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Christmas is about family

Suppose you were just sitting around the house, minding your own business and a cooking party broke out. That's what happened at our house last week.

My oldest child, Jamie Leigh, was making a rare appearance at home - and her friend, Kyle, was also visiting from Savannah. Kyle hopes to be a surgeon one day, but right now he's getting plenty of practice with sharp instruments by carving up ducks and turkeys - and an occasional vegetable or two. He is working as a chef, actually, at an upscale Savannah restaurant. I don't know if he's any good or not. I can't afford anything on their menu.

I was in charge of supper that night. The weather turned up warm, so a fish fry sounded pretty good to me. A fish fry always sounds good to me. At any rate, I was busy making cole slaw and frying fish and hushpuppies - my lovely wife, Lisa, was making the cheese grits (and hers are to die for; ask Dan Ragsdale if you don't believe me) - and in the meantime, Kyle decided he would give Jamie a lesson in making some decadent chocolate dessert, which appeared to contain about a thousand calories per molecule. I think he was making some eggnog, too, but there are some things I'd just rather not know.

What I did know was that it was crowded in that kitchen - and things would get worse before they got better.

Lisa had invited her friend, Renee, over to cook gumbo. Now, my wife cooks a mean gumbo, but Renee hails from southwestern Louisiana, and her grandmama's last name was Fontenot. Renee knows how to cook a gumbo, understand. Before you could say "Robert Gullibeau," there was chicken broth, okra, chicken and Andoluille sausage all over the kitchen, spread out amongst the catfish and chocolate dessert.

And a good time was being had by all.

I finished my part of the evening's duties first, and we had supper. Afterward, I retired to the living room to do a little work while the festivities continued in the kitchen. I could still hear all the laughing and talking and goings on, though, and at one point I heard Renee say, "I'm not sure about what to do about that. I'd better call my daddy."

That's when I knew we were doing some serious cooking at my house.

Think about it. How many recipes and cooking techniques have our parents and grandparents and aunts - and even uncles - taken to the grave with them? I know my own mama wrote down a lot of her recipes for us before she died, but I have never been able to duplicate most of them. OK. Any of them. Her recipes called for a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and her written instructions included comments like, "boil until just about done" or "take out right before it starts to harden."

But I remember that from the time I moved out of the house until the day my mama died, I would call her at least once a week to ask how to cook this or that. I could never remember, for instance, the steps for making her Brunswick stew, which I still try to cook around Thanksgiving time - and during the weeks leading up to Christmas I would call her almost daily to make sure I knew how much garlic powder to put in the Chex party mix or how much cinnamon to put in the mulled cider.

Long after she was gone, I found myself picking up the phone to call and ask about an ingredient in this or that recipe or what temperature to set the oven at, or - well, you know. You've done it, too.

Funny thing, though. Now two of our three children are away at college and doing most of their own cooking - yes, my son Jackson can cook. I've witnessed this phenomenon. Seldom does a week go by that one, if not both, call to ask a question of their mother about how to cook this or that or the other. And last week, Jamie called me to find out how much garlic powder to put in the Chex party mix.

Christmas. It's not all about the gifts. It's not even mostly about the gifts. It's about the birth of Christ, of course, and a little matter of offering salvation to the world; but it is also about traditions - traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.

As I listened to Renee talk to her father, I could just picture a happy, carefree Cajun kitchen with a huge pot of gumbo simmering on the stove.

As I remembered my mother, I could see her sitting at her little kitchen table, her worn hands kneading the dough that would become hot biscuits - or battering the chicken that would make its way to the hot oil in her cast iron skillet.

And as Kyle stirred his eggnog, I listened to Lisa tell the story of her Grandmother Cowan's boiled custard and her Mama Deane's ambrosia, and I was more thankful for Christmas, Christmas traditions and memories than I had ever been before.

Embrace every moment this Christmas. None of them are promised to us.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.