A Daddy's LovebyTx Tall Tales©
A father's cautionary tale
Something a little different for Christmas. There is little sex in this story. It's a tale of love, of family, of strained marital relationships. A story of love between fathers and daughters, pure love, a Daddy's love.
This is an entry in the WINTER HOLIDAYS STORY CONTEST 2013.
Thanks to PatientLee for her last minute reading and rescue. The ending was a mess and she helped me spot why. She hasn't seen this version so don't blame her if it still doesn't work.
I'm going to scream if one more person asks me if I'm alright.
Jessica was exhausted, and a little fed up. She'd always come home for the holidays, alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas with Michael's family. For most of her adult life, it had been a much needed break from the business of being a mother, a wife, and a businesswoman.
With her mother's passing, she was afraid things would be different this Christmas, but she wasn't ready to be forced into the hostess role at Dad's. Sure, he took care of cooking the standing rib roast, and made the mashed potatoes: his special potatoes, creamy, rich, buttery, and probably heart clogging. She'd have to put in another 5 miles just because of those potatoes.
If it had just been them, it wouldn't have been so bad, but Aunt Carolyn and her brood had to show up, with her two cousins, both still living at home in their mid-twenties. They were as useless as tits on a bull.
They'd all stayed up late, socializing after the better part of a year apart. Drank a little too much eggnog. Getting up at the crack of dawn to fill the stockings and put out the 'Santa' presents for Ashley's sixth Christmas was the highest priority, but the lack of sleep combined with the long drive, was making her irritable.
Add the responsibility of pulling the traditional meal together along with all the other things going on in her life, and she'd become downright snippy.
She turned to her father, who was checking the temperature on the roast. "Did we have to invite Aunt Carolyn?" she mumbled, for his ears only.
"They're family, baby girl. You know her husband's in Shanghai, they would have been alone."
"You'd think they could do something to help around here."
Her Dad shrugged. "We wouldn't be very good hosts now if we asked them to work."
"I know, but you think they'd volunteer, wouldn't you?"
He gave her a grin. "Before we judge, let's give 'em a chance to do the right thing."
Jessica knew that was a waste of time. They'd always been selfish, and today was no exception. Instead of helping, her two younger cousins were monopolizing Ashley's time, playing with her under the tree. At least someone was having a good time. She glanced over through the dining room into the formal living room, where the 12 foot tree towered, and a field of presents for a precocious 5 year old stretched as far as the eye could see.
Jessica turned back to the stove, checking her list, trying to time all the dishes properly. At least Aunt Carolyn had set the table, and baked the pies the night before. The incessant grinding of the homemade ice cream maker groaned on and on, one more irritant she could have done without.
But the homemade butter pecan ice cream was another tradition. She'd always loved them growing up, but was starting to think she could do without a few. Did it always have to be butter pecan? And why the sweet potatoes? The whole bit about sitting around as a family watching the same old happily-ever-after Christmas movies every year. Was she the only one bored with the banality, the sameness?
She felt the familiar hands on her shoulders, sliding inward to massage her neck. She almost brushed them away, but knew that would have been noticed. She didn't need him pouting, or Dad questioning.
"You alright, Jess? Anything I can do?" her husband's voice sounded beside her ear.
"I think we've got it. We'll be ready to eat in less than 20 minutes. You might want to start winding Ashley down."
Michael walked over to the oven, peeking in at the roast which was just about to come out. "You always put on the best spread, Dad," he said.
"Once a year. It doesn't seem like a time for holding back." Her father opened the oven door, and pulled out the gorgeous roast, the bared end of eight rib bones exposed. That was their signal. Fifteen minutes to go.
Jessica cleared the front left burner, and set out the pan for her father, turning on the flame underneath. He lifted the roast by the rack and set it on the counter to settle, before pouring half the drippings into a pan. Jess couldn't help but smile. So predictable. He always made a dark gravy to go with the drippings.
She slid past him, bumping his butt with hers, to make room for her to pass, and stuck the two trays of biscuits into the vacated oven rack. She ducked under his arms in the kitchen dance, returning to her side dishes, while he plucked the sweet potatoes off the bottom rack, before closing the oven door.
