Over the years, my mother, now 88 years old, has contributed much to the festive nature of our family Christmas dinners. It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when these things became a part of our celebration; all we know is to expect them every Christmas Day like clockwork. They are quirky and fun, reflecting her personality and her love for her children, grandchildren, and, now, great-grandchildren.
First is the rather unusual treat of her famous cranberry pie. Nowhere else have I ever encountered the likes of this delectable, whipped-toppinged pastry she concocts with a bag of cranberries and a recipe handed down by her older sister, my Aunt Mary.
Then there are the stockings she filled every year for all of us, a feat that has become increasingly challenging as we two kids added first spouses, then two children apiece, and now a new generation of seven little ones ages six and under. Often, for us girls, the stockings will be stuffed with tea towels sporting Mom's signature style of embroidery. Indeed, without the stockings, my brother might never get new socks.
No one can remember exactly when our after-dinner Christmas agenda came to include the money game. For this, Mom will count into some kind of container a designated amount of change known only by her. She will pass it quickly under our noses, hand us a scrap of paper and a pen, and have us guess the total amount. The closest guess wins the pot.
Over the years, I can remember only one time that I was the winner of the money game. This came after an untold number of years when my guess seemed to be barely off the mark, within just cents of some other, more accurate family guesser. Needless to say, the money game brings out the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of what is usually a rather docile and amicable group of people.
This year, the money game went around in a small blue solo-type plastic cup. When a suspicious mishandling of the cup between Mom and son Teebo took place, its contents ended up on the living room carpet. Some claimed this gave others of us an advantage as we scrambled for an advantageous position from which to watch Mom scoop up the coins and replace them in the cup. It didn't help me any, however, as my guess of $1.39 was way off.
This was five-year-old Sooby's first year to participate in the money game. As the cup went around, Pa-pa asked her if she wanted to guess how much money was in the cup. Not really understanding how money works, Sooby's guess was "four hundred." Translating this into cents, Pa-pa wrote $4.01 on her slip of paper, adding the penny because Mom has never been known to stop at an even number of dollars.
To make a long story shorter, the amount of change in the cup totalled exactly four dollars. Not only had Sooby won, but her original guess was, we could say, right on the money. We were all incredulous, but no one more so than Sooby herself. Uncle Teebo put the money in a screw-top jar for her, and she paraded around with it in a state of shock and disbelief. It looked like an awful lot of money to her, and she couldn't believe her good fortune.
A day or two after Christmas, I was talking to daughter Cookie on the phone as Sooby was transferring her winnings to her piggy bank. She was also giving some of the coins to Pooh and Bootsie for their piggy banks. How great of her to share, I thought.
And how great of you, Mom, to start this silly, fun tradition of ours. For only a few cents each year, you enable us to have the kind of fun that no amount of money can buy. The best part is that no one goes home a loser, as the consolation prize for the rest of us is a piece of that awesome cranberry pie.