The side door pushes open and Mel, huffing in with the cold wind, sets and enormous turkey on the washing machine. “Look here,” she says to the party in the steamy kitchen. “It’s a last-minute mark down and it’s grain fed,” Every counter is set up with someone chopping or mixing – even Thelma– and humming, Ralph conducting the event. Emily coats tonight’s lamb with Ralph’s famous seasoning – rosemary and roasted garlic with crushed green chili. “Be warned,” Mel says, “I’m putting this dead bird in at six a.m. tomorrow. Just so there’s no traffic jam in the oven.”
From “The Joneses of Fellowes Harbour” in Facing the Other Way
Every Friday, late afternoon, looked like this picture in the collective house where I lived on Duncan Street, Halifax, when my son was small. Each adult had a cooking night, but Fridays we made soup with whatever we could find in the fridge, and put together a batch of muffins to go with it. We sounded like a hive of bees humming away as we worked.
Christmas was one thing my childhood family did well, and I bring that spirit to any household where I live – and to the ones I write about. I’m sure not all communities of people work things out, but when people do take the time to take care of how the household functions, the celebrations can be generous and wonderful fun. In a collective household each person can contribute their favourite ritual or food or decoration. We also had enough people to make holding a Christmas Eve open house easy to pull off.
In the house where I lived when my son was little, each adult chose one other adult to make a gift for. We all put a bit of money in a pot for supplies – paint, knitting needles, whatever might be needed. There were whispered consultations. Gifts often poured in for the kids and we let them open those as they came so they would not be overwhelmed, keeping only one household gift for Christmas Day. We adults, too, had one household gift. The rest of ours, we opened after the kids had gone off to play, taking turns enjoying one another’s fortunes, good and mixed.
Christmas dinner was an opportunity to give everyone a part. As the Joneses are at Fellowes Harbour, everyone can feel significant — like every singer in a choir, both blending and strengthening the whole. In the house where my son grew up, each person who would be at the table got to choose one dish. Happily, we ended up with a reasonably balanced meal. After the main course we went for a serious walk, to make room for dessert, giving us space and fresh air. And if all you wanted to eat was the dish you chose, adult or child, you got to eat it. Those long-term households were wonderful places to be over Christmas.
My tradition always includes stockings. It takes no time at all to fill a stocking with several adults contributing a few small things. I still like stockings, though now I’m living alone.
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