by Beverly Carol Lucey
You are a Jewish Atheist Liberal only child from a blue collar background in New England. You didn’t know what to do with yourself on Christmas Day for most of your life. Then, in what passes for a Leap of Faith for someone who is a Jewish Atheist, you marry the eldest boy in a family of seven siblings. Irish Catholic. An executive. Not only are you now sleeping with management, you suddenly have way too much to do on Christmas Day, once word gets out that you can cook. You host so many pugnacious new relatives that egg nog and donnybrooks spill over in your small house bursting with new spirit. All your living room furniture spends Christmas Day on the deck so everyone can sit down at a series of folding tables for rib roast and three. You think to yourself, “Hmn. This is a bit of culture shock.”
Then, your husband takes a job that will zip the both of you to a small town in the south, where a Korean company is aiming to build the largest plant of its kind in the world. Your husband will help make this happen. He will be the plant manager. You buy a house near the center of town. Neighbors who come to call want to see the inside of your home, now that it is in your hands, and they want to know if you have found a church yet. Men in The Waffle House ask this. The lady at the hardware store asks this.
In this small county you notice, while looking through the Yellow Pages one day soon after settling, that under churches are listed:
You aren’t sure whether to count the lady who lives on a nearby farm who sees the Virgin Mary on the 13th of every month. But the Mary who visits that lady says we should all hope for world peace and kindness, which isn’t a bad thing. Still, you say, “Hmn. This is a bit of culture shock.”
This place is now your home. You must bloom where you are planted, or where you are whisked by the wind. And Joni Mitchell sings, “It's coming on Christmas/They're cutting down trees/ They're putting up reindeer/And singing songs of joy and peace/ Oh I wish I had a river/I could skate away on . . .”
In Which You Host the Company Party.
You think it is very important to blend cultures in this warm climate and season of good will toward all. You will be the hostess for about 20 people whom your husband has hired as well as the Korean counterparts who are in the US from the sister plant in Suon.
You go to Harry's Market 40 miles away where the GOOD food is with the dog in the car and traffic mall bound like you wouldn't believe. I takes all day. It takes about $400 including a case of champagne. The house looks nice, but it is misty/rainy/raw so your visions of having a nice fire in the chimenea on the deck, the big tree lit out there, your husband grilling, people milling, is not to be.
You make two kinds of pate, crab dip, shrimp cocktail, two kinds of tri-level mousse. You slice 3 cheeses, fill big bowls with pistachios, plus cashews combined with dried cherries. You marinate 6 tenderloins to make sesame pork, so as to really please your Korean guests, and ready 3 batches of chicken wings for the BBQ. Bowls of grapes lounged artfully around the surfaces. Two batches of your very best cookies, recipes upon request, form a white and chocolate pyramid. You plan for the two Hindu vegans expected, as well.
All of a sudden people begin to arrive and they are bringing food! Three trays of stuffed mushrooms, big platters of crudites, another kind of crab dip, sesame drumsticks, sesame beef, sesame fish, vegetable tempura, coconut shrimp, mountains of rice and noodles, chocolate cake, more cookies, lovely chocolates, and a decorated sheet cake from Publix that was sort of a signed Christmas card ...it said "Merry Christmas, Sam Hong."
You can picture Sam Hong in the bakery department trying to get this thing done. He's been in the country five months. The woman must have asked him if he wanted a name on the cake and he recognized the word name and gave her his. Most of your food was waiting to be brought out at intervals. But ever since the doorbell rang, the table overflows.
Most of the Korean women who aren't comfortable with the language tend to group in the living room in a huddle around the coffee table cracking the pistachios open. Then in groups of three, when they think you aren’t looking, they sneak upstairs to look around. Many have not been in an American home before.
Jason Kim, however, asked to look around the garage. Perhaps he thought it odd that Bessie was sitting behind the driver's seat of your Camry out there . . . but it saved guests Bessie’s initial joy and jumps as people arrived. They say your house is beautiful and berry unujwal.
Your husband gets everyone singing Christmas carols from a booklet you had made including Silent Night in Korean, and that went over big. A man named David Lim has a gorgeous voice, and you, who have been hiding in the kitchen and doing general trash management most of the time, go in and ask if he would sing a solo of Silent Night. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Then some of the Korean men go into the den and keep switching between the golf channel and some floozy channel they find. Both make them quite happy. The invitation read 5-9. When the clock strikes nine, every Korean puts on outer garments, shakes your hand one by one and leaves. Within another hour the Americans are gone.
You are left thinking about the meaning of the season, the meanings of language and the meaning of life. You are thinking that even though you bought stuff and filled 25 stockings for local foster children, you don’t know them any better and haven’t helped their lives. You are thinking that most people everywhere have much to teach each other. You are thinking about people who are cold. You are thinking how fortunate you are.
You think the contents of your refrigerator are obscene. People are hungry in the world and you just don't know how to get crab dip to Honduras or marinated pork to Kosovo.
You think: “It's coming on Christmas/They're cutting down trees/ They're putting up reindeer/And singing songs of joy and peace/ Oh I wish I had a river/I could skate away on . . . “
A college prof, Beverly Carol Lucey presently resides in Arkansas. Lucey has published short stories and essays in literary journals and e-zines. She's also written guest columns for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She gives readers permission to "google" her.
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