"Aaah," my sister-in-law whined plaintively, just the other morning. "That used to be my job."
She was talking about mashed potatoes, or more precisely, which one of us would prepare the dish at Christmas.
She's been making them since she fell in love with my brother more than 20 years ago. But in my email to the family about who would bring what for Christmas dinner this year, I had assigned mashed potatoes to Chelsea, their daughter, my niece. She will be 21 next month and had volunteered to make them at Thanksgiving, so I thought: Why not give mom a break this year?
Eva, my own daughter, will make the cherry pie. That was my specialty.
The homemade crust, a recipe scrawled on a piece of paper tacked to the refrigerator door with magnets, was handed down from my mother-in-law, Hazel, the world's best pie chef, hands down.
Hazel's been dead almost two years now, but her pie crust lives on.
For me, this Christmas is all about transitions, about moving on.
When I was a very young child, Christmas dinner magically appeared on the table. Later I helped set that table, folded the napkins, even ironed them (we always used the fancy cloth napkins at Christmas) and did the dishes.
I was quite old before I actually took over the feast-preparation duties from my aged parents. I was older still when Christmas dinner moved from their house to mine, and in other years, to my brother's.
I remember that first time it was on me. I was terrified. The turkey seemed so big and complicated. What was I supposed to do with all that stuff the neck, gizzard and pieces of liver wrapped in paper and stuck in the big bird's mysterious crevices?
And the dressing how to make it first and then, how to keep it from spilling out?
And does it really take seven hours to roast a 20-pound turkey?
Just about. At 20 minutes to a pound, six hours and 40 minutes, which means if we want to sit down to dinner at 4, I'd better have the turkey in the oven by at least 9 in the morning.
This year, all the elders have passed on. I'm the grown-up now, the one expected to organize Christmas dinner.
And I'm tired of turkey. I want to do a prime rib, but my daughter, the pie maker and traditionalist, doesn't like change. She wants turkey. By today, presumably, one of us will have won that argument.
How do you fill the empty spaces where my mother and father and in-laws used to sit? Who occupies the place of a beloved sister who will spend Christmas in the Midwest with her son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter?
Thankfully, that turns out to be the easiest part of all. New family arrives. My daughter's husband-to-be and his parents, transplants from back East, have seamlessly filled the empty places. We celebrated Hanukkah with them a few days ago and they are visiting us for Christmas.
The table fills up with old family and new, with old friends and new ones.