When I was little, my father would put Mannheim Steamroller on his CD player and we would decorate the tree. I absolutely hated the music. It was either that or the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Christmas Special that we’d hear over and over. I think it’s only fitting that as I sat down to write this, I cued up the Mannheim Steamroller tracks on Spotify without even thinking about it and let all the memories of holidays flood my thoughts.
Growing up Maurer, I came to appreciate holidays and all the effort that went into them. My grandmother would break out the fine china, the silver, and the crystal. It seemed that she spent hours into setting the table and I was always terrified to use anything at my place. My mother would do our hair and my sister and I wore tights and uncomfortable dresses to dinners. One holiday my grandmother “flicked” my elbows and firmly told me to get them off her table; now every time I catch myself resting my arms on the table I smile a little on the inside as I remove them off my table, even though it’s definitely not covered in fine china. My paper plates might be offended!
My mother would decorate the whole house with the cutest decorations when we were little. We would turn the entry way table into a winter ice skating scene with fake snow and a little oval mirror as the rink. I loved to sit and move all the little metal skaters around the mirror, and wind up the little cathedral music box and listen to the tinkling of the music. We had little plastic images that would stick to the windows that we called the “manger stickies.” Year after year my sister and I would have colossal arguments about who would be allowed to stick the manger stickies on mirror in the family room. No matter who stuck them, the other sister would go and move them into a different scene. It was a non-stop argument. One year, baby Jesus fell down the kitchen sink when we were washing the dust off him in order to get him to stick again. I wonder if we ever retrieved him? (Side note – I just Facetimed my sister in Flagstaff to ask her the location of the manger stickies, which resulted in another fight because she says I have them, and I argued that I don’t. Then my mother chimed in and said, “Girls! I found Jesus! He’s in my china cabinet!” See?)
Now that we have our own families we are on our own to create our own traditions with our children. The holidays have traditionally brought some catastrophic event in our families; we joke that it “wouldn’t be a holiday without someone going to the hospital,” which started one Thanksgiving, when my mother poisoned us with the honey baked ham. The entire family had food poisoning; and I landed myself in the emergency room. We were all violently ill and to this day I cannot fathom the idea of eating ham at mom’s house. I think this was the first year that I can remember that no one went to the ER for any reason at Thanksgiving! I guess let’s not jinx it; we still have Christmas looming in the background. Come on Maurer’s – stick it out for one more month.
Another year my mother insisted on neatly pressing the Christmas linen; the tablecloth and the napkins. This seemed absolutely insane to me and I felt like she thought the President of the United States would walk through the door at any moment. She became annoyed when I took pictures and laughed at her, and she kept telling me that she wanted a “pretty table for her family.” I see now that she may have been holding onto the thoughts of her mother, who always had the most beautiful table settings for our family. So much love was put into her table.
One of my first years in college, my mother asked me to make the dessert for our family meal. What? I was appalled that she would even THINK that I would bring something to holiday dinner. I slaved in my kitchen over a chocolate mocha cheesecake. You guys: it was so tough to make. I stressed so much! Once I had the finished product, I was so incredibly proud of myself. I wrapped it tight and put it on a baking sheet to transport less than 3 miles to my parent’s house. Before I left, I set it gently on my bed to put my jacket on, and then the doorbell rang. My super annoying dog leapt across the room – first stepping in the cheesecake – to bark at the visitor. I was devastated. I had mocha chocolate cheesecake all through the house and I sat there and cried. Now it’s one of my funniest memories; because my mother had a “backup dessert” already planned and in the oven.
This Thanksgiving was spent in Flagstaff at my sister’s house. I was in charge of potatoes and sweet potatoes – it’s as if my family never trusted me after the mocha chocolate cheesecake incident – and so I get the simple dishes. It’s fine; I like my mother and sister’s cooking so much more than I love my cooking. The night before Thanksgiving I prepared a tiny little Thanksgiving for Big and his father, and I let them have a quiet dinner together while I prepped potatoes. I watched them in silence as they held hands and prayed before their meal; and I wondered if Big would come to appreciate his holidays, despite them being anything BUT traditional.
The next morning, we loaded Big, Little and the Chihuahua into the car and drove to Flagstaff. We listened to the Mariah Carey Christmas album for about 5 minutes before Little insisted on listening to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” on repeat for a solid 47 minutes.
My sister and I made mimosas at 10 a.m. that she found on Pinterest; which sadly included a concoction of champagne, vodka and cranberry juice. I was asleep by 1130. Side note – Pinterest: I think that what you supplied everyone on Thanksgiving was a recipe for a Kamikaze, not a MIMOSA. Nice job. Also, Big had a horrible allergy attack with violent sneezing on the way to Flagstaff, so I stopped for Benadryl in Camp Verde; y’all, only give your child ONE tablet despite what the package says. Poor Big slept his way through the day in the guest room.
I had bought my mother a game called “Watch Yo’ Mouth,” in which your mouth is held open by little plastic mouth pieces. You have to read hilarious/non-sensical phrases. (This was after/during said “mimosas,” so you figure it out) and we laughed so hard we cried. I caught myself looking around our table, with the family having tears pouring down their faces, and thinking that THIS was what the holidays were about. It’s not about the decorations, or who can cook better, it’s about spending time with each other and having fun.
We had our normal argument about whether or not the juices of the turkey were pink, and if the turkey was done. Little insisted that he “hated chicken” and refused to eat anything other than yeast rolls. Big sat in a Benadryl daze and devoured his dinner. My niece decorated our little paper napkins with cute turkey napkin ring holders that she handmade. I caught myself quietly rejoicing over the paper napkins and homemade rings; that were placed so lovingly next to my grandmother’s silver. Our holidays have transformed to our own traditions, but the underlying theme is still there. We have been blessed with nice things in our lives, but they aren’t what matter. What matters the most for me, and what will continue to be front and center at every holiday, is that we are most blessed to have one another. The Maurer laughter is contagious. My mother’s sourdough stuffing is the most comforting taste I’ve ever encountered when topped with my sister’s gravy; of which she learned the recipe from my grandmother. My father’s smile warms my heart to the core. Big and Little snuggling on the couch together is the best sight the world can offer. Make your own traditions; and have a happy holiday season with your loved ones.