By Jane Marie
The last thing you want to get lost in translation is Christmas dinner. Picture this: You’ve just had a nice Christmas Eve brunch at your mother’s home, and you and your brother and sister—all adults—head out to drive the hour from her house through rural Michigan to your father’s house. There you’re expecting some yuletide cheer—a fire, say, and some champagne—and then a nice rest. There’s a busy day of baking in the morning before the rest of the family—about 10 adults and a handful of children—ascend on the house for Christmas dinner.
Pretty typical holiday for a modern family so far, right? Here are the obstacles that popped up for us last year:
1. There was a snowstorm and the trip lasted almost three hours, with a nice, long, “trying to wait the storm out” stop at the mall. Being Christmas Eve, the shelves were pretty picked-over, but they still had racks of gift cards for popular chain restaurants and department stores, so we loaded up on those for stocking stuffers and just wandered around trying to stay warm. The storm did not pass. When we arrived at Pa’s, it was well past dark.
2. After saying our hellos, it became clear that something was awry. Essentially, our father and our stepmother, a Russian emigre, had had some sort of miscommunication about grocery shopping. It boiled down to the fact that no one had yet picked up supplies for the feast and no grocery store in their rural area would be open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There was no Christmas dinner to speak of and it was almost time for Santa to arrive.
My sister and I immediately leapt into action, calling every gosh-darn store we could think of in a 100-mile radius. We knew that if they were closed Christmas Day, a voicemail greeting would alert us. You’d think the two college towns in driving distance would have at least one grocery store open between them, but no. Same for the big wholesale warehouse in the next town over. Same for every local mom-and-pop supermarket.
We scoured the cupboards and freezer in a frenzy. There was a turkey, miraculously, in the deep freezer in the garage. In this part of the world, nearly everyone has a deep freezer in the garage to preserve the spoils of hunting, so even if we hadn’t found a bird in ours, we could’ve gone knocking on doors and come up with some hunk of meat.
We moved on to classic sides. Um . . . okay, there were lots of cans of soup on the shelves, along with cereal and the typical pantry items. Leftovers and condiments and normal amounts of fruits and veggies filled the fridge—nothing that would feed a dozen people, however.
We called grandma. “Do you have . . . anything you could bring?” Luckily, she was ready with her pumpkin pies.
We fell asleep that night with sugarplums and candied yams and the panic of a half-thawed turkey dancing in our heads.
The next morning, we were waiting at the doors of one of the few shops we found open in town: a convenience store. And this is where our Christmas miracle began. We got eggs for deviling and adding to the stuffing; crackers; canned crab, cream cheese and cocktail sauce to make a crab dip; artichokes for a baked dip; some cheeses; frozen green beans and canned corn for casseroles.
At a variety store in the next town over we were able to pick up two fresh side salads from the pizza counter that wasn’t really open in the back of the store. Christmas elves, those fellas.
At the corner store three blocks from my father’s house we found bread and Stove Top stuffing, mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, and instant mashed potatoes.
The turkey thawed enough, apparently, to not get anyone sick. It still felt frozen inside when we were stuffing it, so we just crossed our fingers. No one noticed all the frozen/canned/powdered elements of the meal, or if they did they gave us the Christmas gift of not saying anything. We took it as a compliment and did a lot of high-fiving in the kitchen.
And grandma brought the pies.
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Jane Marie is a former public radio producer, current writer and editor, and future coffee table book author.