I caught John Roos on Friday afternoon to get the annual Christmas story. We met in the basement of the downtown Liberty store while he was fielding spam calls from China and three other countries. He was wearing his blue Lobster Butter Lab hat, broken-in like vintage jeans. He was composed, doling out veggie burritos to Jimmy, Kay and one lucky passerby. He was excited because he had just mixed up some of the new Costa Rican and Lobster and said it was incredible!
We brainstormed possible uses for the Liberty basement post-COVID and swiftly decided on a nightclub.
We’re both in nostalgic and dreamy moods. It seems important, nearly essential, to visualize life post-pandemic. John thinks that many of us are grieving right now and we don't even know it; we’re all grieving life as it used to be. What better time than now to remember the big Christmas parties of the past? This got John going. He told me this scrambled story about his father’s excellent spreads made of mostly liverwurst and a party that started at his house and ended as a rager, at the town’s coveted live/play neighborhood: Georgetown Country Club.
Here's the story.....
“You know what it’s like when traffic flows just right… well that’s not what it was like at all. I’m crammed in the backseat of a two-door car next to my sister and Grandma Ethel.
It's dark and cold, and we’re driving through the chain of Ann Arbor suburbs linked together by left turns and then rights; you’d think we're going in circles. Grandma Ethel’s musky perfume wafts my way when the car sways to the right. I can’t help it, but my nose pokes in and out of her hair like I’m bobbing for apples as we jerk around. She doesn’t notice and stares ahead with pursed lips. Mom hits the radio button, “How did Dodge put so much in such a little car…?” bzzz bzzz, radio dial… “He was made of snow but the children know...” Dad’s appetizers in the back introduce the smell of fried chicken and mustard. “Hold the wings!,” he says to my sister, Mary Margaret, who makes a blind slap towards the back as the car veers left. The crinkle of aluminum foil reverberates.
In case you aren’t familiar with the Georgetown Country Club, it was kind of a huge deal. An up-and-coming development, everyone knew each other in Georgetown, but it was large enough to have a golf course, swimming pool, and a country club. It was close to the city of Ann Arbor while still reveling in the amenities of sprawling midwestern suburbia. These folks had it DOWN. My Aunt Jean, who was a UM hospital nurse and Uncle Doug lived there with their three sons Tom, Doug, Jim, and their Irish Wolfhound who had his own couch. I think there were some long haired cats in there too…
We file out of the car and immediately we’re swarmed by a fleet of smoochy kisses, pokes and prods, and miraculous hands grabbing the snack tray from your arms to put out on the table.
Crowded around the kitchen I see Aunt Marguerite, Uncle Dale and their kids Gale, Tim and Ann; Uncle Danny, Aunt Juanita with their kids David, Linda; Aunt Jean and Uncle Doug with kids Tom, Doug, Jim; and incoming was my Grandmother Ethel, my dad Donald, mother Betty, sister Mary Margaret and me. EVERYONE is here and my sister and I squirm through Aunt Marguerite’s legs to bounce around the house with my cousins like molecules in a liquid-state.
If you’re wondering how I came to be a cook and food lover, let me tell you about Aunt Jean’s spread. It was bigger and better than any spread we made at my house. There were oysters on the half shell, a bleu cheese ball with spiced pecans, spiked cranberries and savory beef wellington. A holiday relish tray, shrimp cocktail and a tuna tree was laid out with buttery crackers.
Double dipping wasn't even a term! I’d go elbow to elbow with Tom, Jim and Dougy for smoked sausage bites. They could eat a lot because they were swimmers. I was just competitive.
My dad brought the best chicken wings, alongside seven different liverwurst spreads that went surprisingly well with the bread cubes meant for the fondue. Strawberry jello was spooned out as a refresher afterwards, but I’d always sneak some beforehand too. I avoided the olives that always tasted like mothballs from sitting in my grandma’s basement, however, slipped into martinis, the Roos knew how to salvage them.
The liquor flowed between everyone as drinks were set down and picked up by another uncle. The cats dove for the patee when enough heads ducked down to peer in the oven to question the done-ness of the ham. It was one communal eating and drinking frenzy. In the living room, the cousins were found pouring beer on my Aunt’s clock. “We hate that noise!” they chimed together, obviously pouring beer into their mouths too.
For the main course, we had a Christmas Ham… or was it turkey?... mashed potatoes and meatloaf, green beans, fresh dinner rolls and pumpkin pie… it all blended together as appetizers became the size of meals, and main dishes rolled out on their own schedule. We’d all roll out of there on our own schedules too. We’d lovingly squelch at each other once the clock struck midnight.
Out comes the instant coffee, thick as mud: human diesel. “Get that person a cup of coffee! Sober up and drive home!”
John and I are quiet as we wake-up from our story-telling time travel into the living reality. Gently, as if we truly just awoke from a deep slumber, we shift in our seats and stare at the cafe chairs stacked like a house of cards along the wall.
While the Holiday season is an usual suspect for gripes, groans, and other stress-induced choices, this year serves as a reminder of the wonderful importance of all being together.
If you may be so inclined: tell us some of your favorite holiday memories? Share with us in the comments below!