Christmas is a holiday with family at the heart of the season. In this short story from the author of CONTINUUM, THE COLORADO COW AND OTHER STORIES and ANOTHER FINE CHRISTMAS, Frank discovers that sometimes discovering who you are is the best present, and that often the family you choose can be stronger than the family into which you were born.
Snow appears in the earliest hours of Christmas Eve; huge flakes floating from a white night sky. As the flakes near the ground, they become suspended for moments in their descent like feathers wafted by the warm breath of a playful child.
The street lamps up and down Thirteenth and Fourteenth Avenues shine brightly upon the newly white coverlet that layers Capitol Hill from end to end. The tops of the street lamps, an encircling aura of blue-white light, radiate like halos from the heads of saints seen in one’s childhood catechism left untouched now for...so many years.
It is very cold and quiet in Denver.
Fourteen floors above the snow-whitened street, Frank watches through glass doors the steady succession of flakes float slowly, silently beyond the jut of the balcony, down, down to the ground. “Christmas Eve,” he whispers to the dark room as he pulls his robe close across his chest. The embers in the fireplace are dying, pulsing orange. He pulls the drapes across the glass doors and quietly goes back to bed, where Stephen is huddled and contentedly snoring under a thick pile of blankets. Frank snuggles close to him, and gently presses his lips against his neck. “It’s Christmas Eve,” he whispers and, as he caresses the warmth of Stephen’s body. He smiles and closes his eyes.
* * *
The main thing about them was that they had all been nearly the same: The cousins, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents, all of them, for as long as Frank could remember, had come to their house on Christmas Eve. His mother and Martha, their housekeeper, would spend three days in the kitchen preparing for the Christmas Eve dinner. Turkey, ham, pot roast, yams and cranberries, potatoes and vegetables, stuffing, cakes and pies; everything edible that—for some reason Frank, at first, did not understand—Christmas Eve would not be Christmas Eve without, would fill the house with palpable, succulent aromas. The food awaited the onslaught of hungry relatives who, Frank assumed after witnessing their shameless gluttony, had starved themselves for weeks in anticipation of his mother’s and Martha’s efforts in the kitchen.
“Why do we have all this food on Christmas Eve?” Frank had, more than once over the years, asked his mother as she and Martha worked away in the kitchen.
“To celebrate the birth of Jesus,” his mother would invariably respond with a slight edge to her voice as she heaved another pan into the oven.
“But, why do we eat to celebrate? Why don’t we...pray or something?”
And Frank’s mother would shoo him out of the kitchen saying, “We pray on Christmas. Now get!”
When Frank was nine he entered the busy kitchen to ask the annual question once again and before he could say “Why?” Martha grabbed his hand and took him into the dining room.
“Listen here, Frank,” she said, her deeply brown eyes as soft and loving as they had always been, “don’t you be asking your mama that question again. When kin get together they eat. Period. It don’t have nothin’ to do with Christmas. You know that and your Mama knows that and we all know somehow it ain’t right that we slave for three days cookin’ up all that food and pretendin’ we’re doing it for the Lord. Doesn’t have a thing to do with the Lord. It’s got to do with kin and celebratin’ family. If you wanna go pray then get your little bottom upstairs and kneel yourself down. But, I’m tellin’ you to leave your mama alone. Hear?”
Frank would never ask the question again. The following spring when his grandfather died, he wouldn’t even question the feast Martha prepared for the mourners. Kin and food. Food and kin. Period. The primordial significance of the pack gathering. Frank finally understood.
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