New Year's Day

Some 80 years ago

I remember a New Years day nearly 80 years ago when Ma had invited the whole family, some 35 people ranging from Great Uncle Wesley down to the smallest babies. It was quite a crowd to feed but the aunts brought their special dishes and their aprons to wear while helping in the preparations.

The dining room table was extended by every leaf and even so was crowded elbow to elbow. Children old enough to sit there were greatly envied by the little ones who were crowded around the sewing table which was set up in the archway between the dining room and parlour.

Pa stood at the head of the table slicing a roast of beef the size of which was prodigous even in those days. Plates hot from the dish-warmer on the back of the range were heaped with mashed potatoes, escalloped oysters, candied carrots or creamed onions, pickles of every variety and topped with spiced apples. Ma had baked Yorkshire pudding in with the beef and still had enough stock left to make bowls of steaming, fragrant gravy.

There was hot green or black tea and cold milk to drink. Dessert was mince, pumpkin, apple, and chocolate cream pie which was dabbed with real whipped cream and cheese so strong "it walked to the table by itself" as Uncle Bert said.

It was Uncle Bert who led the frolics that afternoon. Things started quietly enough with Lotto and Twenty Questions. As the effect of our hearty dinner wore off, Uncle Bert suggested Charades. For a time the house was in an uproar so intriguing that all the elders joined in. Groups formed and scenes were acted out and solved. At the end of one, a scarf was playfully thrown around Uncle Lonzo's eyes and Blind Man's Buff began. Much dodging and giggling did not prevent a rapid change of "It" and suddenly it was Grandpa who had caught Grandma as she made her way to the kitchen to help with supper. She blushed like a girl as he claimed a kiss for a forfeit.

Then Ma called out, "Quit your funnin' now and pick up. Supper's most ready. Wes and Lonzo can cut some meat. Scat now and wash up." Scat everyone did, replacing costumes and washing up by the golden glow of oil lamps as dusk crept over the house.

The sideboard was spread with platters of cold beef and warm ham which had baked all afternoon. There were heaps of freshly sliced yeast and salt-risin' bread, fat pats of home-churned butter, sparkling jellies in cut-glass bowls, pickles in puddles of spicy brine, and enough fried potatoes "to choke a horse" as Uncle Lonzo said as he piled his plate high . Ma's tomato relish and Aunt Min's tongue-tingling chow chow were lavishly spread over the meat. A big enamel pot spewed forth fragrant coffee and its twin held the treat of hot cocoa.

Plates were filled and folks ate wherever they could find a seat. Children sat at the table, aunts and uncles on the stairs, and Grandma and Grandpa in easy chairs with the sewing table before them. Soon more pies were cut and both Devils food and coconut cake flopped onto plates "just there where they's no relish juice'll do just fine. Don't need no clean plate."

That same husky cheese reappeared. "Been saving this for anything special, Wes, or just forgot you had it? Grannies, that IS a cheese. Take the skin right off your tongue. Cut me a leetle larger hunk there while you're at it."

Perhaps it was the leavening of laughter that prevented everyone having indigestion. I don't remember any feelings other than repletion and contentment, but then I was young. Might have been the Uncles needing a bit of bicarbonate of sody before bedtime and the Aunts telling them "you never needed that second piece of pie NOR the coconut cake on top of it." And uncle responding "more like that cheese of Wes'... had a life of its own, that cheese did."

When everyone had eaten his fill and the food had been cleared away, the men went to the barn to hitch up while the women washed dishes and repacked baskets with left-overs. They traded so no one took home the same food they'd brought. Children talked quietly before the last quick trip to the cold "little house out back". Soon straw-filled bobsleds were packed with tired children and headed on their way back to the farms. The horses' heavy coats glistened with a light snow as we watched the family depart in the moonlight.

The house seemed strangely hollow and empty as the three of us climbed the golden stairs to bed that night. Our evening prayers had been fervent with thanks for one more gathering of our kin and hopes for the new year ahead.