Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Anteater Who Stole Fancy Night: A Christmas Eve Story

This is a holiday gift to our readers.  It’s a true story, I promise!  The story will be published in two parts.  Part two will be posted on Friday, December 17th.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas.

       It’s Christmas here on the farm and we’re getting ready for this year’s ‘fancy night’ festivities.  Again this year, our holiday will consist of three usual participates - me, my partner C and one of our best friends DAR, and we’re hoping it will work out better than last year!  Unfortunately, little did we know at last year’s ‘fancy night’ one new and uninvited quest would be in attendance?  Yes, last Christmas holiday included a vial evil four legged beast. 

Many years ago we all started spending Christmas together so we could avoid children, in-laws of family members and the general annoyances that accompany the holidays.  Over the years, it’s simply become our tradition.  But, our holiday has several mandatory components.  First, there’s the food.  Quite a bit of time goes into the development of a menu for what is usually a four day event.  Scores of food magazines from the past year are pored over for new ideas.  Phone calls are made, emails sent and recipes torn from stolen doctor office periodicals are mailed in personalized embossed stationary.  Secondly, there are the movies.  We have a sofa in our media room that has become legendary with our friends.  It’s fantastic for lounging in front of the TV for hours of movie pleasure over the holiday.  The sofa is as much part of our holiday experience as a Christmas tree or my sequin stocking that hangs from the mantel.  It’s has a high back and sides with an extra deep seat and is covered in a plush gold cotton chenille.  It’s been dubbed The Gold Sofa and when most people curl up in it; they are not interested in moving anytime soon.  Many of our friends become generally alarmed whenever I mention that I may have thoughts of a new sofa. “Not The Gold Sofa.  No, I won’t know what to do without it.  It’s like family.  I love The Gold Sofa,” are just some of the reactions I get if I bring up the fact every sofa has a life expectancy and eventually has to be replaced.  I think some of our guests would prefer to actually sleep on the sofa instead of making their way up to the guest room – and many have. 
And the final component of our holiday is that it must be stress free!  There can be no drama.  There are no kids, no fighting, and no complicated rules which generally govern advanced societies. – Like washing your hair.  We cocoon.  Once DAR arrives, the driveway gate is closed and the three of us bunker down behind the fences and hedges.  We don’t venture out.  We curl up, watch movies, discuss the next meal, talk politics, gossip, and cook and drink wine.

Our Christmases have always been fun, but they became picturesque when we moved down to the farm.  I was on a mission during the first few years after we moved here. Not only would I put up a tree, but wreaths would be placed on the double front doors and single white candles added to both the first and second floor windows.  Garland would be wrapped around the staircase banister, and all the mantels would be adorned with fresh greenery and ribbon.  I would spend as much energy as it took to make sure our Christmas was the creative quintessential holiday.  I could go head to head with Martha Stewart.  In fact, for two years in a row as instructed by Martha, I sugar frosted boxes of fresh fruit and formed them into enormous table center pieces and tiered compotes.  I’ve gathered mistletoe from the oak trees and hung from the chandeliers.  I’ve even put wreaths on the garden gates, filled the concrete planters on the porch with magnolia branches and juniper, and wrapped gifts in chic expense paper to coordinate with the Christmas trim.
At some point the decorating madness stopped.  Two big events lead to its dismissing. First society condemned Martha Stewart and tossed her ass in jail for being a capitalist.  I, like many people became disillusioned.  It seemed like the end of the Crafty Era. Then I started commuting between Atlanta and NYC for work and my days of crafting and holiday decorating were officially over! 
We simplified.  C who has many great talents, one of which is picking out the perfect Christmas tree, would secure the tree and I would begrudgingly manage to decorate it.  But that was about as far as it went!  The gifts were no longer wrapped with their previous splendor. Instead rolls of wrapping paper from the dollar store were mashed around a box, when a box was even bothered to be used.  In fact, often old tissue paper stuffed in the top of a shopping bag would do just nicely! 
Our Christmas became about surrounding ourselves in a stress free environment and stress free meant only the holiday décor essentials - a tree and some presents, even if they were poorly wrapped.

Spending the energy to dress appropriately was also deemed too stressful.  C and I would spend the holiday in Gap sweat pants and some type of long sleeve tee shirt or a pair of flannel PJs.  My favorite was my yellow pair with the Cowboys and Indians on them! My low point included a tattered green plaid set I wore with a pair of five year old red hospital socks.  The kind with the rubber treads on the bottom.  Of course most of the treads had disintegrated in the washing machine.  DAR’s lounge wear was a little more orchestrated consisting of a floral cotton night shirt worn over a black knit skirt; strand of pearls, an arm full of bracelets, some dangly earrings, a pair of striped Christmas socks and a full painted face.  She looked like Cindy Lou from Whoville.  She knows make up is not required at our house.  But, it’s as essential to her outfit as underwear is to most people’s wardrobe.  In fact, I don’t think anyone has seen her without her makeup since she was in the seventh grade! After a couple of years, we realized that all three of us had gotten far too comfortable with each other and our holiday routine. What happened?  Were we no longer cute?  Or were we just lazy? 
We needed to interject something in our holiday routine requiring us to get out of our pajamas and force ourselves to shower and get into something a little more formal!  We needed to start making more of an effort so we enacted a new tradition appropriately named ‘fancy night’.  And to make it even more fancy, ‘fancy night’ usually takes placed on Christmas Eve. 

