This is our tradition on New Year’s Eve: Make a fancy dinner, drink wine, and watch a movie together. It started in 2008, when the best paying contract I’ve ever had came to the end and we decided to eat like January 1st was the start of the zombie apocalypse. No matter that I’d be collecting unemployment insurance until I found another job and the future was as murky as a snow filled sky. We would what-the-hell it up, mouths brimming with bonhomie.
Finding a meal that everyone will eat is no mean feat. One daughter has texture issues. Brown rice is full of texture but white rice isn’t. Another daughter has control issues. When she was five and didn’t want to eat the delicious from-a-box-chicken-nuggets I’d made for lunch, she shoved them down her pants saying she was all done. Just because it was New Years Eve and dinner was labeled “fancy” didn’t mean it would enter her chops. Thankfully, third daughter will eat anything presented and if she likes it, groan with pleasure.
That final eve of 2008 we bought real champagne, ginger ale for the underage contingent, thick steaks from a quality butcher, strawberries out of season, whipped cream that gushed out of a can like stroke-of-midnight streamers, and made fresh Caesar salad (hiding the anchovies from the doubting eaters). Youngest, who loves an occasion, set the dining room table, arranged candles in the center, shook out the real cloth napkins, rinsed the Waterford crystal wine glasses (ginger ale looks real pretty in cut crystal) and dusted the bone china dinner plates.
They put on their party clothes (ie. not their pyjamas) and we ate fashionably late and felt emerald bedazzled (except for my husband who was content in his jeans and t-shirt). Afterwards we decamped to the basement to argue about which movie to watch. Fifteen minutes into the viewing, the elders fell asleep only to be nudged awake later to watch the countdown on TV, clicking as fast as a strobe light between Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to New York’s Times Square and back.
Eight years later this is what New Years Eve looks like: I say to eldest daughter “Will you be home for dinner tonight?”
“No. I’m going out with friends.”
Inwardly (lord, forgive me) I sighed with relief. She is striding towards vegetarianism and occasionally I offer non-meat options for dinner to the discombobulation of my husband who is an enthusiastic carnivore. With her out of the picture I had one less dish to prepare. No “sautéed spinach with chick peas and garlicky yogurt” for her!
The youngest was working until six. An edict from her employer pronounced that no one could leave the store until the whole job of cleaning each section was done. She would text us when she needed a ride home. We estimated 6:30 she’d be ready. Dinner at 7:00.
Citrus salmon was baked. Mini-potatoes and broccoli roasted. Brussel sprout salad with pine nuts and fresh Parmesan cheese composed. Wine poured in anticipation. Wensleydale and cranberry cheese consumed. We waited.
I sipped the wine observing it tasted like it was sprinkled with mold but I persisted. The bottle was a gift from the wine cellar of my brother-in-law and therefore beyond reproach.
We waited some more. The broccoli blackened. The potatoes shriveled. The salmon cooled. The cheese ran out. The wine still tasted moldy.
Finally, she texted and my husband dashed out to retrieve her. Feast time!
We dumped the wine after one taste by my husband who declared it had turned. I had already consumed two glasses of moldy wine but now had nothing with which to choke down our fancy New Year’s Eve din-din. Afterwards we consoled ourselves with half a box of Christmas chocolates.
Togetherness TV you ask? Middle child, a devoted hockey fan, said no thanks. She was watching the World Junior Hockey Championship. Youngest was determined to hang out virtually with a few friends as her dad could not drive her anywhere because he was busy soaking his bones in the bathtub after a long cross-country ski that morning. And me? I curled up on the couch with my faithful companion, the dog, and read a book about the art and resilience of Alex Janvier, a Canadian Indigenous artist, activist, and a survivor of the residential school system, digesting this fragment. His was “…a lifetime of looking and profoundly seeing.”
I looked around the living room, profoundly determined not to see the mess, and instead saw a room exuberantly lived in by family members confidently enjoying their place in our cosmos, sometimes full of good food and sometimes just full.