Several years ago, just a week before Christmas, my sister Phyllis acquired a new oven. Her twenty-year old cooker had begun to wheeze ominously every time she swivelled the control knobs, so an upgrade was in order. The new stove was state of the art. It had a built in microwave oven, a convection oven and an electronic pad with sensors that buzzed discreetly, lights that blinked, and pale green displays that told you everything short of the next day's weather forecast.
Christmas Day, in our family followed a pattern. After morning church service, my sister, her husband Derek, joined us - my parents, my husband, myself and our two kids - for a festive brunch at our house in Surrey . After the ritual of unwrapping the gifts stacked under our Christmas tree, Phyllis and Derek, would scurry off to get the turkey into the oven, so that it cooked in time for our Christmas dinner get-together at their home.
We had friends from Britain spending Christmas with us that year and after brunch, we watched the Queen's Christmas message on TV and then lounged around, chatting. My sister seemed in no rush to get home.
“What about the turkey?” I asked her.
She threw me a smug glance. “No problem! The oven automatic timing thingy is on, and right now that little ole bird is sizzling and bubbling away in its juices.” She waved an airy hand. “Relax kiddo!”
At 4.30 we all drove over to Phyl and Derek's home. Noses twitching with anticipation we walked in the front door. But alas, no aroma of cooked turkey greeted us. Phyllis' face went the colour of bleached paper. “Oh no!” She wailed. She opened the oven door and - yes, you guessed it! The turkey sat there pink, pimply and stone cold.
The door bell rang. In surged more family - Phyllis's and Derek's children, their spouses and kids. “Merry Christmas!” the grandchildren yelled, throwing their arms around everyone. My sister, her expression still registering unprintable thoughts about her gleaming new stove, hugged them distractedly.
Oven coaxed into life, tree denuded of gifts and bar opened for all takers, my sister poured herself a glass of wine. The children, supplied with generous amounts of Christmas cookies, candies, pop and chips, disappeared into the basement, whooping gleefully, to play with their new toys.
The rest of us, fortified with rum punch, eggnog, brandy, ginger wine, and other assorted libations, gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols. When we ran out of carols we belted out show tunes, and sing-along favourites, or ribald versions of campfire songs. Our English visitors, also happily lubricated, joined the act. Digby recited “Albert and the Lion” a-la Stanley Holloway. His wife, Sarah, had a go at Carmen Miranda: “Ay-yi-yi-yi love you verrry much” she warbled, swivelling her hips and rolling her eyes. My sister, who by then was past caring about the turkey, blasted her way through a Lisa Minnelli impersonation of “ New York , New York .”
The grandchildren, drawn by the sounds of adult merriment came upstairs and were co-opted into an uproarious, if rather tipsy, game of charades. Between acts we consumed nuts, chocolate mints, shortbread cookies, Christmas cake and spicy Mexican tacos. A platter of cold cuts and cheese disappeared faster than a con on the lam.
The turkey, finally emerged from the oven around midnight. By then, we'd Boom-si-Daisied, done the Lambeth Walk and taken a stab at the Can-Can. Music turned up several decibels, we'd also jived, cha-cha-ed and done the Limbo Rock and Macarena twice over. “Yoo-hoo! Dinner is served,” my sister called out, beating an empty can with a spoon. Her announcement was drowned out by a lusty ‘one-two-three and a kick” as we Conga'd through the living room, caterpillared our way into the dining room, and circled the table three times before being prevailed upon to “puleez sit down!”
Our friends from England send us Christmas cards every year. The last one had a note saying that if Phyllis promised to use her high-tech stove again, they'd be back here—faster than a Canadian turkey takes to cook.