Christmas turkey doing its job in the creation of broth.

DH = Dear Husband

DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

My father’s last Christmas

DH and I have been hosting my extended family’s Christmas dinner every year since 2007. My parents held the big holiday feasts for many years even after their five children had become adults, but as Mom and Dad aged, the next generation started to take up the torch. Up until 2006, one of my sisters (I have three) almost always hosted our family’s Christmas dinners, but she couldn’t bring herself to continue with the tradition after that year. Christmas of 2006, my father was in the last stages of his battle against cancer. He was very weak. My mother later spoke of the determination he had stubbornly exerted to be present for his family on the occasion. Wrapped in a blanket at the table, and needing to lie down on a couch long before the dinner was over, he quietly talked with his children and grandchildren, one-to-one, on what was to be his last outing.  He passed away in the first week of January, 2007. “I can’t do it,” said my sister tearfully over the phone as plans for our first Christmas without him unfolded. “All I would be able to see is Dad in that blanket. Can you host this year?” We did, and a new tradition began.

Bone soup

As I grew up, I loved everything about Christmas. The anticipation surrounding the holidays would start in November when my mother began writing hundreds (literally) of Christmas cards. Mysterious shopping bags would accumulate in my parents’ bedroom closet, and we’d be forbidden to enter. Then baking would fill the house with tantalizing aromas of chocolate, shortbread, squares, and tarts. The tree, the lights, the wrapping of presents, the singing of carols . . . It all built up to a magical  Christmas day, complete with stockings by the fireplace, gifts under the tree, and all hands on deck for the turkey dinner.

Boxing Day would be mellow and lazy for everyone – except my father. I have an enduring image of him at work on the turkey carcass, which he would take out of the fridge early in the morning, picking off every bit of meat possible. Before long, the bare bones would be in our big silver pot, covered with water, simmering on the stove for hours and hours. There were vegetables to be chopped, spices to add, lentils to soften, dishes to clean. The making of bone soup took up the better part of Boxing Day. And Dad would oversee it all with a keen vigilance as the rest of us came and went, helping out here and there. For the remainder of the holidays, bone soup would be a part of every day’s lunch or supper – particularly great after a ski or skate.

Too busy to make soup

When we started to host Christmas dinners in 2007, I thought, I’ll make bone soup. But I didn’t. My few attempts at soup-making had met with limited success. DD2 had thrown up after my last effort a few years earlier, and the general wish seemed to be in support of my disposing of the carcass. I needed a break after all. It would be too much work. There was an appeal to that notion, and combined with my lack of soup-making confidence, it led me to toss seven turkey carcasses in seven years.

Resolution for 2015: Frugal food

My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to lower our grocery bill by $25 per week, and I’ve been trying out recipes with beans, fish, cheaper cuts of chicken, broth. So bone soup has a new claim on my interest. By the end of Christmas day, I was completely exhausted, and I fell asleep in the family room while everyone else played ping pong and pool in the basement. There was no way I was going to get up bright and early Boxing Day to do anything productive. But there is no rule stating that the soup has to be made on Boxing Day, is there? I lazed around on the 26th, reading and watching DVDs. It was lovely. This morning, the 27th, I took the plunge. I picked all the meat off of the bones. I covered the carcass with water in our big silver pot and turned on the stove. I chopped vegetables, prepared rice (some day, it will be lentils), washed dishes, added spices.

It took the better part of the day, but there were breaks as the broth simmered, and gradually, the smell of Christmas past took over our kitchen. I am armed with another good recipe for frugal cooking in 2015. And although we have been without him for eight years now, I felt close to my father today. He would be pleased to know that we continue to celebrate Christmas together, and that we take good care of Mom. He would be proud of the young men and women his grandchildren have become and are becoming. He would be satisfied that the universe is now unfolding as it should – because the Christmas turkey, once again, is fulfilling its function in the creation of bone soup.

I was having technical difficulties when this post was published, and comments weren’t possible. They are now though, and your comments are welcome.



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