It was moments like this when her mother's absence hit her hardest. Playing in the kitchen, remembering all she'd been taught by her Mom, watching the interplay that her parents had displayed all her life. She recalled how they'd included her over the years, making her responsible for hand-mashing the potatoes, setting out the biscuits, ordering all the cooking materials on the center island.
Over the years her mother had bequeathed more and more of her tasks to her daughter, while she retained the secondary duties, washing up as they went, acting as timekeeper, setting the table, preparing the iced tea, getting the coffee maker ready. All the background tasks, while allowing her father and her to pull the complex meal together.
She looked over at the growing pile of dishes, and her irritation returned. You would think somebody could help. Her father bumped her hips with his, and glanced at the clock. She bumped him back, then did a little pirouette around him before peeking in on the rolls. "Looks good."
"Your call," her father said.
The words made her choke up a bit. It was the first holiday without her mother, and it was always Mom's call. "Two more minutes," she said. Her voice quivered.
Her father slid his beefy arm over her shoulder the side of his head touching hers. "Me too, honey. I miss her too. She loved Christmas dinner."
He could always do that. He always knew what she was thinking. Jessica had been Daddy's girl, but the connection was stronger than almost anyone she knew. Maybe because she was an only child. Unlike a lot of fathers, he'd always been there growing up. She remembered he'd only missed one basketball game in her entire high-school career. He'd been devastated, calling from the airport, wishing her luck. She'd hit the game winning shot, perhaps her best game ever. She recalled hearing the TV around midnight, and found her father perched in front of it, his chair pulled up close, watching the video her mother had taken.
"It's not the same, Dad," she said, lifting the pots off the burners, draining them, and filling the good china servers one at a time.
He continued stirring the gravy, adjusting the consistency by eye. "I know, Pumpkin." He turned to her, and ran his fingers through her long hair. "It may never be the same, but what are you going to do, give up? We keep going baby girl. We adapt, we do our best, and we keep going."
Michael entered the kitchen, standing out of the way. Seven years of training had taught him his role. Jessica pushed the completed items his way, and he started relaying them to the table. It was automatic, the result of years of familiarity
Jessica watched him out of habit, to make sure everything went in the right place. The huge pecan wood dining table had been part of their lives as long as Jessica could remember. Two of the three leaves were added, and it was set for seven. Her place was on her father's left, as it always had been, Ashley beside her, between her and Michael. Aunt Carolyn was opposite her, on her father's right, her sons beside her. With Mom gone, it wasn't right.
She watched her husband, as predictable as her father. He put the dishes in their places, then walking past each setting to make sure everything was as it should be.
Jessica pulled on her heat proof gloves, and peeled the foil back off the sweet potatoes. She slit them open, and slathered each with a chunk of butter. The beeping of the oven timer alerted her and she dashed over to the oven, pulling out the rolls, checking the bottoms. Perfect.
She put the hot brick in the bottom of the roll basket, set the cloth on top of it, and loaded it up with the steaming rolls, before tucking the four corners back over the top to keep them hot and moist.
"Go time," she announced. It was her call now.
Her father gave her a grin, lifted the roast off the rack, and placed it on the largest serving platter. She leaned around him, adding the sprigs of parsley, and a little fresh rosemary, like her mother always had.
Michael stood waiting, their daughter at his side. That was new. Ashley looked excited. "The gravy?" he asked.
She nodded, and placed the prepped sweet potatoes on their serving plate while her husband filled the gravy boat. Her father already had the roast drippings in a second one.
Michael took the basket of rolls and put it in their daughter's hands. He was whispering to her, and she nodded. Jessica watched him kiss Ashley's forehead, and she had another of those pangs of pain, the doubt resurfacing. She pushed it away, for at least one more day.
She wouldn't spoil Christmas. She owed them that much.
Michael led the march, walking into the dining room, and setting the gravy boats about a third of the way down the table. Ashley carried the antique basket, her grin bathing the room in her joy. Her father pulled out his chair, and lifted her to stand on the seat. He held her by the waist while she leaned over the table to place the rolls in the opening left for them.
