Today, for the first time in our collective lives, Easter dinner was not at my parents’ house.
It was at MY house.
To understand the significance of this particular move, you need to know a little bit about my mom, which is a long story that can be summarized in the following statement: When she was 19, she was in charge of a dinner for 200 guests, including members of the British House of Lords.
Since then standards have not appreciably slipped. Big family dinners (and, remember, I’m the oldest of eight kids, so family dinners are big even when it’s just pizza and Coke) involve four plates and six or seven pieces of silverware per person, as well as a dozen tiny individual salad dressing bowls so no containers with labels are ever put on the table.
My parents have never been wealthy (and I really do mean that) – this is just the way she is. She stalks three dozen antique stores for Spode dishes and buys 18-person plate settings a single dish at a time. It is her particular pleasure to set a table and serve a dinner that would not be out of place at the Four Seasons if Mel Gibson suddenly dropped by for turkey.
As you can imagine, this freaks out the collective group of us kids to the point of palpitations every time a family holiday is mentioned. There’s no question where we’d head if Mel Gibson actually DID drop by, but every time we think of getting together for St. Patrick’s Day all we can imagine is the two hours of hand-washing antique green salt salvers.
So this year I screwed my courage to the sticking point and pre-emptively struck. I announced that Easter was at OUR house (apartment). Because a bunch of the family was away, it would just be five of the offspring and not all eight, so I figured we could sit around on folding chairs and we’d make it work.
I’ve been prepping for this for a week. In a fit of reckless rebellion, I bought PAPER plates. I then did penance by spending two days on my hands and knees scrubbing at every tiny imaginary spot on the carpet, and planning where to set the cold-drinks station and hot-drinks station. The dogs got baths. Ginny got pink. Clue got another bath. Everything was sprayed with organic, not-made-in-China vegetable-based cleaning products. No-nitrate hams (and wow, I could have done better by just buying ham-shaped pieces of solid platinum) were in the fridge.
I was up until 5 am, making sure that the towels were white and scrubbing dog drool stains off the couch. I got Doug up for the sunrise service as I was lying down. Cought a few hours of sleep and then dressed the kids in impossibly fluffy outfits with sparkly purses and dragged myself to the morning service. Back in time to put the hams in the oven and brown the rolls.
At 2 PM I was flying from the washing machine to the kitchen with a vacuum in one hand and a microfiber cleaning cloth in the other, having just screeched at a kid to go let their grandparents in, when the sight of a white tailtip vibrating with excitement led me to drop the vacuum and turn over a chair.
And there were my wonderful, well-behaved dogs, growling in a mixture of gluttony and ecstacy, eating an entire stick of butter. They’d begun on each end and were just about to meet in the middle, which I am pretty sure would have begun canine WWIII.
I scrambled down, wrenched the butter out of their mouths, and threw away the slimy reminder just in time to say a wide-eyed hello to people walking in.
For the next hour, coffee was served and vegetables met dip and disappeared, kids showed off sparkly purses, and the dogs got belly rubs and love from ten people in a single room. I had forgotten all about the consumption of large amounts of dairy products. Little did I know that even at that moment the butter was doing its evil work.
Finally the table was completely piled with food, rebellious paper platters distributed, and my mother was just standing up to fill her plate with ham. I was in the middle of the room feeling flush with the success of a great hostess job when I saw Ginny walk by me with an odd expression on her face.
“No, it’s nitrate-free!” I chirped happily as I tried to wiggle my fingers in semaphore to Honour. She looked at me and mouthed “What? What?” as I tried to point one hip toward Ginny, who was heading for the front door.
And then, to my horror, I watched Ginny reach the hallway and double up and begin to get rid of what had been bothering her colon for the last hour. And evidently what had bothered her was more than what had EVER BOTHERED HER BEFORE.
I swept in what I hoped was a regal hostess-y way over to the hallway and stood with my skirt blocking as much of the hallway as I could manage, making frantic waving motions at Honour as I continued to smile and watch with one eye as Ginny, now panicked by the sheer volume of butterfat-laden waste that was proceeding from her, began to run in circles, still pooping.
Honour, finally attracted by my bizarre dance moves, came over, looked past me, and gasped, then (showing the effect of my wonderful parenting), turned around slowly and said to no one in particular, “I think I’ll, umm… go check the laundry.” She sidled away toward the stockpile of paper towels we keep above the washing machine, with a fixed smile on her face, moving as fast as she could.
Another look over my shoulder showed a hallway that looked as though a 90-lb Labrador with major colon issues had chosen to make his last stand. Ginny was standing in the middle, panting, having just spent the last full five minutes doubled in half.
Honour reappeared, still smiling, moving sideways through the room with the entire gallon of Nature’s Miracle and two rolls of paper towels hidden behind her back. She disappeared around me, where I heard muffled gagging noises and the sound of many, many paper towels being ripped off rolls.
“No, really! No nitrates!” The splashing of Nature’s Miracle being lashed around with abandon and a horrified whisper of “Oh no, not on the closet door too!”
And then Honour, smiling beatifically, holding a grocery bag stuffed full of paper towels, came back into view and crabbed her way into the kitchen, where she stuffed the bag away in the trash.
Ginny, recovered admirably from leaving her entire body weight in feces in the hallway, flounced back into the living room and jumped into my dad’s lap.
“What wonderful food!” said my mother. “And the table looks gorgeous!”
“I know!” I said faintly. “No nitrates!”