So that was Christmas — growing up it appeared in an effortless manner that never allowed me to ever dream that it could be any other way than the way it was. I’m the age my grandmothers were back then and I now get why the passage of time allowed them to step aside and let their daughters take charge of mostly their kitchens. It never crossed my mind that Mama and I wouldn’t be sink mates for life, or I wouldn’t go for a ride with Daddy to bring Maw-Maw back to an empty house on Parkview Drive, and how lonely she must’ve felt when we backed out the driveway as Mama and Daddy took a nap and I perfected fast-break drills off the roof when we got back home.

It never crossed my mind that Daddy wouldn’t be at the head of the table and Mama wouldn’t be at the other head and I wouldn’t be at the crack where the leaf appeared from it’s hiding place underneath the bed. Middle children are known not to complain, but trust me, I’ve made up for it, so don’t cry for me Argentina!

Scotch Pines at The Big Shed in the park were spun around on some twine of a sort by The Optimists then the spectacular one we chose appeared in our living room all dressed up with TG&Y’s green, blue, and red bulbs dangling from its branches as the spotlight moaned and groaned all night long. I remember asking Daddy what an optimist was and I also remember him walking us out to the middle of Wayne Street to admire the Scotch Pine from our picture window as Mama made chili dogs without the weenies. All trees had to be seen from the street in the fifties and if not then all treeless-window-houses were presumed to be Non-Catholic. It was when mothers and grandmothers wore mantillas to Midnight Mass and serving yourself from the stove was not even a twinkle in a housewife’s eye, and when all I had to worry about in my teenage years was winning the Midland Holiday Classic and what to wear on that always special date at Paul’s Lounge in Jeanerette.

I jot these thoughts down not knowing what to write about this month. It’s early evening and I’m nursing a meatball fricassee on the stove my children and I are cooking in three different kitchens. There’s a slight sprinkle of rain tapping on my kitchen window that’s bringing in the long-anticipated cold air. I light a fire and listen to my Daddy’s music of his day and gather up cauliflower, turnips, broccoli and cabbage left by a patient on my doorstep, then I get the expected gumbo call from Bo. “Come taste my gumbo,” and I cross the blustery street to taste, eat, and laugh with our neighbors. If I weren’t Catholic I’d call that some fellowship.

I’m suddenly staring down the winter of my life. I just wished my old classmates, Michelle and Mary Beth, a Happy 64th and wonder how and when all of us got here. I look back and wish I’d have had some sense of what was to come, but no one does until it’s too late, way too late. It’s how life is set up to be.

With time my grandmother who lived with us gave Mama’s kitchen back to her, a kitchen where I propped myself up on the formica counter and watched and tasted and loved her. Mom’s tired old hands turned into Mama’s tired old hands and hers turned into mine as I now sit at the head but long to still be at the crack. My life is full though for all those who came before me and loved me, and now Emily and Jacques have respectfully stepped in to my kitchen and my life to lend a loving and capable hand when I’m in need, while Eve and George place their precious little hands atop the mixer as it churns out our favorite Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake batter…and Jacques will marry in the fall, and it is met with a sigh of satisfaction.

PHYLLIS BELANGER MATA was born at the old Dauterive Hospital and grew up on Wayne Street. She is a 1974 graduate of Mt. Carmel Academy and is a chili dog “without the weenie” aficionado.

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