A happy family story
It was around the fourth of January that the phone calls started. It was the same every year. “Hello, Angela? It’s Gran. Remember a week tomorrow? Around twelve?”
“Yes, Gran, we’ll be there. Can I bring anything?”
“No, no, I’ll get everything in. I’ve got more time, with you working. I’ll make Dan’s favourite cock-a-leekie soup.”
“That’s really kind of you, Gran. He’ll love it.”
“I’ll do pancakes for you,” Gran promised.
“No, Gran, I have to lose weight this year,” Angela protested, turning away from the tempting unopened packet of mince pies on the kitchen shelf. “I won’t be eating anything like that – it’s my New Year Resolution.”
“One day off your diet won’t do any harm,” said Gran briskly. “I’ll see you on the twelfth.”
Gran hung up leaving Angela staring, bemused, at her phone. “Your gran?” Dan asked, with a grin. Angela sighed. “My gran,” she confirmed. Dan went on winding up an unwieldy string of Christmas lights which he knew from experience would never fit back into their box.
“Hope she’s making her cock-a-leekie soup,” he remarked.
Jamie? It’s Gran. You and Shona are coming on the twelfth, aren’t you? Twelve o’clock.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can, Gran,” Jamie replied. “It’s difficult to stick to an exact time with Patsy.”
“It’s always the same with babies. I can’t wait to see her again. All three of my great-grandchildren are coming. I’ll be making steak pie – your favourite.”
“Great. Thanks, Gran.” Smiling, Jamie put the phone down, circled January the twelfth on the calendar and went back to dismantling the Christmas tree.
“Better not eat for the next week, Shona,” he warned his wife. “Gran’s house on the twelfth.” The phone rang at Tom’s house. “Tom? It’s Gran. Could you bring a couple of your folding chairs along when you come next week?”
“Sure, Gran. We’ve got four. Anything else you need?”
“No, thanks, Tom, it’s all under control. I’ll look the Scrabble out. Remember how ratty you were last year when you couldn’t find a dictionary to check all Catherine’s strange words?” “Me? Ratty? Never!” Tom laughed. Gillian received the next call. “Yes, we can bring spare cutlery, Gran.”
No, Mum, I don’t mind what kind of tea I drink, honestly,” Maureen assured her, adding the Christmas cards to the bundle of paper for recycling.
“I might as well get in the things people prefer,” Gran pointed out. “I’ll make an apple pie for Alan and a chocolate cake for young Ian. Catherine likes that too, doesn’t she?” “Well, yes, but –” “And you like prawn cocktail and I know Gillian likes pâté. The new deli has a lovely selection. I’ll get a couple.”
“Mum, do you really think you’ll need all that?” Maureen asked tentatively. “That’s three different starters – pâté, soup and prawn cocktails. You’re giving yourself so much work.”
“Oh, good heavens, I’ve just remembered, Wendy’s vegan now. I’ll get a melon for her. She likes melon.” “Mum …” “Must dash, love. See you next week.”
Tina? It’s Maureen. Have you heard from Mum yet? She’s just been on to me –”
Tina groaned. “Don’t tell me. She’s organising another family gathering – or The Great Annual Eatfest, as Colin has taken to calling it.”
Maureen couldn’t help smiling. Her laid-back brother-in-law was the perfect antidote for Tina’s rantings.
“Twelve o’clock, Saturday the twelfth,” she confirmed.
“I suppose she wants the whole gang there, as usual?”
“She does seem to be expecting quite a crowd. Wendy, Tom and their two;
me, Jim and Catherine; Jamie, Shona and the baby; you, Colin and – will your boys be going?” “Probably. They never miss a feed!” “Then there’s Gillian and Peter and their three. And Mum herself – wow, that’s twenty!”
“It’s ridiculous! Her house is far too small,” Tina stated sharply. “It was bad enough when the children were small but now they’re all growing up and having their own kids.”
