It had taken a while but Millie had got to where she was looking forward to spending Christmas by herself, doing exactly what she wanted. Church in the morning, chicken with homemade cranberry sauce, a cup of tea with Queen Elizabeth on television, calls to her away-from-home family and a new mystery book for in-between. Peace and quiet.
Millie didn't have to be alone; she'd been turning down what she called "we-should" invitations for a month.
She was braced against out-of-pity invitations but, as it turned out, totally vulnerable to a desperate plea.
Her friend Thelma called Dec. 21. Her Christmas was getting out of hand. Could Millie help?
Thelma was in the second year of a second marriage and it was her turn to host the family Christmas. The family gathering of 14 sounded manageable. "Early estimate," Thelma said testily.
Evidently Bernie's sister who was a single mom of three had asked if she could bring along her new friend. That was fine; they were all curious about him because he used to be a wrestler. Thelma mentally added to the size of the turkey and moved on.
Then Bernie's ex-wife had phoned to say that her plans had fallen through and the kids were asking if she would come so they could all have Christmas dinner together like the old days. She'd bring potato pancakes. The kids really loved that family tradition. Bernie and Thelma had a discussion about old families and baggage and possibilities of new family traditions.
That was Sunday. Monday added two college roommates who had nowhere to go for Christmas. Both vegetarians. It will be okay, Thelma told herself, remembering the potato pancakes.
Wednesday, Bernie's brother Stan phoned to say they could come after all because his wife's family trip to Aspen was off. They'd have the two little ones from this marriage and his wife's boys from her second marriage. The older boy was on a low-carb diet. They'd bring a lime mousse, raisin tarts and a case of Coke.
That's when Thelma stopped writing her cards and phoned Millie. They decided to go at it like the UCW from their church had in the days when they still catered weddings.
Millie would forget about tea with Queen Elizabeth and bring a ham and her big white platter, two dining room table extensions and a set of silverware. Bernie would make his famous turkey dressing, keep the crowd happy and protect the kitchen from unhelpful helpers.
There were a few surprises. Nobody had mentioned the wrestler had two Fox Terriers.
They sucked up half a plate of shortbread before anyone noticed they were there and then bounced off the tree until they fell over asleep. The lights went out for a while around five o'clock when someone plugged an electronic keyboard into the overloaded plug that fed the tree lights. But soon they were all seated at the two long tables, yelling "cranberries up here, please" and "pass the turnips over to Grandma."
Millie put on her paper hat. It wasn't Christmas Past. She hoped it wasn't Christmas Future. But it was Christmas.
Peace and a silent night would come later.
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