The snow started falling around nine in the morning. There wasn’t a lot but there was enough to coat the grass with white without messing up the roads. The same people who came to our house for Thanksgiving were once again over for Christmas. Dinner went surprisingly well, Clare’s brother didn’t ruin the mood, and after desert we all played with the dog. Zoë told her Grandma and Grandpa and aunts and uncles and cousins all about her horse. Clare’s dad commented secretly to my wife and I on how I was finally using my money. We all had a laugh about that one.
“Can we go see it, Uncle Taylor?” My nephew begged during the ends of our laughter.
“It’s snowing,” I told him. “Tell you what though, I’ll take you and your sister to go meet the horse soon. Maybe Zoë will even let you ride it.”
Zoë nodded. “I get to ride him first though.”
“Of course, Zoster,” I told her. “He’s yours.” Zoë climbed up into my lab and kissed me on the nose. “And what was that for?” I asked happily.
“For being here,” she replied, hugging my chest.
I wrapped my arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “Thanks, sweetie.” The phone next to the couch rang. “Zo, I have to get that,” I told my daughter. I patted her shoulder. “Come on, kiddo.” She didn’t budge. I sighed and reached over, just barely hitting the speaker phone button. “Hello?” I said.
“1... 2... 3.... MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!” Came shouts from the other end of the line. Zoë dropped her hands and jumped down to the floor excitedly when she recognized the voices of her uncles.
“Merry Christmas, everyone!” I said back to the phone. The relatives smiled at each other and shushed my niece when she started to ask loudly who it was on the other end of the line.
“You’re on speaker phone,” Zac informed me. There were clicks of glasses and lots of voices all around. I knew he was at my parents’ house in Tulsa with tons of relatives and friends having one of our annual Christmas parties.
“So are you,” I told him, shifting closer towards the phone. Avery barked from the floor and Clare scooped her up and handed me Anya.
“Who was that?” Zac asked.
“Our dog,” I said.
“Santa got you a dog, Zoë!?” Zac gushed.
“Yeah, Uncle Zac!” Zoë exclaimed sitting on a chair next to the phone in Clare’s brother’s lap.
“It’s Anya’s too,” I reminded my daughter.
“What’s her name?” Zac went on.
“What?” I heard my sister answer on the other end of the phone line.
“Not you,” Zac shushed her. “Go away.” He adverted his attention back to the phone line. “I know of one little girl right here who’s going to want to meet your puppy... go ahead Mandy, talk.”
“Merry Christmas, Uncle Taylor and Aunt Clare!” Amanda exclaimed excitedly.
Zoë looked up at me in delight. I nodded at her. “Amanda I got a puppy!” Zoë told her cousin. “And I got a horsey!”
“A horse?” I heard Isaac say in a shocked voice. He wasn’t speaking directly into the phone so I suspected he was just listening. “Did I hear that right?” He sounded distant, as though he was in the background.
“I think so,” I heard his wife reply.
“So my cheapskate brother is finally using his millions?”
My mouth dropped and Zoë looked at me. I prayed Isaac would recover himself and not have me explaining some reason why I was loaning Santa money to get Zoë a horse and he’d pay me back next Christmas.
“Unless Santa provided the barn, too,” Isaac went on, speaking probably directly to his daughter. “Because if Santa got Zoë the horse then he has to have somewhere to live and unless he provided the horse a house then Uncle Taylor will have to pay for it.” I let out a silent sigh of relief.
“Actually he’s living at the ranch,” I announced to my oldest brother.
There was no answer but I could tell the line wasn’t cut out because I still heard the party going on in the background.
“Taylor, you can hear me?” Isaac said. He sounded less distant as he spoke.
“Yep,” I told him.
“Oh.... well... Zac’s back. Merry Christmas, little bro and family.”
“Ike’s an idiot,” Zac exclaimed, taking his spot back from Amanda.
“Tell them Merry Christmas but I’m going to go talk to Aunt Nicole now,” Amanda said distantly.
“OK,” Zac agreed. “Did you hear that?” He asked.
I nodded, “yep.”
“Zac, how’s Nicole?” Clare shouted over my head.
“Terrific,” he responded.
“How is her first Hanson Christmas going?”
“Overwhelming but incredibly well.”
Clare laughed. “Tell her I can relate.”
I looked at her and laughed, “you felt overwhelmed?”
“Taylor, you have like sixteen dozen relatives and they were all in one room, what do you think? I especially loved the part when people started asking how long we’d been together and if I’d still be with you the next year after meeting the family.”
Zac was laughing. “Well I wouldn’t have blamed you if you quit right then.”
“I would have,” I joked leaning over and giving Clare a quick peck on the lips. She made a face and stuck her tongue out at me. While I had my back turned I heard little “beeps” coming from the phone.
“Taylor?” Zac was calling. “Jord, what’s going on?”
“Da!” Anya called with a giggle. I turned back to the phone and stopped Anya from hitting more of the numbers on the keypad.
“Sorry,” I said to Zac, “that was Anya saying ‘hi’.”
