Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“And sometimes against all odds, against all logic we still hope." Unknown

She was sure the kitchen table would buckle. Its scrawny legs couldn’t possibly hold up the hefty Christmas plates, the silver cutlery brought here from somewhere else, the hand embroidered napkins, her mother’s own handiwork and all those bowls and platters of food, every single one foreign to this country they now lived in: avgolemenokleftikomoussaka, eggplant stew,zucchini in olive oil, potatoes, humus, babaganoushtaramasalata, and Greek salad with slabs of feta. The ingredients for this food found in small grocers run by people who had also come to this country looking for a better life. 

On the counter were two more roasting pans—a ham in one and a turkey in the other.

“Call your father, sister and brother and their friends,” her mother said, her apron with its delicately knitted poinsettia pulled a little tighter under the weight of her hands on her hips. “Your friend is in the living room too. Go get her. It’s time.” Her mother smiled as she scanned the table. She adjusted one of the plates. “Perfect.”

“But it’s too much,” she said. She used to like all these dishes that reminded her of a time now fading from her memory. A time when she had grandparents who fawned over her and aunts and cousins to take her to the park or the sea, a time before her parents had brought them all the way across the ocean.

“We left much behind,” her mother said. “To come to this country. This is the one time of the year where we remember what we were and celebrate what we have. 

“Okay, but why the turkey and ham,” she asked. “Lamb is enough. Moussaka is enough. Any one of these things is enough.” She was a teenager. She knew what was going on in the world. She read the newspaper every day or at least whenever she could grab it before her mother. 

If she didn’t get it in time, her mother used the newspaper as a sort of cover for the table. She’d spread it out, then scatter a bag of walnuts on top. She’d then find an empty milk bottle and use it as a roll­ing pin to crush walnuts for her baklava

How could she eat such sweet things when she’d read in the paper that a cyclone had hit Bangladesh earlier in the year, 500,000 people had died and others were left starving? 67,000 people had died in an earthquake in Peru. Many others were left without homes, food, or water. How could she and her family justify all this food when so many others had nothing? 

“We live in Canada,” her mother said, “we must do as the Canadians. So we have ham and turkey, which is the Canadian tradition, and we also include our customary food. Something from our past and something from our present.”

“It’s not right. There are people suffering in the world.”

“Yes, my serious one, there are. And that is why we are grateful for what we have. And we share. Each of us has invited a friend today to share our good fortune with us so we are not alone in our gratitude.” 

As a child, when she’d first come to this country, she loved the scents that reminded her of the home they’d left behind. It made her feel safe that they had so much, especially when she overheard her parents talk about where they would get the money for school fees or what would happen if her father was laid off. Somehow her parents found a way. But now it felt so obscene to have so much.

“Go, get everyone,” her mother said. “It’s time.”

They squeezed beside each other, one elbow knocking against another. Her father sat at the head of the table, her mother seated beside him. 

Dean Martin crooned about a silent night on the stereo in the living room. In the kitchen the dull roar of multiple conversations tripped over each other. How could she not be carried away by the laughter, the discussion, the contentment? She smiled when her friend said, “my mother never makes this kind of food.  What did you call that meat stuff again? It’s so good.” It’s nice that her friends liked her mother’s extravagances. 

“Have some more, kleftiko,” her mother said. “Or lamb as you Canadians call it. My serious one thinks she can save the world if she doesn’t eat.”

“I’ve told her,” her friend said. She took another bite of meat. “Not having enough food isn’t fun. I should know.”

She saw her parents glance at each other and nod. She wondered what secret they’d shared that she couldn’t figure out?

Before she could give it much thought, she heard her father wonder where the bread was. Her mother jumped up to get the burnt offerings from the oven. Her father teased her mother. “You always forget the bread.” 

“It’s our Christmas tradition,” her mother said and laughed. 

Yes, as long as she could remember her mother, despite all her preparations and planning always forgot the bread. “Next year, I’ll remember,” her mother said. 

Her father laughed. “If you say so.” He kissed her mother’s hand. 

She smiled and listened to more of the chatter and took a folk full of kleftiko. 

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