As you know, our ancestors made us. It's their fault. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents and all the rest who set us on our path.
When you and the whole family left a few days ago for the other side of the world for your daughter's wedding, I was left at home on the farm with one old cow, Bailey, eight turkeys, a dog and a cat. For the first time in forever, the old farmhouse, (now yours), home to all our favorite Christmas memories, was going to be silent, empty. No holiday table stocked with stockings (my grandmother's genuine old silk stockings), the smell of coffee and bacon, happy voices and good humor, feeding the fire in the cook range warming the spruce and orange rinds on the hot top ... games and presents.
I realized I had stayed behind to keep our Christmas. I knew it was up to me to visit the farmhouse and start the fire and make the punch and visit with our ancestors. A little after noon I cut an orange for the punch, some whiskey, and headed across the street, intent on having a quiet communion with Mom and Dad and all the rest who had gone before us.
Now, at the same time, I wanted some help with bearing up with my recent loss of time with my adolescent daughter. She went on Dad strike many months ago and I miss her. I found the punch bowl and crystal cups. Some whiskey, rum, vodka, ginger ale, orange juice, ice, and I enjoyed the sound of the ladle clinking against the glass. I filled two cups, for me and another for my company. I started the fire, sliding the cover over the pile of paper, kindling and growing flames. And I sat at the table, letting the sad feelings in.
I thought of G-mo, my grandfather, who had lived through World War I, having fought in the trenches in France. He started a farm and worked hard, taking care of his bed-confined wife and two daughters. My father got through World War II, married and worried, after an early fight with cancer, for a long life with his family. My mom, who suffered a stroke and fought against loneliness in her old age. Life too often hurts. And here we all are, together in the kitchen, enjoying the punch and the love that has always gotten us through.
The soft winter afternoon sun brightened the tabletop. Laura and Abby suddenly appeared in the driveway. They'd been out for a walk. I invited them to join me, getting out more punch glasses and explaining the blue moment I was sharing with my ancestors. Then Dennis and Pete arrived. They'd come to check the ice on the pond. More punch and the quiet old farmhouse was celebrating Christmas with stories and laughter.
Dear April, it was the ancestors fault. I had been enjoying the thought, just a thought, that while the family was away, and they had left me behind, and in compensation for the heavy family responsibility they had left me with, that I should bring along what company I had to bring life to the farmhouse. One old cow, Bailey, maybe a few turkeys. My dog was already on the couch.
I looked to my punch mates. Should I bring Bailey into the kitchen? "April will kill you," cautioned Laura. "Ho, ho, ho," advised Dennis.
Nods all around.
Bailey slowed at the end of her lead rope as I started down the long back hall to the kitchen door. Past the mops and brooms and old coats hung on the wall. Through the door, turning left, she bumped the cupboard with a rattle of its contents. Her tail rose and I warned the others, "got a delivery coming here." Warm in my hands and just dry enough, I hurried the manure out the back door. My sister is very neat.
Disbelief, laughter and, "hurray" and "oh no" was the conclusion. Cameras flashed. Bailey nosed the punch bowl and then backed and slowly turned on the smooth linoleum floor and happily returned to the barnyard.
Back in the farmhouse, we finished our toasts to all our loved ones that were with us in spirit and mischief. Laura and Abby were glad for a ride home. Dennis and Pete hoped the pond would flood and refreeze for smooth ice. I sent a picture and a text to you, so far away that you wouldn't have to worry about anything at all.
So everything is just fine back here at home, sister, and our ancestors are still taking good care of us.
(This letter was written by Tony Beattie of Pepperell.)