Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

The old Ball and Claw table, with it's four extra leaves, stretched the length of our large dining room. It would sit ten easily, more if we needed to snuggle our chairs closer together. The once-a-year Irish linen tablecloth and matching napkins--all fastidiously ironed--concealed all the scratches and dings the old table had been subjected to over its many years of use. Only six of the chairs matched. The rest had been brought in from other rooms in the house, but the table itself was so attractive, nobody noticed or cared that everything wasn't matchy-matchy.

Mom never used a centerpiece at Christmas. It was enough that her colorful Fiesta Ware graced the table with the same colors that decorated the tree. The sterling silver came out of hiding, polished up by my middle sister and myself. It was a job we hated. But we were kids and kids could polish silver because we weren't old enough to be much help with the cooking.

By the time mom called everyone to the table, it was laden with a huge ham or roast beef or a roasted goose, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, green beans, carrots drizzled with a ginger sauce, cranberry salad, fresh made dinner rolls, gravy, real butter, cream for the coffee, and sugar--the original stuff since artificial sweeteners were way off in the future.

How I love that image of Christmas past. It reminds me to be thankful for the childhood I had and the home I grew up in. It reminds me that mom loved to entertain and taught all three of us girls how to do it right. We learned how to cook, how to set a grand table, and how to handle those fragile dishes that came out of the china cabinet  but once a year. It wasn't mom's fault that only one of we girls ended up liking to cook. And it wasn't me. Even so, I'm a great cook. And I can set a pretty table. I just don't find the whole scenario to be a lot of fun.

At my own home, the table will have all its leaves in place and a nice tablecloth atop it. It isn't Irish linen. I actually have one, but have never used it. It was a wedding gift more than fifty years ago. There are matching napkins too. Never used those either. The thing is, the linen is so beautiful I could never bring myself to subject it to spills and tip-overs. Gravy is difficult to remove; so is cranberry. What I use instead, is an inexpensive tablecloth that won't drive me to tears if something gets spilled on it. Why set myself up for stress?  My napkins match. They are wash and wear. That works for me.

These days, with the doctor changing my diet almost a year ago, the Christmas table with its load of vegan dishes, has lost all the charm I recall from Christmas past. What is there about seeing a table filled with calorie laden, cholesterol heavy, butter-loaded foods that evokes such fond memories? Tiz a puzzle. My table is loaded too, but the whole ambiance is different. This table screams "healthy." That doesn't set well in many people's minds. Some even get testy about having nothing but "good for you" dishes on the table.

This year my table will look like something out of a vegan magazine. The chicken won't be chicken, but the vegetables will be real, roasted with garlic and rosemary or ginger and sage. The potatoes will be mashed and infused with soy milk rather than dairy and the green bean casserole will be cast of beans and mushrooms in a tofu yogurt and topped with sliced almonds. The sweet potatoes will be roasted and peeled, then topped with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon. The food will be good and my guests will be amazed. They may even ask for the recipes.

As much as I adore my ghosts of Christmas past, my health demanded I make changes and I remain so thankful for the doctor that finally diagnosed my longstanding intestinal disease and changed my diet to vegan. I'm nearly a year vegan now and no more emergency surgeries or long stays in the hospital with tubes down my throat and into my stomach, trying to get a twisted intestine to go back to normal. No more being cut open and dissected and put back together again, with the hope that the intestines will still function as normal. The best part is how much better I feel, what with the constant abdominal pain and nausea now a thing of the past.

I continue to understand that not everyone wants to eat vegan. I'm fine with that. Personally, I don't feel it's wrong to eat meat or dairy. I just know it's wrong for my own health, and I give others any leeway they need to eat as they choose. Had I not been diagnosed correctly and instructed to change the way I eat, I would still be eating the way I used to. But I wouldn't have lost forty-five pounds or had skin so soft and dewy people ask me what I'm doing to make it look so good. When you're over seventy years old, almost wrinkle-free with young looking skin, and all you've done is change your whole diet to vegan, the results speak for themselves.

My wish for each of you this year is that you have a wonderful Christmas, surrounded by those you love and who love you back. I pray that whatever you choose to eat nourishes your body and infuses you with a feeling of well-being. May the God of Peace surround you with love and may we all pause to remember that it is Jesus who is the reason for the Season.

My family will all be in town within the next couple of days, so I won't see you again till next year. God bless you and keep you.

Merry Christmas


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