Mom used to say around the holidays, “Well, we’ve all got telephones.”
Weather or work might prevent her younger brother from making it home from Milwaukee, or her older sister and husband from Nebraska, or her sister-in-law from Fargo.
We were pretty sure to see my aunt who lived a few miles away in town and my other aunt who also lived nearby, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve (so don’t wrap all of her gifts in Christmas paper).
The aunt in town liked to fill up her dining room table. It was sometimes pitched at a slight angle so somebody had to maneuver back into the corner up close to the shelves with all the African violets after everybody passed through the bustling little kitchen.
When that aunt came out to the farm she’d bring a picnic basket full of food to include. Sometimes with what my brothers might refer to as ‘refrigerator cleaner Jell-O’.
Out at the farm, the big table was right by the front door. After everybody had arrived and their coats had been placed in a heap on our parents’ bed by one of my brothers or myself (with ladies scarves in one of the sleeves), somebody would put the piano bench at the end of the table for Mom and me to share. We were then near the kitchen, and also the phone.
If one of the relatives couldn’t come that year they might call about the time they’d anticipate the meal concluding. Then the phone would get passed around. We kids were told to think of a few words to say. Mom’s favorite color was bright red, thus so was the phone with its crazy long cord. Being red, one of the guests at the table might amuse themselves and perhaps others by asking if it was the president calling.
Various potentially tipsy dishes would be safeguarded by those nearest them as the curly cord was guided to the other side of the table.
If it was the up north aunt who couldn’t be there, she might then spend a little time knitting, I imagine. She wasn’t too big on knitting but I have a couple caps she made for herself. I recently came across a comfy loose fitting off-white one that I’ve been wearing around home instead of turning up the heat.
When she did make it back to her hometown she stayed at her sister’s house with the one little bathroom. She’d generally show up to church just a couple minutes late, coming in through the side door looking a little fancier than the rest of us.
She told me a little bit about liking life on the farm — picking corn and milking cows — and why she decided to become a nurse.
She’s been gone for many years and I don’t know if my brother on the farm will make plum pudding with blue blazes this year like she taught him. But I recently found a picture I’ll probably send to his phone of her holding a bright red tomato next to tall green corn standing by my father — making it easy to imagine the grin we can’t quite see.