It also heightens and enhances the glow of our seasonal lights–the few white sparklers on the front porch, the reflection off the shiny little red Texas star ornaments I hung from the dining room light fixture, and the candles glowing warmly at table, as well as the flickering fire in the living room fireplace. Whether it’s for Christmas or it’s my gentile substitute for a menorah, or it’s simply a sign of the inner warmth to be cultivated when all of the world’s holidays converge at this time of year, the beauty and comfort and symbolism of both candlelight and firelight is a gift too.
Then again, a White Christmas really is an extraordinary thing in Texas–northern or not–and at about 1:45 pm local time our lovely rain actually turned into an even more lovely snowfall. First the smattering of sleet that intermixed with the raindrops began to look ever so slightly whiter, and gradually it transformed into genuine flakes falling, even sticking, on the trees, the roof, the yard, the path. Quite a pretty sight, and one that will continue to water the thirsty ground but also look grand in the meantime.
So I can greet you all with a completely sincere sense of winter, Christmastime, and the holidays in general and wish you the same glorious warmth and sweetness my husband and I are enjoying here, hunkered down in our cozy home with my dear mother and father in law [who road-tripped down here from Seattle for the occasion], and sending thoughts of love and peace and hope and joy to all of our family and friends around the globe. Some of the Norwegian contingent (my youngest sister and her husband and daughter) are with the Washingtonian bunch, celebrating the holidays in the cool and rainy Northwest, while the rest of the Norwegians are back in Scandinavia, some nephews and their families in the Oslo area and the youngest nephew having a quick break with the family but back to the recording studio in Stockholm with his band shortly after the holidays, if I remember right. Loved ones all around the world, whether related by blood or marriage or by the strong bonds of friendship and collegiality and camaraderie are all held especially tightly in our hearts at this time of year, adding to the warmth and glow of the candlelit house battened down cheerily against the light crisp cold of the snow.
In my typical fashion, I celebrated the day by sleeping late, and we all snagged Christmas breakfast in bits and bobs–coffee here, toast there, cereal for another, and so forth–while sitting around the kitchen table chattering about everything and nothing. The later meals in the day are more significant times to set the table a tiny bit more formally, but we’re not much for standing on ceremony in our clan on either side, so the food is unfussy so that we can enjoy the company rather than slaving over the cookery. Lunch was pot roast, made a while ago and frozen and then simply heated in the oven, with roasted potatoes and carrots and some buttery green beans, accompanied with Pinotage for the red wine drinkers and hard apple cider for the others, and for dessert, glasses of eggnog and pieces of my homemade fudge with lots of mixed nuts (previously soaked walnuts, homemade candied/spiced almonds, and salted pecans and macadamia nuts) chopped in it so rampantly as to make it fall apart. Not very decorative, but not too bad to eat all the same. Simplicity trumps presentation nearly every time in my kitchen.
Supper will be even less glamorous and perhaps equally quirky for holiday feasting by the popular standards, yet equally edible. We’re having homemade macaroni and cheese with champagne. I think that pairing pretty much says it all for how I operate as a hostess and as an eater, and the tolerance with which family and friends treat me when they spend time in my company. And that, of course, is the acme of celebrating, to my taste: surround yourself with the best and dearest of people who will love you no matter what you do or don’t do, and sit back with them and enjoy it. I wish each and every one of you the same privilege and pleasure, whether you’re celebrating any holidays yourself or not, and to all the world, I send my hopes for peace and comfort and hope for all the days ahead.
Some years ago on this very date there was a shift in the universe. It wasn’t exactly an unexpected one, in the sense that it had been foreseen for about nine months, but surely its full grandeur could not have been predicted. And not everyone on earth knew right away what a wonder had occurred, because the wild and wonderful event in question was the birth of my third sister.
While she was, like the others–I can’t speak for Big Sister‘s first two years except upon having studied pictures of her effortlessly spectacular adorableness before my own appearance in this plane of existence–charming, pretty and charismatic from the start, there was no way of knowing in advance just how fabulous she would prove to be. That’s the thing about siblings: they are inherently outliers to our frame of reference until their influence on our lives appears in real time. And like our two other sisters, the youngest was her own brand of greatness from the start.
