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  • Writer's picturesadie.speaks

Belly Paste

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Our nest is nearly empty. We only have one adult daughter living under our roof and waking with us on Christmas morning. Gone are the days that four giggling girls whisper into the early morning, gather into one bed, spy on Santa’s deliveries and conspire to wake us at ungodly hours to open presents. The traditions have changed over time— as they always will—but some things remain the same.

I cook our big dinner on Christmas Eve. This is on purpose. I don’t want to get out of my pajamas on Christmas Day, let alone cook dinner. Big Dinner turns into leftovers and Leftovers provide our Christmas Day sustenance. Christmas Day is my truest Sabbath of the year.

My parents were always invited to Christmas Eve dinner. They sat around our table as part of the very fabric of our immediate family. After dinner, Christmas Eve service. After service, matching Christmas pjs and the reading of the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever followed by the reading of the Christmas Story. Adrenaline rises and no one ever sleeps well on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning is born early. Bleary-eyed parents shout the ‘Ho ho ho’, slam the door and squeal to wonder if little girls caught a glimpse of Santa. Daughters run down the steps tripping over each other and grab for their stockings. Christmas morning ensues. When blood sugar drops, stocking snacks curb the hunger until the gifts are all opened. Coffee fills new mugs as we take our time savoring each gift. I’m unashamed to say we love the gifts! We love the lavish expressions of love and care wrapped for each one.

Then, Christmas morning Big Breakfast. Eggs, bacon, biscuits & gravy, fruit salad, jam, orange juice, milk, hot drinks, and {all the breakfast things} become the feast of Christmas Day— still in our pjs and hearts warmed by the morning’s generosity.

After brunch, a quiet afternoon enjoying all the gifts, naps, fashion shows, books & movies and Leftovers with Grandpa & Grandma.

We love traditions. We love to collect, cultivate and create traditions. My husband and I see traditions as an integral part of our parenting. The flexibility that must come with a growing family has tested us (me mostly) and given us occasion to create new ones. We remember the essence of traditions is the memories and the people they represent.

Parents really are the foundation and fabric of traditions. As I recall, my parents have been a constant on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day the majority of my fifty-three Christmas’.

I never imagined this blog addressing grief as much as it does. But here we are. Maybe fully addressing our grief in abuse, loss and life’s every day trials is the foundation of healing.

My elderly Dad died in July. I fully grieved his passing. I was thorough. I left no stone untouched, no tear unshed and no memory unremembered. I achieved the perfect balance of missing my old man and celebrating all the best my growing family has to celebrate.

Then, Christmas Eve 2020. I had reserved Christmas Eve to be with my Mother and cook her Big Breakfast — you know the one with Big Biscuits and White Gravy. I wasn’t ready to be flexible with new and changing traditions. I wanted to grasp and clutch the fleeting traditions as they dangled like a participle in grammar’s (wheel)house. The coronavirus had other plans for our holidays and we were quarantined — Big Breakfast would wait. We didn’t get to keep our reservations with my newly widowed mother.

Then, Christmas morning 2020. No one slept well— we were too excited to open the gifts that lay beneath the tree. Bleary-eyed parents woke to perform the routines of the day— Hubby clearing his throat, turning up the heat and tip toeing to his assigned stage left; Me, sauntering to the kitchen for coffee and Tylenol and an early morning snack.

To my great surprise, as I entered the living room and saw the soft lights of the Christmas tree casting shadows on the morning, every childhood memory of my father at Christmastime flooded my mind. Pulled from places I didn’t remember even existed, images overwhelmed me and I began to cry. My Dad had been part of the fabric of Christmas for me most of my life. And the fabric was torn this year. My memories threaded the needle to mend the frayed Christmas quilt. For the first ten minutes of Christmas morning 2020, I couldn’t stop crying. More, I stood sobbing like he had just died minutes before. Grief lay over me threatening to become a new holiday tradition.

Traditions change— as they always will— but some things remain the same.

My husband called out the ‘Ho-ho-Ho Meeeeeeery Christmas!’ Our daughter smiled her way to the living room and we opened stockings and presents, drinking coffee from new mugs and eating stocking snacks when our blood sugar dipped.

Then, our Christmas Feast! Christmas Day is all about the celebration of The Greatest Gift, The Joy to the World, The Sorrow Carrier, the Grief Bearer, The Light of the World and the Son of God. God the Father so loved us that he wove into the very fabric of Christmas Day the giving of His Son that we might all be mended by the birth of Love. Love clothed in flesh and blood, alive. No amount of feast could celebrate that enough. No amount of feast could measure our gratitude to this Jesus swaddled in a manger.

But we try.

We never stop trying.

Our Christmas Feast is Big Breakfast with Big Biscuits and White Gravy. Making the white gravy almost seems like a liturgy to me. The most mundane of ingredients whisked together and stirred in a distinct rhythm - bacon drippings (if you’re lucky), butter, flour, milk, and salt & pepper simmered until the rich, thick gravy tells you it’s done.

My Dad called it belly paste because ‘it sticks to your ribs’. My Dad thought it one of the finest meals to serve his guests. My Dad never added sausage— that elevated it to too high a delicacy. White gravy is ‘poor man’s gravy’ and you should be proud to eat it as such.

There at the table, eyes still wet from crying, a lump of grief in my throat and the joy of Christmas sprinkled in, I whisked together the simple ingredients and stirred in a distinct rhythm. Grief mixed with joy is a poor man’s belly paste. It is the experience across the ages. It sticks to your ribs.

And I smiled out loud. I heard my Dad’s boisterous voice above the weepiness brag about his belly paste. I heard it like he had bellowed it just minutes before.

I took a bite of the Christmas Feast— Big Breakfast with Big Biscuits and White Gravy. I celebrated the Christ-Child, The Grief Bearer and the Sorrow Carrier and I mourned the first Christmas without my Dad.

And it never tasted so good.

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