Recently, my niece, Kim, decided to compile a collection of favorite family recipes for a cookbook she is creating and she asked my sister and me for our contributions.  We were happy to comply but neither Jackie nor I could come up with a single thing we could attribute to our mother.  Mother was a very sensible eater who focused on what was good for us. No sodas or sweets at our house, no siree. These treats were reserved strictly for special occasions like birthdays or parties. If we wanted a snack, our choice was fruit, fresh or dried. (I still like them but Jackie says the sight of a dried prune makes her gag.) It was our dad who loved to cook and eat. Dad never gave a minute’s thought to nutrition—just taste—and we could always count on something delicious when he got in the kitchen.  But what a mess he could make!  His signature dish was Chicken Fried Steak and by the time he got through pounding and breading and frying steak, there was flour on every surface from the ceiling to the floor. Cleaning up after him was always worth it, though and I can still recall the taste of his special cream gravy prepared on that old Chambers Model C stove.

Mother didn’t really like to cook and was quite content to let someone else handle that task for her.  She told me when she and my dad were newly married and “poor as church mice,” the kitchen in the house they rented was so small they had to hang their wooden chairs on the wall after using them at the table to be able to move about.  Since preparing a large meal there presented a real challenge, Dad’s mother, who had the reputation of being quite a cook, would ship a complete Thanksgiving dinner by bus for them from Altus, Oklahoma to Waco, Texas, a distance of 300 miles. I don’t know what road conditions were like in the late 1930’s but I know that turkey must have been on the road quite a while. Apparently no one worried about botulism in those days and they lived to tell the tale. (I neglected to ask Mother if this tradition ended when they moved to a bigger house.)  

Perhaps because of Dad’s love of it, food has always played a starring role in our holiday traditions. Holidays give us license to throw health concerns out the window temporarily and enjoy the sumptious foods we deny ourselves the rest of the year. "It's tradition," we say as we help ourselves to rich sauces, sweet, sticky pecan pie and my sister's legendary mashed potatoes.  No matter where I am, I’ve always returned home to have Christmas dinner with my family--but not this year.  My mother-in-law lives with us in Arkansas and she is too frail to make the trip to Texas. Although disappointed, I’d accepted the fact that his year would be different—until today when a large, heavy box was delivered to my door with instructions to “Open Now”  written on it in big, bold letters. To my surprise and delight, I opened the carton to find my family had carefully packed a complete Christmas dinner in insulated, chilled bags and shipped it overnight.  A tradition revived! This was a true labor of love and no gift could have pleased me more.  This year will be different but not in the way I’d thought. I’ll still be sharing Christmas dinner with my family and although our "virtual" table will extend for hundreds of miles, we'll be as close together as ever in spirit.