Pineapple glazed ham, meatballs, kielbasa, gnocchi, red sauce, fried cauliflower, and wine clung to the air. We let ourselves in through the unlocked garage door. Our grandparent’s house was always open. Their kitchen was a warm reprieve from the cold Midwest winter. I’m not sure anyone could guess from where our Christmas customs hailed. First generations were two and three generations before me. Traditions turned to amalgamations.
I hugged my grandma while she yelled at my brother about his wet, muddy boots on the carpet. My Pap-Pap, was busy cutting the ham. An electric knife buzzed in his hand. He must not have heard us come in. Or he turned off his hearing aids—he turned off his hearing aids.
I put a hand on his shoulder. He turned off the knife. “Oh, hi dear!” His voice was cheery like it always was when he saw me.
“How’s your day been?”
“Fine.” He turned the knife back on and continued carving the ham.
“Good talk, Pap.” Pap couldn’t hear me but my dad could. He tried not to spit out the sauce he’d just tasted for my grandmother as he laughed.
Before dinner was always grace—the Catholic one that I knew the first verse of but not the rest of it and would mumble along while my grandma and Pap-Pap said the second and potentially third verse. I’m not sure. Sometimes us grandchildren would just say the “amen” at the end if it had been a while since we had visited.
“Merry Christmas!” He said after the prayer. Six words.
A man of few words but tonight was different. My private tally distracted me from the rest of the dinner conversation. I watched him silently stack ham on top of scalloped potatoes. Kielbasa with gnocchi. Fried cauliflower dipped in marinara.
By dinner’s end Pap-Pap hadn’t said another word, just nodded along with whatever my grandmother said. I was eating the last bites of ham when my uncle contracted a sudden curiosity about Velveeta. “What is it? What does it do?” he asked.
Before anyone could explain the manufactured dairy product, Pap-Pap cleared his throat.
Howls spread around the empty plates of the dinner table. Everyone doubled over in raucous laughter. That’s seven.
Alli Parrett: I am a prose writer and hold a Masters in Creative Writing from University of Glasgow. My work is featured or forthcoming in From Glasgow to Saturn, The Write Launch, Crab Fat Magazine, Sunspot Literary Journal, and The Bookends Review. I live in Seattle with my husband and two dogs. I like light and sour beers, dry ciders, and Jura whisky.