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Chatterbox: The gathering


So, t’is the season, and many of us are trying to gather groups of our favorite people, people who are rarely together for visits. It’s certainly not easy.

Some of us are growing old and making general announcements about our last year of decorating (um, that would be me). Eventually, climbing a ladder can become a workout and just looking up to admire the tree topper can induce vertigo.

We make 12 trips to the attic to bring down dozens of ornaments that tell the story of our life from early childhood to last week’s trip to Poughkeepsie. We drag, drape, and drip yards of garland to induce the warm Christmas feeling. We curse the day we first found Martha Stewart on PBS. She was in her private garden, searching for her perfect pumpkin to make pie. Then, she draped tuile cookies over a rolling pin, and piped perfect royal icing along the edges of the world’s most wonderful gingerbread men. I mean, who can compete with the Marvelous Miss Martha?

Still, we try, and when we finally get all our stuff onto the walls, over the tree, and out of the oven, we want someone to enjoy it with us. After all, we, ourselves, do not a party make. Voila, the gathering plans. First, we draw up a list of invited guests. Then, we throw out the social media net. “Hi, all. Thinking of you this holiday season. Trying to do an open house. How’s the Saturday after Christmas work for you?”

Oh, brother. It starts. The logistics are epic.

The younger generation is tough to nail down. Their geography is challenging, and their schedules are imposing. They are either jet-setters, over-achievers, job-seekers, self-employed, or making ends meet by working two and half jobs, sharing rooms, and they have no personal vehicle. Those with children are dealing with yet another generation’s commitments and expenses as well as their own.

Retirees who were lucky enough to catch the Boomers’ early life opportunities and later life stability aren’t any easier to find free.

Though we can’t overlook the restrictions of those who are helping raise their grandchildren, some newly retired people are just enjoying their newfound freedom. Either way, this group is on the move as well.

Any holiday host competes with, first, every guest’s pre-holiday shopping and preparation. Then, the holiday itself, which is always a traditional commitment and often involves travel. Finally, post holiday time, again involving travel - whether that means traveling back home from the holiday away, or a quick turn-around away from home to chase the sun.

So, let’s face it, the holidays are a terrible time to try to have a gathering. After all, it’s … well, the holidays. Everyone is too busy to be busy, doing too much to do anything, and going too many places to go anyplace.

We should just stop watching those Hallmark holiday movies with images, through iced windows, of gathered families, steaming turkeys, and profound toasts in houses where every room is decorated to the nines (my husband says he can tell what channel it is just by the inordinate number of red bows on the screen). That’s hard to come by in real life; after all, those people have stagehands.

For the rest of us, it doesn’t snow on cue, little girls may wear tartan plaid and velvet, but they run and scream when little boys in argyle sweaters chase them, waving gnarled fingers at them. Champagne toasts get interrupted, wine ends up on the rug, and something, inevitably, gets left in the oven until it looks like a charcoal briquette. We plan the image, but we get the reality.

Still, we must admit, when we can pull it off, it’s pretty cool. We can be the gathering place – the one in which the “long time, no see” remarks are followed by giant hugs and reminiscing over eggnog, cookies, wine and a buffet. It’s where we bring old friends and distracted relatives together for the broadest smiles and deepest belly laughs. And, nothing beats watching cousins, long in history no matter how short on time, refreshing their bonds and exchanging news at a table we made open to all.

The problems aren’t new. The geography is killer. The calendar is the enemy but we can still just throw out a net and see what we catch. Here’s hoping all our holiday nets are filled to breaking with family and friends.

Merry Christmas.