Party in a box: the Johnson and O’Donnell clans are coming. There will be beer, and guitar playing, carols, and outdoor voices indoors. Loud, raucous, and full of good cheer, this mid-December Saturday, post-Chanukah and pre-Christmas.
Candles on the menorahs, presents, holiday knick-knacks; convivial family time, maybe some chocolate and gambling (aka, dreidel), extending over eight holiday nights. Out of character, I let the wrapping paper, bows, spent matches, globs of candle wax, impossible-to-open plastic casings of electronic gifts, the detritus of gift-giving, all fall to the wayside for a week-plus. My oasis is trashed but full of warmth, given over to its week-long annual service.
But now it’s over. I begin the transition back to an orderly study as I always do—by soaking the menorahs under a stream of hot water from the kitchen sink. It is satisfying to watch the wax melt away and drift down the drain, leaving behind once again pristine trinkets. The temperature is barely tolerable and I am reminded of graduate school experiments that involved manipulations in a 65oC water bath. I could withstand the heat then, for a few seconds at a time, and I can stand all the kitchen sink has to throw at me each December. (The experiments yielded negative results… but I barely knew what I was doing. I was overmatched in grad school; found my stride later.)
My wife and I embrace the party preparation chores and we fall into a comfortable dance, not stepping on each other’s toes as we both occupy the kitchen space, pleasant and spare words spoken when needed, each of us absorbed in our tasks, yet conscious of the other and working well as a team. We’ve done this once or twice.
It is not a job I resent, and so, with a pleasant attitude, I accent it with my current alcoholic beverage of choice—a malty, chocolate-tinged porter—and a louder than needed streaming soundtrack of our salad days. The Bose dock booms solidly, the alcohol amplifies the emotional meaning of the songs, and the room’s garbage melts away like wax yielding to too hot water. Everything that dresses up the room for the holiday is relegated to one of three oversized tin canisters. I hesitate over items to recall a fond memory of my children’s early youth, an arbitrarily saved holiday card, a talisman that perhaps I could leave out for tonight’s party to show off December’s B-movie holiday. The internal deliberation recurs and is resolved each time: “Chanukah is over” quells the internal debate.
Two beers in, Billy Joel, or Doobie Brothers, or Moody Blues, or Elton John holding court, the tins put in their place for recovery in 51 weeks, my job done, I brim with a contented feeling; this “work” was fun. It’s 6:45; off to the shower. By 6:55 I’m in my party clothes (doesn’t take much; a red corduroy shirt atop jeans covering loud socks), and I hit shuffle on the Holiday Mix playlist. Elton has left the building and we meld seamlessly from Chanukah to Christmas. Dean Martin belts out that it’s cold outside as the party-in-a-box arrives.