Monday, December 27, 2010

A Salvaged Christmas Story

As much as I love to host a good dinner party, my preference would not be Christmas dinner. It's a long day, and a hard tour of duty in my small kitchen and house. First of all, you are jolted out of bed at some ungodly hour when you have a youngster around. My 72-pound darling jumped on top of my up-too-late and deeply sleeping body, raring to rip through all the packages under the tree. I barely get through that first cup of coffee before it's time to start receiving the guests, serving the brunch, then the snacks, making drinks. More people, more packages and paper, clearing and washing of the endless dishes. Pretty soon, the egg nog, wine and what have you starts to kick in and as my sister Lia's friend says, "Gaggino in Italian means loud," and boy is it ever. I love to see my boisterous clan having a good time, but I'm starting to get tired. Then I see across the room the very thing that reminds me why it is good to have cause to celebrate, no matter what. There is Wyatt, oblivious to the chaos, quietly locking and unlocking the antique tea box I gave him for Christmas. Turns out he was taking a break from his cousin who had just pissed him off about something to do with how he didn't eat his vegetables and how come he gets to have dessert. And rather than get into that ongoing feud, I say skip the vegetables, have some dessert and would he like to hear a good story about the tea box or the truth. Child after my own heart, he chose a good story. So I told him about a place called Hell's Kitchen, that sits on an island where the misfits, mavericks and mystics live. They don't have our big regular stores, because they aren't regular people and don't like all that regular stuff, and there isn't any room on this island anyway. Instead they sell their wares on blankets and out of boxes right on the city streets. They don't look regular either. One guy favors a one-piece hot pink spandex leotard, closely held clutch, big glasses and thinning hair in a pony tail. These big guys with thick accents looking rough in their greasy coveralls don't even give him a second look. Meanwhile I'm wondering how to move those 300# cast iron industrial bases they brought and what exactly they are saying in their lively wise-guy- sounding conversation. I do my best impersonation which makes Wyatt laugh as he eats his ice cream. I draw a picture of all the fantastic things I've ever seen in the countless shops and flea markets I've traipsed through over the years, put them all in this story. I tell him how my gimlet eye catches the glimmer of a diamond and it's this ancient tea box all the way from China. Half buried, I see it gleaming there. The real black lacquer, a dozen layers painstakingly applied one at a time. Real gold paintings of emperors and shrines all over it. The box still has it's key, a miracle really, which kept the valuable and highly-prized tea safe. Inside it has two elaborately etched aluminum containers each with an inner and outer lid to seal and keep fresh the precious and flavorful leaves. Wyatt is now old enough to boil the water and he makes himself the tea which he has just learned to like, generously spooning in the thick honey I wrapped up with the box. He noticed the repair to the foot, but only because I'd admitted it was broken when I bought it. He didn't say anything about the cracking lacquer. I eventually told him the true story, that someone had brought it by my shop right here in Royal Oak, but he wasn't listening anymore. His cousin had come up with some new game and Wyatt was off to play it, the feud forgotten, his mother left with an empty ice cream container and half-finished cup of tea. It was a little sweet for her taste, but she smiled and drank it anyway. She then said uncustomarily, to heck with it, and left the cup in the sink, and refortified, took her place once more at the adult's table.

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