Kathy and I have a big house – much bigger than two people need – and there have been times when we have had nearly one hundred people within these four walls (back in the crazy days when we hosted a party for all of the participants in Carthage’s Christmas Festival.) But I can safely say that our house has never been fuller than it was yesterday, when my whole family was here to celebrate Christmas. It was me, Kathy, my dad, his wife Sonja, my brother Steve, his partner Scott, their son Henry, my sister Randi, her husband Matt, their children Aidan, Anna, Kaj, and my brother Nathan. That’s thirteen people, which isn’t that many when you have 2100 square feet in which to play- and yet it felt much much much fuller than even when it was packed to the rafters with all of those Carthage students. And I don’t mean “crowded” – but “fuller” (which I mean in the best sense of the word) and I think the distinction has to do with whether or not your house is filled with people who are pretty much ‘friendly strangers’ whose names you do not know (plus a few students who we knew much better) versus a gathering like yesterday’s in which every single person there was someone you love and care about.
When I look back on the day, I remember. . .
. . . the GIFTS. It may sound materialistic to talk about this first, but the truth is that both Kathy and I have always delighted in both the giving and receiving of gifts – and there is something so fun about picking out a gift that someone absolutely loves. Among our favorite given gifts was our special surprise for Steve, Scott and Henry: a year-long family membership to the Philadelphia Zoo. (That is where they are about to move.) We printed up a map of the zoo and wrote a note explaining the gift, and inserted both into a copy of the DK guidebook to Philadelphia. That was an idea that Kathy and I hatched together and it was one of our best ever. Another favorite was our gift for Randi – a really nice speaker which she can plug into her laptop. We came across this at the Brookstone store at Mayfair Mall and the moment we saw it we thought of all the times when Randi delights in playing stuff for us off of her laptop but struggles to bring up the volume. Problem solved and she was thrilled. For Nathan, all of us siblings joined forces with dad and Sonja to give him his first laptop computer, which we hope will bring him much joy. For Dad and Sonja, we were so happy to give them a beautiful tapestry from an organization called Mayan Works. For Aidan, we gave her three different items of clothing that screamed “I need to be worn by Aidan!” That is one of my wife’s greatest talents- knowing what is going to look great on our nieces. Ditto the “Life is Good” purse that we gave to our niece Anna. And for our nephew Kaj, we gave him his very first games for his brand new Nintendo DS, which sent him to cloud 9. We gave our nephew Henry something similar, but my favorite gift we gave Henry was a set of four small vintage cars models from Restoration Hardware . . . the best ten dollars we ever spent! Which just goes to show that great gifts need not have anything at all to do with their cost. What matters is the time and trouble involved in seeking out just the right gift that someone will really love – because it really is the thought that counts. It felt good to give such gifts- and good to receive them as well.
. . . the FOOD. Here again, it’s the thought that counts more than the cost, but I would certainly be missing out on some drama if I didn’t mention that the 12-pound prime rib that was prepared for dinner cost $131. ( I nearly had a stroke when Kathy showed me the package from Danny’s meat market and the price sticker affixed to it. That’s about what I paid for my first car, so you can imagine my shock. ) That was my brother Steve’s generous contribution to what turned out to be a spectacular evening meal which culminated in the now famous Banana/Vanilla Trifle as well as some delicious hand-cranked vanilla ice cream. I should say that it was eventually delicious- but at first, it was more like sour cream because one of my niece’s forgot to add the sugar. Fortunately, Matt discovered the omission, and it was rectified in a nick of time. (By the way, the ice cream maker was a gift from Nathan to our nieces and nephews. What a great idea.) Stir in enough hors d’oeuvres to feed a small third world country . . . a splendid brunch complete with two delicious egg casseroles . . . and spectacular Norwegian cookies from Sonja . . . and chances are that we all went up four or five waist sizes by the time it was all said and done.
. . . the CRASH. The earsplitting sound sent me running for the kitchen, convinced that we’d just lost one of our new Fiesta plates – or worse, a plate from our good china – and I also assumed that the culprit was one of our rambunctious nephews. Imagine my relief to find that it was just a little Christmas candy dish filled with peppermint sticks – and imagine my chagrin to discover that it was Kathy who did it! Disaster narrowly averted. Speaking of that, a far more serious disaster was narrowly averted that morning when my brother Nathan suffered an epileptic seizure while he was standing beside our 9-ft. Christmas tree – and I shudder to think of what might have happened if that tree had come crashing down on Nathan or on someone else. But it didn’t. The only casualties were six or seven ornaments that went flying. (And none were broken.) And as hard as it was to see his seizures (he had four of them that day, more than is typical) it was important in the midst of the day’s many joys to be reminded of how fragile we all are and that life does not always follow the script we would choose. And it was good for me to be reminded of the cross my brother bears and of how much I admire him.
. . . the TOGETHERNESS. More than anything, it was so great to have the whole crazy lot of us under one roof. Together we represent a rather unlikely combination of spices, not all of which blend easily – but you sure notice when someone is missing from the mix. And I am thunderstruck that the Bergs have managed to be all together for two consecutive holidays – something that has not happened in I don’t know how long.
Most of all, I am grateful that I am part of this family – and that they are part of me, and that once in awhile it is possible for us to bridge the miles and align our crazy schedules and actually hold hands and sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” . . . together.
pictured above: I am proud of myself to insisting that we have a family picture taken. (Thank you, Kate Barrow, for being the photographer.) To the left, on the diagonal, are Scott and Steve with their son Henry in between them. At the very back are Kathy and me, and Nathan right next to me. In front of Nathan and me are Randi and Matt, and Aidan, Anna and Kaj are below them. To the far right (only geographically, not politically!) are my dad and his wife Sonja.