The planning starts early. It usually starts with deciding which sister is going to host that year. If you are a longtime reader you may remember their names. If you're just joining in the drama, let me fill you in, oldest to youngest: Christine Joann (just Joann in real life), Glenda Jean, Melba Jane, Lila Dianne, Betsy Cecilia. Y'all, I just never get tired of rattlin' those names off my tongue. See? Even typin' them makes mah accent that much strongah.
By default (as of today) there are only three sisters who have houses large enough to fit all of us in. For the last several years, they have graciously rotated hosting duties knowing that the remaining sisters can be counted on to jump in and help. This year Melba and Randall are opening their fabulous lake house to us all. It's beautiful (as all the sisters' houses are, remember the decorating thing?) and cozy and just perfect for a big crowd like us.
Next, comes the meal planning. I think we can all agree that this is the most important part of all. I mean, if your starches and sweets and more starches don't line up properly...well, it's a disaster.
Ok. I jest, we do include some vegetables. We just make sure they're mixed with mayo and butter and other such goodness.
So Melba is actually pulling double duty this year and doing the meal planning along with my mom, Lila. Melba is meticulous at taking notes each year. She notes when we have too much sweet tea left over. She notes when we didn't have enough shrimp cocktail (every year!). She notes when there were too many side dishes. She notes it all and then shapes the next year's menu as such. I'm really thinking this is the year we reach menu nirvana. I'll keep you posted.
The other part of menu planning for the Cruise Family Christmas is divvying up the food responsibilites between each family. Oh yes, this is a group effort through and through. Grandmother carried the bulk of the load back when we were just daughters, sons-in-law, and grandkids. But now that we grandkids are older and properly raised at our mother's side in the kitchen, we too are responsible for bringing a dish. This, I think, is really the aunts' favorite part of the whole deal.
I don't know if you can appreciate the difficulty level of this task until you've had to do it yourself. You have to take into account many factors: Can this person be trusted to really bring what I assign them? Will they follow the recipe or go all mavericky on us? Do they have little kids who will otherwise compromise the quality of the food being made by their distracting behavior? Who makes the best sweet potato casserole? Will they eat all the pigs in a blanket before they actually make it to the gathering?
Heady stuff, I tell you. I'm glad to say Mom and Melba faced these issues fearlessly and shaped the following menu (you may want to click on it for a closer look):
Next comes the creation of the invitation (of which you have already seen The Food List). Sure, we all know Cruise Family Christmas will happen and we usually all know the date well before September. But I am sorry, any well raised Southern woman is not just going to let an event happen without some sort of formal invitation sent via the United States Postal Service.
Now, I told Aunt Melba back in October that I was all about taking care of the invitation. They've kind of been my thing lately now that I have, oh I don't know, a laptop that works and a really great color printer. That and Serena told me where to find all sorts of fabulously free fonts. But bless Melba's sweet considerate heart, once she heard we were moving she handed that duty over to my Mom.
I spotted the menu list on my Mom's desk when I was visiting, picked it up, claimed it as mine and stole the duty right back. See, again, this is where the whole strong woman gene comes back to bite our moms in the butt.
Some cute paper from Target, twenty-five tried out and rejected fonts later...voila!
Next Saturday, we will all gather together under one roof. We will be loud and Southern. We will eat a lot of really great food. We will laugh and laugh and laugh. This is my favorite part each year, by far. Somehow being in the same room with each other makes our wit and humor just a wee bit stronger. We're on top of our game when together.
The accents will thicken and everyone will get one of Aunt Joann's signature greeting and hugs (Tight squeeze, "Hooooow aaaare yoooou?" Thumpity, thump, thump on your back). Grandaddy will drink it all in with a quiet grin. And, of course, we will all miss Grandmother once again. After all, this was her favorite season and she is the original Southern Drama Queen who started it all...