Pot Luck by Mildred Grant

                “Dag-nab-it!” Father’s favorite expression of total frustration rang out over the frozen, snow-covered front lawn.

                Standing in a well shoveled path, Mom, bundled up in appropriate winter wear, smiled as she said, “ Your Father’s ideas for the outside decoration of our home this Christmas seem to have hit a sour note.”

                “What’s wrong,” she asked him.

                “I can’t seem to get this last ‘critter’ to stay lined up with the other reindeer so I can rig up the lights,” Dad complained.

                Knowing that patience wasn’t one of Dad’s strengths, Mom climbed the snow bank to survey the scene: trampled snow, a handsome cut-out of a sleigh, a Santa figure, a large bag of gifts, and eight appropriately sized reindeer.

                “See? This last reindeer seems too heavy. It pulls the one beside it over the minute I try to hitch it up,” Dad fussed.

                Mom, from her vantage point atop the snow pile asked, cautiously, “Do you think if you put the Santa and sack pieces into the sleigh, making a counter balance, that it would make a difference?”

                “It should work this way,” Dad insisted. Try as he might, the second lead reindeer fell over, pulling his partner over again.

                Dad’s frustration was quickly reaching the boiling point, but Mom slid down the snow pile to the lawn, calmly maneuvered the Santa and bag of gifts cut-outs into position in the sleigh, immediately giving the whole set up the stability it had lacked.

                The rope reins were to be entwined with strings of small red lights. Grandma’s contribution was a large green bow, tied between each light.

                The sun had dropped behind the mountain, so by the time Dad had the lights strung and connected, it was time for the bus to arrive bringing the children home from school. Excitement began to rise as the children admired their father’s efforts.

                Dad explained, “Your Grandfather cut out and painted all these pieces. I just finished . . .” a sharp jab of Mom’s elbow to his ribs and Dad rephrased his sentence. “We just finished putting it together.”

                Mom suggested, “It’s getting cold out here, so let’s go in and I’ll put supper on the table. Allen, please hang up your things, go down to the cellar and bring up a quart jar of pears.”

                Seeing the grimace on Allen’s face, Mom asked, “Or perhaps, peaches?”

                Allen’s eyes sparkled as he said, “Warmed with brown sugar and a cinnamon stick.” Allen begged, “With lots of your fresh, home-made bread and plenty of butter!”

                Mom knew Allen was uncomfortable about going down to the cellar alone, especially after dark, but, if warm, spiced peaches were incentive enough for him to overcome his usual reluctance, so be it!

                All summer and fall, Mom canned and preserved every bit of fruit and vegetables she could get her hands on, whether it was wild, home-grown, or donated. We seven were assured of a well-rounded diet for the winter months.

                After our hot-out-of-the-oven meal of delicious meat and vegetable pie, spiced peaches, cookies and milk, the usual battle of whose turn it was to do the dishes broke out. Allen, well filled with his favorite meal, volunteered. I decided to wipe and El put everything away. Mom, thus relieved of further kitchen tasks, took her usual dining room corner seat where, each evening she sat in her “Lincoln” rocker and crocheted the evening hours away. We children often pulled out a board game to play on the cleared dining room table, but, tonight, Eleanor and I had to make some progress on unfinished gifts we were making for Christmas. Allen was disappointed, no game tonight, but was soon playing contentedly with his red, battery-powered toy car.

                Eleanor had talked Grandma out of enough red felt to duplicate the beautiful red cardinal which visited the bird bath outside Grandma’s dining room window. She was still talking about the incident. The stuffed cardinal was to become a pincushion that would attach to the edge of the window curtain next to her “Larkin” sewing table. Eleanor traced the full-flight image of the cardinal from one of our coloring books, making allowance for quarter-inch seams. Tonight she was doing her version of Dad’s “dag-nab-it” frustration routine. The seam allowance proved to be too bulky to allow for a neat join of the two pieces. I was totally bored, cross stitching the center of a doily for the top of Grandma’s sewing table when it wasn’t in use. As an incentive, Mom had promised to crochet enough “Mile-a-minute” lace to give it a nice finish.

                “El, I think it would be better if you didn’t turn in the seam allowance.” I suggested. Eleanor just kept trying to do it her way.

                We didn’t realize it, but, over her rapidly flashing crochet hook, Mom was watching us struggle with our projects.

                Finally she suggested, “Eleanor, do you think that swapping your project for Mil’s would help both of you?”

                Eleanor drew in a sharp breath, but, before she could protest, Mom went on.

                “There’s not a lot of time left before these gifts should be wrapped. It’s just that you like to do cross stitch and do it very well while Mil does blanket stitching better than cross stitching.”

                El let out her long-held breath very slowly, while considering this novel approach to her problem. She looked up, questioningly. I held out the tautly hooped doily with one hand and reached for the cardinal with the other, happy to change boredom for a process I really enjoyed. The few evenings left before Christmas were spent finishing the projects. Wrapping our gift was quite important because, Grandma always looked each one of her gifts over very carefully. When questioned, she always explained that the loving care taken in wrapping the gift was almost as important as what was in the package. El’s and my gifts were now under her scrutiny. The design on the paper we chose to wrap our combined efforts, the ribbon and bow, every sticker, and tag met with her approval. She carefully rolled up the ribbon, unstuck each and every sticker, folded the wrapping paper, lifted the lid off the box and parted the inner wrap of white tissue paper. (By this time El and I were very close to splitting our skin in nervous anticipation.) Her high-pitched squeal of delight (never before heard by any of us) was reward enough for El and me, but Grandma continued to gaze at and examine our gifts to her, finally nodding her head. Looking up at us, she said, “These are beautiful! Even better, you two learned to cooperate!”

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