Monday, January 3, 2011

We Can Celebrate -- Yes, We Can!

L.G.C. Smith

When I told my mother that we’re writing about celebration on the blog this week, her eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I wish I’d known how to celebrate and taught you kids how to.”

Sigh. It’s the holidays. Melodrama comes easily.

But it’s also true that my mom and her sisters have a strongly Puritanical streak that makes them suspicious of anything smacking of celebration. Their idea of a good time is pitching in to help clean up after a healthy, low-fat, low-sodium, sugar-free, high fiber dinner. You know. Raw broccoli and cauliflower. Non-fat plain yogurt dip. Boneless skinless chicken breast grilled with one of those unsavory No Salt Herb Blends. Six low-carb vegetables cooked without a single drop of butter or olive oil (or flavor). Unsweetened pumpkin pie in a whole grain crust with no butter, lard, or even organic palm shortening (transfat free!), and the custard made with acorn squash (hubbards are too sweet, don’t you think?) and two drops of blackstrap molasses instead of sugar, tofu for the milk and eggs, and whipped powdered non-fat milk on top.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. My mom never cooked that grimly. There were a few supposedly celebratory meals in my youth that bad, but they weren’t my mother’s fault. Completely. She once talked one of my aunts into using real whipped cream on the pumpkin pie–unsweetened, of course.

A celebratory teeth-baring at Mom's last birthday.

When there was no threat of encroachment by her sisters, my mom cooked normal fat and sugar-laden celebratory vittles. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake with real chocolate (not carob or some other crap substitute). Mashed potatoes loaded with butter and rich gravy. As my sisters and I got older, we made the celebration food better and better. For a while there it was fondue on Christmas Eve, standing rib roast or filet mignon on Christmas day, gluts of champagne, homemade eggnog and lovely snacks on New Year’s Eve, and turkey and all the fixings on New Year’s Day. It all felt very subversive.

Then my dad got diabetes, my niece arrived allergic to beef, I realized I was poisoning myself with gluten, and various other health concerns cropped up. We’re more measured in our celebratory feasts these days, but we always have a few areas of hedonistic excess. Usually these involve champagne, wine, and chocolate. Imported cheese. Sometimes a bûche de Noel.

My sister spent several hundred dollars on fine chocolates this holiday season, and my mother made a few comments. Unsupportive comments. This occasioned further extravagant chocolate purchases and more comments, culminating in the tears over the Pens Celebration theme. My mother has great remorse that we don’t know what to do with a celebration aside from throwing food at it.

At which point I reminded her that her mother hadn’t exactly taught her how to celebrate owing to being certifiably crazy for most of my mother’s childhood. Mom grew up viewing celebrations as potential messes that would need cleaning up, literally and figuratively. Better to ignore the whole business if possible.

My parents whooping it up at a grandchild's bithday last year.

While I will admit to not being much good at celebrating, I have learned that gratitude offers a reliable path in. I’m good at gratitude. I would never take a proper pumpkin pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream for granted, even if I’d rather have half a gluten-free bûche.

Celebration, for me, comes down to letting gratitude gladden my heart. Sometimes it’s the sort of thing Juliet talked about last week, the angle of sunlight in midwinter, or the big changes that Rachael marked this year. It can be a joyful song, even if not always from Kool and the Gang. It might be a party to which I’m grateful to be invited, even if all I can do is quietly panic while I’m there. It might be the small diligence of having written every day for four years, and starting the fifth.

It might be making a gingerbread house with the Leezlet.

As long as there is something for which to be grateful, there is cause to celebrate. Loudly. Quietly. With snacks or without. Alone. With family. With friends. With strangers. It doesn’t matter how.

I’m off to polish off my sister’s Recchiuti Fleur de Sel caramels with my grumpy-gus mother -- with a handkerchief in my pocket and celebration in my heart.


Adrienne Bell said...

Hey, I've seen your parents smile...well, your mom at any rate. It was brief, but I could have sworn it was a smile ;-)

Celebrations with champagne and chocolate are my favorite, too.

Rachael Herron said...

I hope you never panic, as long as I'm there. Come sit by me; we'll have some fine, funny things to talk about. xoox Rachael

Unknown said...

Lovely. But why isn't there a picture of that Buche? That dessert was a masterpiece! :) And totally unabashedly celebration worthy.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh you. tears, sweet thing. and laughs. because you always make me smile and i hope you are a damn *fixture* at every celebration i ever have. your pix of your parents amused me plenty, but i guess you could probably guess that, since we've shared our stories...suffice it to say that my dad sat in his chair reading the Poland travel guide this evening, wine glass at his elbow, and counted it a celebration :) who am i to argue?

Juliet Blackwell said...

Marvelous post, truly. Celebration in your heart...where it should be, constantly ;-)

L.G.C. Smith said...

Fortunately my mom is a very good sport and hasn't disowned me. There was a dicey moment there, but when I showed her some of the pictures I elected NOT to share it passed without incident.

Sophie, your dad's celebration sounds like something my mom could get behind.

All of you know by now that just the thought of the rest of you Pens is cause for celebration.