Christmastime with my in-laws is nonstop parties. The day after we arrived, we went to Aunt Margie’s party. A huge crowd, and by huge I mean really, really a lot of people. A sea of distinguished noses, black black hair and olive skin. And oh, the food! Tables a-spread with every Middle Eastern treat you could want, plus such lovely goodies as sausage-stuffed mushrooms and chicken poppers with ranch dressing . . . mmm! Yes, I know – you can call me a “meat eating vegetarian”, like Rukan does.
Christmas Eve, tonight, another party, at Cousin Jerry and Alyson’s. Same sea of familiar people, the names of whom, after nine years, I still can not recall. Same gorgeous food, plus portabella pate and traditional kubie, a spiced raw meat dish which is hardly ever served at parties any more, at least not the parties I’m at. It’s a rare treat which the other Ammikans apparently avoid; I’m sort of proud of myself for that. Proud, and guilty, considering that I’m a vegetarian. What kind of a vegetarian eats raw meat? I’m just full of cute little contradictions.
Tomorrow, Christmas. The Big Whopper of Parties. It’s here at Ettie and Rakin’s, my parents-in-law, or out-law, whatever. Ettie’s expecting 67 people, at last count, for a sit-down dinner. All family, of course – just a fraction of the vast empire that is Rukan’s relations. Oh, and Ettie expects a few more to show up for appetizers – so, by the end of the day she will have entertained a hundred people, give or take a couple dozen. You might be thinking, those people are freaking rich! You imagine a spacious mansion with vaulted ceilings and four floors, at least, a hot tub and game room, clear crystal cases filled with precious artifacts from their many excursions back to the homeland and far beyond. Rakin is an insurance salesman. Ettie is a clerk at a car wash. The home in which a hundred people will tomorrow trod is a modest two-story brick box with a basement. So where will the legions all fit? This is the question on my mind every year, and all I can tell you is, somehow, they just do.
Today, in preparation for the Christmas Party, I picked parsley for tabouli. She’s making so much tabouli, it took me two back-to-back viewings of “The Polar Express” to de-stem all that parsley. At least it wasn’t “Strawberry Shortcake: Get Well Adventure” again.
Rukan is at this moment upstairs trying to coax a wildly excited Rocky into sleepiness. Driving didn’t work. Nursing didn’t work. A huge mug of warm milk didn’t work. Soft singing didn’t work. Telling her “you have to go to sleep or Santa won’t come” didn’t work. Now we’re on to her tape, Wee Sing, which is really my last hope. Doesn’t sound like that’s working, either. I hear crying and cajoling. Oh, there’s Rukan’s stern, frustrated voice. Rocky, LIE DOWN. And now, quiet. I wonder what trick Rukan’s using now . . . sleeping pills?
There’s a guy in every big family, the guy who all the kids adore, who can think like a kid and delights in delighting them. In Rukan’s family, his name is Cousin Jerry. He and his wonderful wife have raised three gorgeous kids to college age. Talking with grown-up kids, you can often see what kind of parents they had. You can tell these three had Jimmy and Alice.
At Aunt Margie’s party, Cousin Jerry suddenly burst in from outside, yelling “Kids! Kids! Come quick! Santa’s flying over!” Little eyes all got big and mouths gaped open – then there was a stampede out the door. Rukan scooped up Rocky and ran out through the carport; I hobbled along behind, and when I emerged I saw a gaggle of little faces staring up at the sky in wonder and awe. Excited myself, I looked up too. There was the big full moon, sailing up from the fast-moving clouds on the horizon, and just under it, a small red light, chasing the moon through the night sky. “Look at that!” boomed Jerry. “That, my friends, is the light from Rudolph’s nose! Santa’s doing a practice run!”
Rocky stared up at the sight a moment longer, then went into the house and hurtled into the living room, into the middle of the throng of relatives, and started yelling “Santa! Santa! Santa! We saw Rudolph’s nose in the sky, and Santa was doing a practice run with Rudolph, and I saw his nose, and he was chasing the moon in the sky, and Santa! Santa! Santa!” She was jumping up and down almost convulsively, her voice shrieking with joy and excitement! I had never before seen my daughter so excited.
It was one of Those Moments. I’ll have to remember to thank Cousin Jerry.
We let Rocky decide what to put out for Santa to eat. She chose mini carrots, ranch dressing, milk and a glass of water.
Have I mentioned how hard it is to be a highly sensitive-to-sugar sugar addict, at the in-laws’ for Christmas? I have eaten so many cheap fake-sugar vanilla creme cookies I feel them dancing the Hornpipe in my gullet. They feel terrible to eat, have an aftertaste and make me sick, but the alternative is to stuff my face with the chocolate truffles and homemade fudge and baklawa and little almondy-farina Middle Eastern delights that stare at me from every corner, and then I would turn into the Dragon Woman for the next week. Must . . . resist . . . almondy . . . goodness . . .
On the 26th, Mom and Jeff will be arriving. That will be a first, and I’m very excited about the meeting of the families. Several members of this clan have met those from the other side, at our wedding and at the hospital during Rocky’s surgery, but this will be the first time “my” family comes to Louisville to experience the . . . experience . . . of Rukan’s family of origin. Then on the 27th we’ll add Rukan’s son Aza and his other mom Jill to the mix, and there’ll be another party, to welcome, for the second time, the long lost grandson back into the fold. [click for back story on Rukan and Aza]
Rocky’s in a horse phase. Rukan came home the other day with a giant pink unicorn they were selling at the grocery store. Rocky dressed her in a pink Razorbacks tee and a pink tutu, and named her Lemon Juice. Lemon Juice goes everywhere Rocky goes. Lemon Juice is big enough for her own car seat. She’s getting a handful of other horse toys on the Big Day; I can’t wait to hear what she names them. She’ll also find myriad books under the tree, the dreaded First Barbie from and Uncle, a plethora of outfits and sundry toys, and a book called “Rocky Gets the Hiccups”, written by my mother and illustrated by me.
Sunny’s getting a rawhide candy cane.
I suppose I’m getting coal.