Aunt Carolyn, and cousins Jeff and Rick all told her what a wonderful job she'd done with the rolls, as her father lifted her over to her chair, seating her before handing her a napkin.
Jessica carried in the second largest platter, the heaping mound of mashed potatoes in the middle, the foil wrapped sweet potatoes decoratively positioned around the perimeter. Michael pulled her chair out, while she sat. "Perfect as always, Jess," he whispered, kissing her cheek.
She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Same as always.
Her father finally made his grand entrance, bearing the huge roast which he placed directly in front of his place at the head of the table. The smell of the rack of ribs infused the room, and the previous expectant quiet shattered as everyone talked about the meal in front of them.
It was enough to feed twice as many, which was another tradition. Nobody would go hungry, or miss out on their favorites. The mac and cheese, a two year old tradition, was evidence of that. The leftovers would make meals for the next few days.
Dale spoke up. "As always, and in the family tradition, we turn to the smartest among us on this special day. Ashley, would you say the blessing?"
Jessica couldn't help smile. Until three years ago, when her father made that announcement, she'd been responsible for saying grace. Sometimes change was for the better.
Ashley looked up at her grandfather smiling, and folded her hands in front of her. "Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts..."
Jessica listened to her daughter say grace, and wondered what Thanksgiving would be like. How the changes would affect them. All of them.
"... Amen. And God bless Mommy and Daddy, Granpa Ed, and Gramma Grace, Aunt Wendy and Uncle Crisfitter," Jessica saw her daughter peek up at Michael, and he nodded for to go on. "Maddy and Katy, and cousins Jeffey and Ricky," she glanced across the table, where the men were smiling at her, "Aunt Carolyn, and Grampa Dale, and please take care of Gramma in Heaven."
"Amen," added Michael beside her, and rest of the table chimed in. He leaned over and whispered, "You did perfect, baby girl. I'm proud of you."
Dale stood at the end of the table, gazing out on his family. "Ashley, that was a beautiful blessing, the best we ever had. Thank you." As Jessica recalled every year's blessing was the best they'd ever had.
Her father lifted his good carving knife dramatically, before slicing off the end of the roast. "Who wants an end piece?"
The dinner was a raucous time, talking about the gifts, and Christmases past. They argued over which was the best all time Christmas TV show. Dale still argued for A Christmas Story, while his sister wouldn't back off Miracle on 34th street. The male cousins split, with National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and another Christmas Story vote. When Ashley insisted Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was the best, Michael changed his vote from White Christmas to Rudolph. Her father leaned over toward Jessica. "You haven't added your two cents, Pumpkin."
"Does anyone really care, Dad?" she mumbled, pushing her food around her plate.
He set his utensils down, and faced her. "Do you honestly think I don't care, Jessie?" he was the only one that had ever called her that, at least that she allowed to. "What's wrong, baby girl?"
She sighed. "Never mind. Forget I said anything. I guess I'm just tired."
Her father leaned forward, to get his granddaughter's attention. "Ashley, sweetie, what's your momma's favorite Christmas Movie?" Dale asked.
"Elf!" Ashley said firmly. "Right Daddy?"
"Elf," Michael confirmed, "then Christmas Vacation."
Jessica blushed with all the attention on her, the last thing she wanted. Was she as predictable as everyone else? She turned back those thoughts, best not to go down that path. Not then. "The roast is perfect, Dad, as always."
He shrugged. "More than 30 years of practice, it should be halfway decent."
The conversation turned away from Jessica, and to safer subjects.
As the platters emptied, and appetites were sated, Jessica stood to clear the table before dessert and start on the unenviable cleanup. Carolyn stood quickly facing across the table. "No you don't, young lady. Your job is done. We've got the dishes and cleanup. You and the grill master have earned a break."
"Who wants coffee?" Michael asked, standing, empty plate in hand.
Nobody declined, not even Ashley. He shuttled in the coffees, including Ashley's which notably had a distinct aroma of chocolate, and mini-marshmallows floating on top.
After dinner, they'd always wait until after the first movie before dessert. Nobody ever saved room for dessert. Jessica and her father were chivied out of the dining room while the others cleaned up. They sat on the couch sipping their coffee, while Ashley played with her huge three story Barbie Dreamhouse, which was nearly as tall as her.