Zac chuckled. “How’s two of my three favorite nieces?”
“Great!” Zoë said. “I got a new dress!” She held the corners of her dress out with her fingers. I chuckled to myself. Zoë had been so excited to put on the dark green outfit that morning. She begged her mother for hours after we got home from the stable to help her get on her tights and dress. Once Clare finally told her it was time to get ready, her mother just wasn’t fast enough and her excitement got the best of her, so I had to be the bad guy and scold her for screaming in the house. After she finally calmed down Clare helped her into her dress and my daughter spent the next fifteen minutes twirling around and saying, “Daddy! Daddy! Look at my skirt!”
“You got a new dress Zoë?” Zac exclaimed, his voice filled with exaggerated happiness, sincere just the same.
“It’s green!” Zoë gushed to her uncle. “With white on the skirt!”
“I bet it’s beautiful! Especially on such a pretty big girl like you!”
I smiled, my brother knew how much she hated the term “little girl”.
“I miss you, Uncle Zac.”
“I miss you, too, honey. And your sister.”
“When are you coming to visit?” Zoë asked.
“Very soon,” Zac promised. “Daddy and I have to get together and record some new tracks soon. Plus I think a couple of girls I know from New York have to get their Christmas presents from their uncles and aunts and cousins in Tulsa!”
“Can we go to Disney World again?” Zoë questioned her uncle.
My brother laughed. “Tell you what, Zo, after your dad and your uncle and I get our new album out the four of us will go to Disney World how about that?”
Zoë looked at me for confirmation. “Sure,” I said, “why not? Sounds like fun. We’ll promo there.”
Zoë sighed and shook her head. “Another bus? Why can’t we have a plane?”
Clare’s brother looked at me. “She knows too much about touring.” He was speaking over my head at his sister although his eyes were cast at me, almost as though they were blaming me. He held on to Zoë’s waist tightly so she wouldn’t fall off his lap.
“She’s been on four what do you expect?” Clare shot back at him.
“We’ll have a plane,” Zac interrupted. “We’ll have a week of no singing and planes. No buses and no passes that you have to wear around your neck. How’s that?”
Zoë nodded. “That will do.”
Clare’s brother was shaking his head but I chose to ignore him.
“How many deserts do you have this year?” I asked my brother, smiling at the vision of the table that must be set up in the old house. Every year we had tons of relatives come over for Christmas Day and each would bring a homemade desert. Of course one would have to try a piece of everything to have the full effect of the Hanson Family Desert Table. We’d often have two different desert times, one where we’d drink all the coffee that had been perked and have a conversation with topics that ranged between: my brothers and my music career to the Federal Government to what movie should we watch after dinner? The answer to that last question was always A Christmas Story, which would spark yet another set of topics to be discussed. Then we’d have another round of coffee complete with another round of deserts.
Ever since we were little my brothers and I had counted each desert as it arrived seeing if the number was more or less than the year before. Once Jessica was born she too was introduced into this tradition. Of course the four of us had to have a sample of each the day after Christmas as well. I don’t quite remember the record number of dishes we had on the table at one time but I believe it was somewhere in the mid to high 30s. Needless to say we had a lot of relatives and a lot of hungry people to feed, especially at Christmas time.
“Twenty-two deserts,” Zac replied. “Isaac and I have already claimed the cream puffs as our own.” My aunt made the best cream puffs and every year the three of us would fight over the last one. Mom would get sick of our fighting and finally get a knife and cut it in thirds. When Jessica was born we all fought even harder and the “thirds” turned into “fourths”.
“Eat an extra piece of Mom’s pumpkin pie for me,” I begged Zac.
“You betcha,” my little brother said. I could practically see him smiling on the other end of the phone line. It was weird to think that we had just finished desert whereas they were just getting ready to sit down and eat it.
“Tell Mom and Dad we say Merry Christmas and happy new year,” I said starting to end the conversation.
“Gotcha man, you, too!”
“Bye, Zachary!” I pushed the “END” button on the phone and once again the noise of our own smaller party started up. The hushed voice rose to conversation level and Zoë was on the floor yelling with her cousins. The dog barked and joined in with the fun on the floor under my feet. I bounced Anya on my lap briefly and put her down next to my legs so she could waddle around the room with the puppy.
“You miss them,” Clare said moving closer to me.
I nodded. “Yeah,” I agreed with an exaggerated sigh. I grinned, “But more than that I miss desert.” I put my arm up to avoid being smacked with a pillow. I stood up and walked towards the edge of the room carefully, avoiding the little people on the floor and the stretched out legs from our relatives. “Who wants another round of coffee?” I looked around the room at all the incredibly stuffed people who had been complaining moments before that if they ate another thing they thought they would burst. “There’s more pie left on the table. Come on, it’s Clare’s home-made Apple pie!” No one answered.
“How about you, Dad?” I asked my father-in-law looking down at the arm chair he was reclining in.
He shrugged and shook his head, then started to smile. “I could eat.”