“She gives herself so much work, arranging this get-together every year. She’s not getting any younger. But you know what she’s like – she won’t accept help.” Maureen sighed. “She’s doing four different starters.” She regretted the words instantly. “That’s just crazy!” Tina exploded. “She always prepares far too much food – and there’s loads left over because everyone’s completely fed up with food by New Year’s Day!” “I know.” Maureen nodded. “Then she gives us all the leftovers to take away.” Tina chuntered on. “Last year I came home with a bag of cheeses, an unopened twenty-four pack of crisps, fifteen fairy cakes and twelve cans of Coke. Well, I’m not bringing anything home this year.
“It’s time Mum learned to stop going so over-the-top. I guarantee that next week there won’t be a single flat surface that doesn’t have a plate of food on it – and that’s a nightmare with the little ones wandering about.”
“Oh that reminds me, baby Patsy will be there,” Maureen remembered.
“Everbody will be there! That’s the crazy part.” Tina was really exasperated now. “If Mum wants to keep in touch with everyone, why doesn’t she invite each family round separately? She can’t have a proper conversation with anyone when there are so many there at once.”
“I know. By the way, it would help if you brought your spare kettle.”
Tina sighed. She seemed, suddenly, to have run out of the energy needed to protest further.
“I’ll bring it.”
“Good. Oh, look, I’ll have to go, Tina, I’ve got a call waiting. I’ll see you next week.”
Maureen hung up and took her other call.
“Hello, love, me again. Do you know where I can buy gluten-free flour?”
Just after twelve o’clock on January the twelfth, a stream of cars began lining up outside Gran’s house.
Standing at the open front door, she watched as engines were silenced, doors slammed shut and the air was
“There won’t be a single FLAT SURFACE without a PLATE OF FOOD on it…”
filled with voices and laughter as her family were re-united in a flurry of hugs, handshakes and playful insults.
“Hi, Jamie. How’s fatherhood suiting you? Oh, Shona, hasn’t she grown? Hello, Patsy – what a cutie you are.” “Nothing like her dad, then!” “Auntie Maureen! I haven’t seen you for ages!” “Did you have a nice Christmas?” “I’m ready for you this year,” Tom said to his sister-in-law, producing a fat dictionary from his rucksack.
“Catherine, you’ve lost weight. You look great!” “I love your hair, Tina.” Gradually, everyone made their way inside, removing coats and falling over boots and toddlers in the vestibule, then moved in to the lounge.
“Oh, the room looks lovely!” exclaimed Maureen.
“Mum! It’s bad luck to still have your Christmas tree up,” Tina remonstrated. “You really should have taken it down last week, like the rest of us.” Gran was quite unperturbed. “I wanted the place to look festive for a little longer. The little ones like it.” She indicated the youngest members of the family gathering round the tree, watching the twinkling lights. She winked. “You never know, there might still be some presents hiding among the branches.”
All the little faces lit up and Gran smiled at her two daughters – one looking impatient and one anxious.
“I always think Christmas flies past far too quickly,” she said. “Let’s try and make it last a little longer. After all, it’s not often we all get together like this under the same roof, is it?”
“It is, though. We do this every year!” Tina protested.
“You always insist on it,” pointed out Maureen.
“Yes,” said Gran. “Once a year. It’s my Christmas present to myself.”
A burst of laughter rang out at that moment. The three of them looked round and for the first time, Maureen and Tina saw the day through their mother’s eyes.
So the house was overcrowded, but how lovely to have four generations of the family all under the same roof for one happy, fun-filled day. Everyone was talking and laughing. The adults shared long running family jokes, continuing friendships made long ago, while the children forged bonds which would last a lifetime. This was a day of pure joy. And of course, thanks to Gran’s efforts, every single one of them could enjoy some of their favourite food. Gran smiled in quiet satisfaction. “This is my favourite day of the year. It’s not such a bad thing to do, is it?”
Tina picked up a nearby bottle of bubbly and poured three glasses.
“No, Mum, it isn’t.” She gave Gran a hug. “Now, anyone for Scrabble?”