Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Of Christmas gumbo and 'offering it up'

EDITOR'S NOTE: We're waiting for the second round of ice to hit, the blizzard to come for Christmas Eve . . . and I'm pretty sure I have a sinus infection. So during this interlude before getting snowed in -- and then a spate of Christmas digging out from under it all -- I thought I'd rerun a "greatest Christmas hit" from Revolution 21's Blog for the People.

This originally ran early Christmas morning 2007, it's still true, and I find I have nothing more to add to it. So I'm just rerunning this reflection on Christmas gumbo and offering it up. Merry Christmas, y'all.

It's the wee hours of Christmas morning. The Christmas Eve chicken -and-andouille gumbo is in the fridge, the Christmas Eve guests are long gone and Midnight Mass is long over.

Christmas music plays on a Canadian station on our old Zenith, and I've just polished off a bottle of Cabernet. So I'm sitting at the computer, pretty much alone with my thoughts. And my memories.

THIS CHRISTMAS has been strange, to say the least. From the Omaha mall massacre to the passing of a young friend, it's been impossible to shake the specter of death looming over this season of joy. For so many here this holiday season, it has been a time of profound loss.

And in the dark and quiet of this Christmas morn, we take time to mourn, to recall those who live now only in our hearts and memories. . . .
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more
EVERY CHRISTMAS EVE I make a huge pot of gumbo and we throw open the doors to whomever wants to share in the largesse. It's my attempt to keep alive a tradition from my mother's side of the family in Louisiana, when my grandma -- and later my Aunt Sybil -- would cook up mass quantities of chicken gumbo and put out trays of sandwiches, relish, fruit cake and bourbon balls.

It seems like Aunt Sybil used to cram something like 100 relatives into her and Uncle Jimmy's tiny house in north Baton Rouge. I come from a family of loud, argumentative people -- it's a Gallic thing -- and opening the door to that caffeine, nicotine and highball-fueled yuletide maelstrom was more than a little like
having front-row seats at a Who concert.

Without earplugs.

WHEN AUNT SYBIL and Uncle Jimmy moved out to the east side of town after my grandmother died, they gained some square footage. I'd like to think, though, that what the holiday gatherings lost in regards to that sardine je ne sais quoi, they made up for in "only in Louisiana" weirdness.

Like in 1983, when my brand-new Yankee bride learned first-hand that William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor weren't making that s*** up.

Everything started out normal enough, ah reckon -- taking into account, however, that this was south Louisiana. You know, 87 quintillion relatives (the identities of some of whom, I had only the fuzziest of notions about) all talking at the same time. Loudly.

Of course, Mama assumed my bride had received full knowledge of all these people along with the marriage license. My bride, for her part, may well have been wondering whether she could get an annulment and a refund on the marriage license.

And then Aunt Joyce -- second wife of Mama's baby brother, Delry, whose first wife was mentioned only after spitting on the ground (or so it seemed) -- had a "spell."

IF WE HADN'T FIGURED this out by the trancelike appearance, the eyes rolled back into her head,
and full knowledge of her bad heart, we would have been tipped off by everybody running around the house yelling "Joyce is havin' a SPEYUL!"

There could have been a fire, resulting in great carnage -- or something like that -- if Cousin Clayton hadn't been there to grab Joyce's burning cigarette.

Ever hear the song "Merry Christmas From the Family"? Robert Earl Keen ain't
making that s*** up, either.

Anyway, 20 people crowding around her announcing that Joyce was havin' a spell brought my aunt around after a fashion . . . and the show went on. At least until Aunt Sybil died some years back.

The sane one in my family, Aunt Sybil was the ringmaster of family togetherness, probably because she believed in "Baby, you got to offer it up." Everybody else . . . well . . . didn't.

TWENTY-FOUR YEARS after Aunt Joyce had a spell and Mrs. Favog got a masters in Southern Gothic, almost all of my aunts and uncles are gone. And I make my Christmas Eve gumbo up here in the frozen Nawth for friends who like exotic fare and funny stories about Growing Up Louisiana.

Then we go to Midnight Mass, being that Mrs. Favog and I are Catholic now, in no small measure because of Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy, wild gumbo Christmases and "Baby, you got to offer it up."

After we were confirmed in 1990, the wife and I got a package from Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy -- a Bible, his and her Rosary beads, and a crucifix. The biggest gift, though, was one they never knew they were giving.

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, well have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

No comments: