Holy Family

“Do we have to go?”

“Yes, your Grandmother is expecting us. It’s Christmas Day, for heaven’s sake.” Carol was scrabbling in the glove bag to find a matching pair.

“So boring! I want to be with my friends.”

“You can be with your friends when Covid slows down. You’re staying in our bubble. And Granny’s in the bubble. Look, it means a lot to her.”

“My friends mean a lot to me too!”

“And your precious phone….which you are leaving at home, young lady!”
“WHAAT. Look, Mum. I’ll stay for the meal but promise me we’ll leave early, OK?

“Mary, try to understand her a little. She’s all alone. You’re very important to her and you could make an effort on Christmas Day. ”

“Look. I know we’re going but you have to understand me too. I just…”

“Put your coat on, Mary. And put that phone in the drawer here. We’re leaving. And we’re staying as long as Granny wants.”

Deathly silence in the car and Mary stomping up the snowy stairs. Granny who must have been standing at the door waiting  pulling them both in and helping them off with their coats. The green tree filling the house with its piney scent. And the kitchen warm and full of steam and the delicious smell of Granny’s turkey.

“Oh my God, Granny. That smells so good”

“Oh, my God…this your prayer, yes? Well, it is the birthday of baby God after all.” And there was Granny’s sneaky smile as she turned away to baste the turkey. Mary had to admit that the old lady had a wicked sense of humor.

“Mum, do you have any wine? I could do with a glass or two tonight.” Carol looked tired, her face drawn in the fluorescent light of her mother’s little kitchen.

“Sure, what do you think this is? There is a nice vino verde chilling in the fridge and I will have some of this very good pino grigio.”

“When did you open that, Mum? It’s half gone already.”

“Christmas day is long when you’re waiting for the relatives to show up! Take that white stuff you like and give half a glass to Mary. My namesake deserves a little boost. After all it’s not often we three sit down to a turkey dinner.” The old lady had three glasses set out on the counter and Carol bit her tongue as she scrabbled around in the fridge to find a soda to cut Mary’s wine.

Her mother noticed, of course. “Don’t you dare. Even that stuff you like should be drunk on its own, pure and the way the wine maker wanted. Isn’t that right, Mary?”

Mary smirked. Maybe this dinner wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Granny letting her drink wine!

Soon everything was ready. Granny did not believe in hors d’ouevres. The big table was set with the white cloth and the runner that only came out for Christmas Day. There were crackers and even a flower centrepiece.
“Mother, where did all this come from? How did you manage it? Beautiful as usual.”

“More beautiful if your father, even that husband of yours and my brother….and so many others who used to be here. Remember in the old days?”
“Here we go,”thought young Mary. “They’re going to talk for hours about people I couldn’t pick out of a line up.”

“Well, that kid across the street came to shovel my steps one day. I never asked him, mind. But I sent him on a few errands and of course, I paid him and he brought me what I needed.”

Carol felt guilty. She should have asked her mother if she needed help in the days leading up to Christmas but she had been too busy. Mary had been giving her attitude. The damn zoom meetings went on for hours. There was always a reason somehow to avoid what one didn’t want to do.

“He’s a very nice boy, Mary. A very nice boy and you’ll never guess what his name is. ..Joseph, just like your grandfather.”

“Hmm. Could I just have a little more mashed potatoes and gravy, Granny? You are the best cook.”

Carol took a long swallow of her wine. “I had to drag her here and now the two of them are best of friends,” she thought.  “Just as well. Perhaps she won’t be in a hurry to leave as soon as the dishes are stacked.” What were they chatting about now?

“Yes, your grandfather and I fell in love on the first date. I wasn’t much older than you. Imagine…your old granny knew how to fall in love. You would have liked him. You are alike in many ways even though you have my name. An old fashioned name. No one has such a name now. Kasheizia – that’s what they call their girls now isn’t it?”

And the two of them laughed and laughed. The wine helped them laugh but Mary realized that she liked sharing her grandmother’s name – even though it was a hopelessly boring one.

The doorbell rang as they were eating the dreaded Christmas pudding. Carol could hardly swallow two spoons of the sweet heavy stuff laced with brandy and custard. The two Mary’s had no such problem. They both had a sweet tooth and after all, it was only on this special day.

Carol jumped up and went to the door before her mother could get out of her chair at the head of the table. A gust of cold air blew down the corridor to the dining room and made the candles on the table flicker.

“Hello.  Madame Mary said I could come for cake and coffee. I am Joseph.” Young Mary sat very still , the spoon in her hand. What a deep voice. The way Granny had spoken, she had imagined a little seventh grader, but this was the voice of a young man

She stood up as Granny’s neighbor came into the room. He made straight for her grandmother and hugged and kissed her. Carol stood back aghast.

“He is in my bubble.” Her mother remarked airily. “Joseph, put on your mask, my boy and you can sit at the other end of the table. That way you and Mary can look at each other.”

“Honestly, the things she said!” But the youngsters just burst out laughing and shrugged. They certainly did look at each other as Granny had suggested.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Joseph, but this is not really……” Carol tried to object – to inject some order into the situation.

“Life is full of risks, Carol. There he sits, far from us. I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed anyway. Another Mary and Joseph meeting on Christmas Eve. After all, some things are written, are they not.

“Joseph, would you like wine or coffee?” and here was Mary, looking after a guest to her mother’s surprise.

“A very little wine, please, just to toast Christmas and your grandmother.”

He only stayed a few moments. Just as he was leaving Granny fished something out of her apron pocket.
“Joseph, go and put this in the crèche over there on the little table in the living rom. I forgot to put it – the figure of Joseph.”

A little bewildered, the young man did as he was told. He was getting used to this capricious old woman.

“Very nice to meet you. I hope to see you again after this plague is over.” And he made a little formal bow to Carol and Mary because now it was impossible to shake hands.

“Don’t worry. Soon the vaccinations and then we will all get back to driving each other crazy,” laughed Granny as Joseph pulled the door behind him.

“Now ladies, if you’ve had enough we’ll stack the dishes and maybe play the keyboard a little before you rush off home.”

In fact they stayed quite a long time as the silver moon climbed up over the city and a few stars argued over which one could be called the star of Bethlehem. Mary listened to stories of her Grandmother’s courtship, a few familiar tales of how she and Joseph had run to Canada to escape some vague danger that she never properly explained.

Carol played some well-loved tunes on the inadequate little keyboard and when they caught Granny yawning she and Mary exchanged a glance that meant, “coats and home.”

During the goodbyes Granny fished the kneeling figure of the Virgin out of her apron pocket.

“Here Mary you must put this to finish off the crèche. As in the Christmas story Joseph had to go first, you see, to get the place ready.

“And baby Jesus?” asked Carol, smiling at her mother – so transparent! “Did you forget about him?”

“No, dear, here he is. I leave the honors to you. Go on, put him in the manger! Ah, these little families.”