It really got my attention, placed as it was on page 8 of The New Yorker. Robert Mankoff’s cartoon told me in a flash why I was talking about the past week as the holiday from hell.
The cartoon shows a man and woman chatting at a holiday party. He says, “I’m an optimist. I have every confidence that global warming will be nullified by nuclear winter.” That would be even funnier if we didn’t understand this is the prevailing view at the White House. Or not.
Anyway, the cartoon got me thinking that all the nonsense that goes on in Washington and elsewhere has compromised my optimism. And losing my usually sunny outlook is probably the cause for my grousing about the holidays not being exactly as they’ve always been.
Of course it wasn’t nearly that bad. It was just my perception of all the little things that went awry. Starting with my famous whiskey pecan cakes. Baked two at a time of only the best ingredients- butter, eggs, pecans, Jack Daniel’s, or sometimes Grand Marnier-a miscalculation can be an expensive failure. The first batch looked fine but crumbled apart when removed from their pans. The second two were undercooked after three hours at 250 degrees, the usual. One has overflowed its pan covering the oven floor with smoking batter. I turn the dial to 300 and go for another 15 minutes, three times in all, and they’re still not quite right. They too fell apart. It had to be the oven. Maybe the thermostat, but the stove is almost new.
Meanwhile, the laundry room smells of gas, or rodent droppings, take your pick. At the same time, the radiant heating unit is on the fritz, and the forced air unit, which we use only for air conditioning a few weeks in summer and as backup heating, is blowing only cold air. Oh, and the water heater produces either scalding or tepid water regardless of how its thermostat is set. When nighttime temperatures dipped into the 20s, we plugged in the electric space heaters.
Being equal parts disappointed and glad that we wouldn’t be having the whole extended family on Christmas Eve this year, I try to figure out if the oven will work well enough to cook the standing-rib lamb roast and pumpkin pie. It won’t. Well, the old, reliable solid copper and cast iron Chambers range in the old ranch house will do. A bit of a nuisance schlepping everything a half mile down the dirt road and back without spilling, but doable.
Early on Christmas Eve, my daughter says the top burners on our stove are burning yellow instead of blue. “Turn it off!” I yell, sprinting to open windows and turn on the vent hood fan. Carbon monoxide is more than a nuisance. It can make you dead.
It is now dawning on me that there is almost zero probability all the gas appliances would be breaking down at once. All burning yellow flames and smelling bad. I call a guy who knows about such things and he says he’s 99 percent sure the regulator on the propane tank is the culprit. I call Mountain Propane, get the answering service, naturally, explain the problem. The chances of anyone showing up to replace the regulator on Christmas Eve are zilch.
I can still cook the wild rice, string beans and mushrooms on my electric ceramic top. The rolls can be heated in my toaster oven. Now I’m relieved that we will be having no company, as much as I miss them. Dinner turned out splendid anyway. My grandson said it was the best Christmas dinner ever. Sweet thing. Well, Santa hadn’t come yet.
The propane guy shows up the Wednesday after Christmas and pronounces the regulator DOA, replaces it, then checks out all the appliances, discovering that the clothes dryer has been running for 10 years with natural gas jets. He asks, “Do your clothes ever come out black?” How would I know? My son-in-law’s clothes are black to start with and my grandson’s are so dark and stained, who could tell? New jets installed, the dryer now works better than new and the laundry room no longer smells of rodent droppings or whatever. Turns out the repair guy is actually the manager of the company. Well worth waiting for.
So now I’m taking stock of all the things that ticked me off this year enough to make me yell. First of all, I’m crossing off all the things I can’t do anything about. That’s most of it right there. Then I realize how much effort I expend trying to prevent things from going wrong. Children, and most adults, learn only from the things that actually do go wrong, not from warnings about what could happen if. Why did it take me so long to learn this?
My New Year’s resolutions have been pared down to one. Keep my sense of optimism. And my sense of humor. And when I’m tempted to yell, check out The New Yorker cartoons.