I cooked for hours. Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad. Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, but those are the pans I have, and at least I can remove the pan sides to see the shell standing prettily and proudly upright, holding in all that rich creamy deliciousness. “E o vento sopra só pra ela” he sang: And the wind whispered only for her, a pretty lyric made the prettier by the alliterating inline rhyme.
My children were coming to have dinner with their dad on the day after Thanksgiving, and to help him decorate his home for the Christmas holiday. I did not need their help to put up the two-foot-tall tree and the coffee table creche and the little Santa and snowman and penguin figures with booted dangly cloth legs and the eight stockings hung on the red-and-green stocking ladder—but I wanted their “help.” I wanted them to begin the holiday with me by setting up the month-long celebration, to be part of making my little house festive and fun, to know they contributed to my happiness by being with me for the dinner I worked hours to prepare—I am always amazed that my quiches turn out, that the creamy runny yellow mass I slop into the shells transforms miraculously (and “miraculously” is not too dramatic a word here) into fluffy creamy brown-topped delightful wonders—“. . . this is sooo good, Dad (what’s a leek?)”—and I feel proud and happy with my metamorphosis and their pleased ebullient contentment.
The little fork-pinched tarts for their dessert I assembled from leftover shell dough and leftover frangipane custard and old chocolate chips, rolling and spooning and folding and crimping as Tó silked out “veio me mostrar o mundo fora da janela”: she came to show me the world outside my window.
In they came, my progeny, my hope and aspiration, my anguish, the embodiment of all that is good and right and beautiful in this trying world. In they came to pray at my table, to sit and eat and talk at my table, to exclaim and praise and fill their forks again and again, my daughters and sons of whom I feel so proud and so grateful, until they are filled and satisfied, gleaming and stuffed, and I rise to begin the washing up.
Out of the tree box came the tree—the lights won’t light this year, and all the later fuse switching and bulb changing persuaded only the bottom half to light, leaving the top half barren and lightless—and out of shoe boxes come the creche and the nutcrackers and the ornaments and the swing-legged figures and the Santa candlestick holders and the stockings to be tied on the green-and-red stocking ladder—and in ten quick minutes the job is done, done well, and now I am to feel the Christmas spirit, the cheery generosity, the excitement of celebration, the anticipation of something that never quite seems to fully arrive, and I remember that the fulness is to be found out there, at the doors and in the homes of others.
Too short the evening. Too soon they exit my warm yellow-walled little space on the planet, wave farewell to me (I hope thankful and contented) and drive away in winter’s early dark, and back comes the melody of my lonely longing:
quem será essa mulher:
que sorriu assim
e descobriu em mim
o que ninguém nem eu sabia?
who could this woman be
who smiled just so
and discovered in me
what no one, not even I, knew?
And now it is time for me to sit quietly on the sofa, eyes roaming from one Christmassy thing to the next, knowing it was my young friends, my made-in-the-image souls, who arrived to help me, who call me Papa and who smile at me and embrace me and tell me they love me as they file out the door.
Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season compiles Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.