"How are we supposed to get that home, Dad? It's too much. You always go overboard." Jessica said.
Her father laughed. "I don't recall you ever complaining about that growing up. Don't worry, Michael and I will figure out some way to fit it in the van. If we need to, we'll strap it to the front."
She nodded absentmindedly, her mind on other issues.
Her father scooted nearer, rubbing her shoulder. "Why don't you tell me what the problem is, Jessie."
She shook her head. "It's just the holidays I guess. I've got a lot of stress right now. I'll get over it soon enough."
"I thought you and I could talk about anything. Something's eating you up. You know you can tell me," he insisted.
"It's no big deal, Dad. Let's just drop it Ok?"
He nodded. "She's growing up fast," he said, watching Ashley arranging the furniture in the dollhouse. "You two have done a great job with her."
Jessica smiled. "Best thing in my life," she said.
Dale grinned. "I know that feeling."
That little conversation was the only break in routine, the last thing of interest that Christmas. They watched a movie, ate dessert, and watched their second movie. They professed how much they missed each other, then did some preliminary packing. Ashley fell asleep and they tucked her in with her favorite toys. As part of their tradition, Jessica let Michael make love to her. He cuddled up to her afterward, telling her it was the best Christmas ever, because he had her and Ashley. The same as always.
* * *
Ten in the morning the following day, everything was packed, and somehow crammed into the vehicle. After kisses all around they prepared to leave. "Thanksgiving next year," Michael said. "I love your roast, Dad, but nobody cooks a turkey like you. Don't tell my mom I said that."
Ashley got more than her share of the kisses, before getting tucked into the back seat among a carefully selected subset of her Christmas gifts.
At the last moment Dale pulled his daughter aside. "I'm always a phone call away. I know your mother always did the calling, but I know how to use a phone too."
Jessica gave him a hug, wondering what their next holiday would be like. If they'd even have one. "I'll call."
She started to pull away, but he hugged her even tighter. "You've got a great life, and a wonderful family. Family is everything. Don't forget that."
"I know Dad."
"Do you?" he asked, releasing her, holding her at arm's length, looking into her eyes.
The look discomfited her. She hated to disappoint him. Times were different. He'd understand, eventually. She sighed. "We've gotta go."
His sad look haunted her for most of the six-hour journey home.
* * *
She hugged her husband at the curb, then squatted down for a hug from her daughter. "Don't go Momma," the little girl wailed.
"It's only for a couple of days, baby. Daddy and Miss Jill will take care of you. I wish I didn't have to leave, but it's important, alright?"
Michael had his wallet out. "I know you never have enough cash on you. I hate for you to travel without a few bucks in your wallet. Here." He put some twenties in her hand.
"I have the credit cards and debit card. I'll be fine." She took the money anyway, she knew that he'd argue until she did. Wasn't that the whole issue? She knew exactly what he'd do, before he did it.
"Call me," he said. "Call me when you get there, so I'll know you made it safe."
"I will. I'll try to call every night, but we're going to be very busy." Very, very busy, she thought.
He pulled an envelope out of his back pocket and handed it to her. "Your father asked me to give this to you. I guess you told him about your trip. You knew about it before Christmas?"
She took the envelope in her hand, her name blazoned across the front, his distinctive writing guaranteeing who it was from. "I had just found out, I didn't want to ruin Christmas."
He nodded. "I wish you'd talk to me, Jess. I... I don't like these surprises. Sometimes I feel like I don't even know half of what's going on in your life."
She sighed. "Don't make a big deal out of it, Michael. It's just three days. I'll be back for New Years." She tucked the envelope into her purse, and grabbed her bags. "Be good for your father, Ashley."
Jessica turned to walk through the airport doors. Standing in the ticket line, she looked back. Michael was holding their daughter on his shoulder. They both waved when they saw her looking. She waved at the two of them, before turning and shuffling forward in the line. When she reached the front, she looked back and they were still watching. She gave them a last wave, and stepped up to the counter.
* * *
Holiday traveling was the pits. She'd arrived more than an hour early, and now her flight was delayed forty minutes. She picked up her phone, and texted him.