‘Fancy night’ requires one to remove themselves from the grip of The Gold Sofa, venture upstairs, shower, shave and dress.  Suits and gowns are not required.  It’s not that fancy of a night, however no fleece, felt, or flannel is allowed.  And one must wear shoes.  C and I will manage to pull on a pair of slacks and maybe a cashmere sweater.  DAR will break out her newest black skirt and possibility a black sweater set.  The pearls remain, since they are a staple.  Both arms receive a stack of gold and jeweled bracelets, the dangly hoops are replaced with sparkly rhinestone bobs and somewhere on her person she adds a bit of holiday cheer, usually in the form of a bejeweled brooch or a tartan plaid bow clipped to her black suede pumps.  She even places one curler in the front of her hair to give it that extra special evening lift. 
The ‘bigger than it needs to be’ flat screen in the media room is turned off, the movies are paused and the holiday CD’s are turned on, candles are lit, a roaring fire is nurtured in the fireplace, and the dining room table is set.  

Like many people we live in only one section of our home.  Our house is of a typical 19th century southern vernacular. The front of the house has a center entrance hall with a staircase and on each side of the entrance hall there’s a large parlor room, one side of which serves as our dining room. In the rear of our house is the kitchen.  Opposite the kitchen is the media room.  These two spaces are joined by a room that extends the front entrance hall and becomes the center of the house.  Double pocket doors connect the kitchen, rear hallway and media room.  These doors usually stay open, creating one large living space in the rear of the house and that’s where we generally live.
I guess it’s out of tradition that I usually put our Christmas tree in one of the front two rooms.  But, since we don’t use those rooms, except on ‘fancy night’ of course, last year we decided to put the tree in the rear hallway so we could enjoy it from the kitchen or as we are lounged on The Gold Sofa. 

Unfortunately, a week or so before DAR arrived; C came down with a very severe respiratory infection.  He was so sick he had to sleep seated upright in a chair for several nights just to breath.  At one point I thought we were going to have to cancel Christmas, but somehow he managed to rally just enough to get through the holiday.  Although he could barely walk three feet without having to rest and his breathing was like a Chrysler missing its muffler.  By the time DAR arrived he was able to sleep horizontally and do much of the cooking for ‘fancy night’. 
        If fact we all rallied on Christmas Eve.  DAR removed her single curler and wearing all our finery we repositioned ourselves to the dining room.  I pressed out the wrinkles of the linen Greek key napkins.  DAR set the table using the Wedgwood china and crystal which seems to rarely see the light of day anymore.  And C managed to serve up a Christmas Eve menu worthy of any previous ‘fancy night’.
I do not know if it was because we had spent to much time getting coiffed up for the evening’s event, the complicated menu, or that C was moving slower than normal, but either way ‘fancy night’ dinner ran late – even later than usual.  Just before , C pulled himself up from the dining room table and meandered towards the media room to switch the Vanessa Williams holiday CD that had now repeated for the third time.  I gathered up the gold trimmed dessert plates which held the remains of DAR’s famous buttermilk pie and followed into the kitchen.  As C padded through the rear hall towards the media room, I rested the plates on the end of the kitchen island.  It was then that I noticed him mumbling something to himself and tapping on the edge of the return vent floor grate in one corner of the rear hall. 
“What did you say”, I asked.
“There’s that sound again.”  He answered.  “I heard it earlier.  Remember I told you it sounded like something was under the house.”
“I bet it’s the cat,” I replied.  “He’s probably chased a mouse under there and is knocking around all that duct work.”
“That cat couldn’t make that much noise.  Besides, it sounds like it’s coming from inside the duct work, almost like something is under this grate,” he said as he bent over grabbing the top of the grate and snatching it off of the floor vent. 
Before either of us could say another word and as Vanessa started to crooned ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ for the forth time a huge armadillo leaped from the heating duct and landed squarely on the floor in front of him.  From my vantage point in the next room the meeting of C and the armadillo reminded me of two revile cartoon characters that have a surprise encounter.  Both he and the armadillo’s eyes bugged about three inches out of their sockets and a cartoon word bubble with the same caption appeared over each of their heads.  It said ‘ARRUGGAAAAG! What the @#$*!’.

…to be continued…

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