Chapter Six. The Story of the Feast.
“Peanut butter…” John started.
“…and jelly…” said Marsha interrupting.
“…sandwiches…” continued Mindy.
“…with chips…” interjected Peter.
“…and stale gingerbread…” said Uncle Dudley.
“And whatever this is supposed to be.” finished grandfather Bill, holding the stalk of hay.
“I LOVE IT!” shouted Jenny.
“You’re kidding, Vern? Right?!?” said John. “This is your favorite Christmas dinner.”
“That’s right,” Vern answered. “And it has been for years. Isn’t that right, Dad?”
“All the way back to the days of the cranberry farm.” Mr. Valkotukka replied.
Vern got a twinkle in his eye as he started to relay the tale. “We had a lot of lean years when I was growing up. The cranberry farm never took off like we hoped, and most of the other ventures were worse. It wasn’t until The Stable that things really turned around. Because of that, our early Christmas dinners were usually whatever we could throw together from leftovers in the kitchen. One year, when I was six…”
“Seven, dear.” Mrs. Valkotukka corrected.
“You’re right,” Vern continued. “When I was seven, Mom let me pick what leftovers we would put together for the meal. So I chose peanut butter sandwiches, which were my favorite. For the jelly, we had a lot of cranberry jelly tucked away, so that was the obvious choice. Potatoes were fairly easy to come by, so I could help fry some homemade potato chips pretty easily. And Dad went in to town and surprised us with the addition of day old gingerbread. It was the first time I got to pick the menu, and what can I say, it stuck with me.”
“But what about the stalk of hay?” asked Marsha.
“That was my favorite addition to the plate. I started thinking about that first Christmas, there in Bethlehem, in a stable filled with animals, and wondered what could have been on their plates that night. Who knows what Mary and Joseph would have been packing with them for their travels. They certainly were not getting any food from the innkeeper or any other form of an elaborate Christmas feast. Whatever they had it would have been meager. And while I couldn’t imagine what they were eating, the only thing I knew would be there would have been hay for the animals. So I ran out to the field, and pulled off a few stalks to place it there as a reminder of that first simple Christmas dinner. A meager meal that accompanied the greatest Christmas ever.” Vern replied. “I’ve used the stalk of hay as a reminder in everything I have done since. If you look around it’s everywhere in The Stable. On every table, in every centerpiece.”
The Moore family looked around and noticed the hay for the first time. When the first entered, they noticed all the extravagance. The white linen, the fine crystal and china. But now they noticed this most simple of all decorations. And it was everywhere. Likely going unnoticed by every patron in the restaurant.
“Vern never let us forget that Christmas,” Mr. Valkotukka began. “Through every twist and turn the years have brought us through, we always look back to that simple Christmas dinner as a bright spot in our memories. We laughed more, we shared more, we smiled more than any Christmas up to that point.”
Mrs. Valkotukka continued finishing his thought, “And so we decided to make that meal our family tradition, in memory of that first Christmas meal that Vern created.”
“But you’ve cooked so many other amazing Christmas dinners for everyone else since then.” Uncle Dudley interjected. “I don’t mean to be incredulous, but you mean you haven’t wanted to branch out and enjoy all of his other creations.”
“They are tempting,” Mr. Valkotukka began.
“But, we get to sample those in the kitchen.” Mrs. Valkotukka finished. “That lets us have a bit of the best of both worlds. Plus, we have Vern make us amazing dinners on other nights of the year.”
“You should see what he makes for New Years Eve.” Mr. Valkotukka said with a chuckle.
Marsha then turned to Vern. “But haven’t you ever wanted to tweak the recipe? I mean you create a different feast each year for the stable, but stick to the exact same meal for your family?”
“Not really,” Vern replied. “The memory of that meal is tied to the same, simple ingredients. I’ve even gotten so accustomed to day-old gingerbread that I’ve even started to prefer it that way. Hazel has even started to keep me some in reserve at the Gingerbread House.”
“I love it,” Jenny said, having already scarfed down half of the items on her plate. “It’s the perfect meal, my favorite.”
“It is pretty great,” said Peter.
“Plus,” Mindy said, “it doesn’t take nearly as long to get together as the traditional meal. I know I’ve spent so much time on the centerpiece the past couple of years, that I’ve been really grateful when the day is over.”
Marsha then shocked the family, “Me too. I mean I love our family meal, but it’s become so much work to make everything perfect. I enjoy the meal, I do, but I’ve found myself really just waiting for it to be over.”
John agreed, “And while this meal may be simple, it still brings us together, it fills us, and lets us celebrate the season. It serves its purpose well.”
“My favorite Christmas meal ever.” Vern stated.
“Mine too” Jenny added. “It’s what I prayed for.”
“What?” the entire Moore family asked almost in unison.
“After the turkey shot out of the oven, knowing it was my fault for putting the popcorn in the turkey, I prayed to God that he would fix us a meal that would allow us to laugh again and smile again this Christmas.”
“Aw, honey,” Marsha consoled, “this was not all your fault. There were a thousand little steps that went wrong in many different directions, all because we were too caught up in the routine to pay attention.”
John continued, “And despite the mess, I think this might have been just the wake-up call our family needed to learn that lesson.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Vern replied. “I think your prayer was answered.”
The Moore and Valkotukka families spent the rest of the evening sharing stories of Christmas past and laughing more than either had in ages. All parties would later agree that it was one of the best Christmases they ever celebrated. All around a meager meal, considered their favorite Christmas dinner ever.