Monday, December 26, 2005


Figgy, Piggy Pudding

Although the holidays are filled with parties and programs for the mainstream active set, my own dance card is relatively polka-free. My only friend to host holiday festivities had a Yankee Swap, but otherwise my invitations for holiday socializing rise from the workplace. I have resisted work-related Christmas parties since my last round of school days, when my former principal (whom I called Petunia) hosted an annual bash at her condominium, the centerpiece of which were her chicken divan and her narcissistic personality. I lodged my regrets under the comforting bough of Miss Manners' general disapproval of command performances at work-related socialitization.

I know, I know. We Americans keep trying to foster a "family feeling" in our workplaces. One counselor at my former school even termed the bunch of us "our school family," a phrase that gave me the heebie-jeebies. I'm from a WASP branch of the Buendia clan, each of us bearing the indelible mark of solitude. My only sibling doesn't speak to me, largely because of "the lifestyle difference," as he calls it. After that there's no point in adding to the list of default relatives.

But I digress. My party-ducking aside, I did attend a Christmas program at the local assisted living palace last week. My mother out-law, Holly, was featured in a couple of key supporting roles which called for my support: one as "guest conductor" of a carol, the other as co-reader of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." (That's "The Night Before Christmas" to you literary non-purists).

The latter role was a compromise. She had originally been scheduled to recite the whole thing, but another resident, Jack, who coveted saying the first lines, suggested that they "all" read it. Holly can recite the entire thing from memory, complete with good diction and expression, but at the palace the model is based on inclusiveness over skill, so the activities director quickly relieved Holly of her starring role. She sustained the blow of her demotion and called her fellow resident and co-star a pig. Role changes were duly noted on succeeding copies of the script.

I attended the event in large part to support Holly's bruised self esteem and further to support my spouse, whose attendance is nearly mandatory at all flowerings of her mother's talent. It felt like a secure and responsible thing to do, akin to attending church and the PTA. There's hardly a co-star who doesn't relish an addition to her audience.

We sat in the dining room where the chorus had assembled. The room was thick with walkers parked by the wall, and the wheelchair section called to mind an old Kathryn Kuhlman revival meeting. One chorus member was so bent in her wheelchair that her nose nearly touched her knees, but she was there and ready to go. The A.D. ran around, making sure that her performers had their scripts, their sleigh bells and Santa caps. A pianist accompanied them with one-finger versions of holiday favorites, since the A.D. feared that chords and a few more fingers would confuse the performers.

We whooped and cheered when Holly's guest conducting gig game up. I have adopted the applause style of Kermit the Frog, since I enjoy saying "Hooray!" Holly was so overcome by our warm reception that she had to be reminded to conduct the chorus, a chore she tended to absently. When the reading of "A Visit from St. Nick" began, we bowed our heads together and hissed, "Pig!" as her arch-rival read (tonelessly, lifelessly) the opening lines. (Our job was not to serve as impartial ethicists or mediators, but as Family Members, forever biased in Holly's favor.)

The big wind-up was a singing of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," which includes a verse pleading for something called "figgy pudding," and another stating that "we won't leave until we get some," a threat, actually. Imagine these melodic mooches encamped on your stoop, for say, all twelve days of Christmas, befouling the landscaping and frightening the mail carrier, while waiting for figgy pudding.

I turned to my mate. "Figgy pudding?" This was just the sort of phrase that threatened to lodge itself in my amygdala for days. I am very impressionable and therefore must guard my little brain cells zealously.

At that moment, whether by coincidence or design, the A.D. signaled her Christmas elves who slipped into the kitchen and emerged with large trays of the stuff. It was blobby and brown with a little rosette of whipped cream on top. She'd found the recipe on the internet, the chef had whipped up a batch, and it was be to ours upon the conclusion of the program.

As it turns out, I won't be whipping up my own figgy pudding anytime soon. If a chef can't make anything more enticing than gritty fig newtons without the crust, then neither can I. I took a couple of exploratory bits and renewed my fealty to pumpkin pie. I did not congratulate Jack upon his performance.

However, the afternoon was a success. We'd had the opportunity to applaud Holly, to assure her that hers was the authentic and expressive reading of the role, and in our own implicit way, to put Piggy in his place.

Just the mention of Kathyrn Kuhlman makes this my nominee for Blog of the Year.
And figgy pudding has gone out of fashion for a reason.
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