What we quickly learned was that she had a uniquely clever and witty point of view and was rather fearless about besting her trio of big sisters in many a moment simply by sitting back and watching our various adventures, figuring out where we might have gone a bit astray with them, and powering on ahead when her turn came. This was perhaps most evident to the rest of us when she would check in with our parents on whether a particular action of any of ours that seemed just a little outrageous was in fact worthy of our getting in trouble over, and if not, then couldn’t she do it, too? [I am not entirely certain that she wasn't occasionally disappointed when we weren't in trouble for the activity in question, but that's a topic for another day.]
And Little Sister wasn’t very old at all when some wise guy quizzed all of us girls on our life’s plans. What did we intend to be or do when we grew up? Undoubtedly he was looking for some nice, pat conventional answer like Teacher or Nurse or some superlative man’s nice little wife, but my littlest sister’s response was unhesitatingly ‘Amazing but true!’ We did not quite grasp at the time that this was indeed both a plan and a vocation, but by cracky, she turned out to have gotten it exactly right. In all of the years since, she has been and done many things, accomplished a tremendous amount, continued to be charming and beautiful and charismatic, and absolutely has embodied a life’s saga that despite being utterly Amazing is still entirely True. We can all vouch for both aspects.
She has been, in various turns, an outstanding student, a fine violinist, and an intrepid traveler; all three of my sisters studied and/or worked overseas at college age, and this youngest met and married our superlative brother-in-law while doing so and has now lived longer in Norway than she did in the US. She speaks Norwegian not just like a good student of the language or even like a person whose lineage encouraged her to hone it to refinement but like a native-born speaker, which prompted one of her nephews in his youth to proclaim her the Smartest Sister in our family. Since I happen to think each of my sisters the Smartest One as well as the Most Fabulous (and if you can’t do that kind of math, refer back to my post on Auntie Ingeborg’s science of favorites) I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. My sister has been an administrator, translator, friend, daughter, wife and mother, and much more. She has navigated the waters of an adventure-filled life with both nerve and verve and I still marvel at her excellence every day.
So, on this anniversary of that auspicious occasion whereon she first graced us with her presence, I can say as I always have and always will that her arrival completed the set of our family in ways that we could never have expected or would have dared to wish, and filled any empty spaces, even where we didn’t know they’d existed, with a rare form of love and happiness. I thank her for this gift of herself. And I wish for her many, many more years of being as Amazing as ever!
My big sister flew out and visited here for a couple of days last week. It was heavenly. Besides that I just get a big ol’ kick out of her company at any time, there are a number of reasons that time spent with her is a great treasure.
One, of course, is that having known her my entire life, I can happily be myself without any fear of shocking her. I can (and do) even revert to my most immature self and she never skips a beat but joins me at whatever level of silliness most promotes our laughing until our eyes turn into faucets and we choke on our drinks from our big snorting guffaws. I can, in the safety of my own kitchen, drink a few more of those drinks than I would do on my own, and be just as ridiculous as that makes me be. No repercussions. Well, she might tell Mom when she gets home. But it’s usually the duty of the younger sister to be the tattle-tale, right? So I should be safe for now.
When I get to be with my sister I can catch up on all that’s happening in her life, something that is not even remotely the same over the phone because it lacks the drama of the whole pantomime portion, not to mention all of my interruptions to ask what X or Q player in the story is currently doing. We can rant shamelessly about the current state of the world and everyone and everything that we know in it, and know that the Top Secret information and occasional swear-slippages need never leave the room. I can tell her my own life’s updates and make them seem as glamorous or pusillanimous as I wish, knowing that she will listen to it all with whatever sisterly sympathy or elder-sibling disgust is requisite in the event, just to help me sort out what’s believable and what’s merely my imagining.
I take it as not only excuse and permission but a virtual requirement that I eat any and all of the junky but deliriously tasty things I would normally consider inappropriate for regular dining, starting with chips and a big bowl of ice cream for lunch and not budging impressively far from that sort of menu for the duration. Now, granted, if the visit exceeds a week, I might be better behaved, but (a) this was a short visit (so there!) and (b) I probably wouldn’t be better behaved (so there!). Guess it’s just as well she didn’t test me on this. But it was a danged delicious few days, even if my body may take a while to recover.
And it’s certainly amazing how much my spirits recover from any time lost between visits, when I get just this one little dose of sisterly vitamins. Having three such stupendous sisters is probably an unfair advantage of mine, but I am not in the least apologizing for it. You have to admit, if it’s a selfish trait on my part to revel in such wealth, at least it’s one of the least of my offenses. She said, grinning just a little devilishly.