OtterChristmas 1.7-Anticipation

Christmas seems about 110% anticipation, a gas giant of a holiday with more appearance than substance. The anticipation, though, might just be plenty. The run-up features all the drama of any reality show: a definite deadline, heavy expectations, mysterious components, long-standing tradition; history, mystery, and competition. It's no different at our place. The seasonal CDs come out and the Nakamichi comes on for perhaps the only time of the year. The tree goes up. The cat dutifully takes her place curled beneath it. Odd food accumulates and nearly frantic searches for components commence. Forays for forgotten poppy seeds make sense even when it's blowing a blizzard.

It's said to be a family time, which adds tremendous pressure to pull off perfect proceedings. The different ways individuals interpret 'perfect' adds tension to the whole affair. Christmas, despite the volumes of advertising copy, religious teaching, and historical precedent, remains a fundamentally undefined, and perhaps undefinable, experience. Perhaps it's not a thing, not a time or a place at all, but an instinctual response to long dark nights and the barely distant promise of light. "Let there be light! Please?"

Rather like the old story of the dog who, after years of chasing cars, finally manages to catch one, the instinct to chase Christmas makes no provisions for dealing with the actual capture. Now what?

And so it was in our household. The Grand Otter slept in until nearly ten, and showed up groggy in the living room. The Muse was puttering around final pie preparation while I reveled in finally and unexpectedly completing my poem cycle, an obsession entirely consuming the prior three days. The goose was still waiting attention in the ice chest on the deck. The countertops barely able to contain cookies, candies, condiments, and awaiting empty containers, seemed overwhelmed at the prospect of delivering on the inflated expectations. Actual preparation of the grand supper, save the desserts, had not yet begun.

The Muse insisted that the gift exchange wait for her to complete her pie making. The fireplace had earlier superheated the chocolate and oranges inside the stockings, hung with care by 3M® adhesive hooks, one of which had let loose earlier to explode something filled with sticky goo inside The Otter's sock when it fell. The Otter made herself a mug of tea, and we waited.

There were no children filled to bursting with uncontainable anticipation. I was anxious to see whether my gifts, a poem each for The Otter and The Muse, would flop. The Otter seemed perfectly satisfied to message with her mysterious correspondents. She had a fair pile of stuff, but The Muse and I hardly exchange tangible gifts. I limit my generosity and appreciation to sharing what I have, which for the last decade or so has been words. The Muse, I know, always struggles with how to respond to my heart-felt insistence that I do not need or want anything. I'm usually guaranteed a Christmas orange, though those have been very difficult to find in recent years. I ain't no baby Jesus and she ain't no Magi. I figure just being together's plenty gift enough.

The moment comes and I insist, momentarily lording my own self-importance, that they first read the poems I left in their stockings. They quietly accede. I get hugs and tears in return. Then The Muse and I watch The Otter open her gifts: perfume, a purse, makeup, money. She's delighted. I'm a flannel shirt and stock pot wealthier. Then, The Muse and I retire to a Stollen breakfast while The Otter organizes her take and retires to her lair.

Then what? I feel like I felt at the end of term at University. Much frenzied preparation, only to be cut loose to fend for myself as a reward. This never felt terribly rewarding, especially after the impassioned pursuit of finals week. I felt like Wylie Coyote must feel after over-running his mesa. Suspended, with gravity noticing my presence, doomed. I had nothing to do. Merry Christmas.

Further, I quite suddenly noticed I was tuckered out. I'd spent several days suspended in my head, wrestling words and feelings, and I suddenly had no wrestling partner. Job's done! Congratulations! I violated my own rule to never turn on the television when the sun is up, and found A Christmas Story playing on some cable channel that broadcasts old movies at a two to one ratio of advertising to movie. I found the mute button and waited for the next five minute snippet of movie, and lost an otherwise lost hour that way.

The Otter asked if I could make her a Lemony Snicket Omelet, but that would have to wait until The Muse finished tempering chocolate for her pie. Around noon, I finally managed to elbow my way in to the stovetop long enough to grill mushrooms, onion, and asparagus and whip up three eggs, clean up the mess, then return to my celebration of nothingness.

The Otter spent her day in her lair, perhaps categorizing her make-up, certainly texting with friends. Later, I half-heartedly prepped the goose while The Muse concocted the stuffing. The final flurry of supper prep overwhelmed us both as we wrestled with the unfamiliar oven and stove top. By the time we sat down for that celebratory feast, I had one foot in dreamland and could barely stay awake. I excused myself after a short taste of goose and, thinking I might take a catnap before dessert, slept until the next morning instead.

Now, of course, comes the fundamental question. What Now? We've a few more days left of this Otter Christmas. The kitchen's finally clean and almost orderly. I ate mince pie for breakfast. I guess that goose carcass needs rendering into Schmaltz and stock. I suppose I could continue to refine that melody I didn't quite perfect before Christmas morning. The goody seems to have been sucked out of this year, and a fresh new year looms, but not with the same anticipatory energy this just-past Christmas held. I'm still humming Christmas songs in my head. My poems have been read. Now what?

Did the Wise Men just slink home after delivering those gifts, asking themselves, "Now what?", having exchanged one juicy anticipation for another much more mundane one? What kind of transformation is that? Mysterious, indeed.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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