Short Story by Heather Schuldt
OLIVER’S FAMILY CHRISTMAS DINNER
“That one reminds me of Fruity Pebbles,” said Oliver, driving at dusk.
“It’s… it’s colorful!” said Emma. She looked out the passenger window and noticed the snowman family lights, but she held tightly onto a bowl in her lap, almost like her life depended on it.
Oliver slowed down a bit and pointed. “Oh, look at that. I wonder how they got a video of Santa in the window.”
Emma looked up and saw Santa waving from up above. She took a deep breath. “Maybe it’s a laser screen.”
Oliver drove on. “Are you nervous?”
“No, I am not nervous.”
He laughed. “Ok. What do you think about those lights?”
“They look different from all the rest. I bet they’re really old, from the 1980s,” Emma said quickly.
The newlyweds finally arrived in front of his parents’ house. Oliver parked the car and kissed Emma’s cheek. “My mom made a pumpkin pie.”
“I hope they like the salad I made.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Just chill.”
“It’s called a Seven-Layer Salad.”
“Did you bring the dressing?” asked Oliver.
“Oh, no. I left it by the front door.” Emma sighed.
“I brought it.”
“You did? Oh, my gosh. You’re a life saver.”
Oliver pushed the doorbell. “You’ll be fine. I promise, they love you or they wouldn’t have invited us over. Maybe we should just walk in.”
Emma stood next to Oliver on the front porch, holding the bowl. They were surrounded by two tall nutcrackers, green garland, poinsettias, and white twinkling lights. She nodded slightly but looked down and to the side.
Oliver leaned in to speak quietly. “My mom sets an extra chair at the table.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s for Jesus or Elijah or something. I don’t know. Just don’t say anything about it or she might get upset.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek again, but Emma pulled away.
“Not here. Someone is going to answer the door. Probably your mom.” Her eyes widened.
“Who all is going to be here?” asked Emma.
“My family and my grandparents. Maybe a neighbor guy, my dad’s friend. What’s wrong?”
“My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. They’re too dysfunctional. We never have dinner together. My dad’s in jail. I don’t even speak to my mom anymore. Your family is so nice. I just don’t want to mess anything up.”
Shirley peeked through the sheer curtain through the side window. She called out to Oliver’s two younger siblings upstairs. “They’re here! Come on down! Dinner’s ready!”
The front door opened.
“Ollie! Emma!” Shirley hugged Oliver first and then Emma. “Merry Christmas! I’m so glad you’re here. Come on in. Did you see the new nutcrackers your dad got?”
They walked inside, and Shirley shut the door.
“How can I not? They’re… very tall,” said Oliver.
“He’s really in the Christmas spirit. We all are. Everything is ready!” said Shirley. “I’ve been working on the table all week. Come look at the table!”
“I brought a salad. It’s called a Seven-Layer Salad.” Emma looked around to see where the Christmas music might be coming from.
“Oh, wonderful, my dear! Ruthie keeps saying she’s on a diet. You know, she’s in ballet. She’ll love your salad. We all will,” said Shirley. “I have a place for your salad on the kitchen island. Did you bring any dressing?”
“Yes,” said Emma, pointing to a bag with three bottles inside. “Oliver has it.”
Oliver’s younger brother, Marshal, came running down the stairs, followed by Oliver’s younger sister, Ruth.
“Ollie! Ollie’s home!” Marshal called out with cheer.
“Hey, brother! Ma, the table looks really good,” said Oliver, handing the bag to his mother.
“Everyone, meet at the kitchen island,” said Shirley. “We’re doing buffet style and eating in the dining room. Your dad will sit at the end, and I’m sitting next to him.”
“Mom,” said Ruthie, “I put name tags at each placemat like you told me to.”
“Oh, that’s great, sweetie. Thank you! I set the table for ten.”
Nine hungry people gathered around the kitchen island, Larry and Shirley, Betty and Richard, Oliver and Emma, Ruth, Marshal, and the neighbor, Robert.
Emma noticed three runners with too many side dishes to count. Everything looked delicious.
“Honey, can you say a thank you prayer for us?” asked Shirley.
“Sure.” Larry bowed his head as everyone stood around the kitchen island. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for all the many blessings you give us. Thank you for family and all this food. Help us find many ways to be a blessing to the people you put in our lives. Bless our time together as we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. In Jesus name, Amen.”
“Thank you, dear. Let’s grab a plate and meet in the dining room.”
Halfway through dinner, the doorbell rang.
“Honey,” said Larry. “Are you expecting anyone?”
“No.” Shirley wiped her mouth. “I’ll get it. Everyone, keep eating.”
Ruth and Marshal stopped eating.
“Did you invite someone over?” Marshal asked his sister.
“No. Did you?”
Shirley opened the door. After a few minutes, she returned to the table and sat down.
“Well?” asked Larry. “Who was at the door?”
“It was a delivery. Someone gave me these flowers and this envelope.” Shirley opened the card and began to read.
“Dear Larry and Shirley, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for all your love and hospitality you have shown to my daughter, Emma. As a single mom, I did the best I could. I made many mistakes, and I’m sorry. I love my daughter and hope we can make up. I just wanted you to know that I have been praying for Emma to have the gift of a good family. Your family has been a blessing. Thank you. If it would be alright, I’d love to join you all for dessert. Love, Rachel.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. She was speechless.
“Emma, your mom is standing on the front porch. Would it be okay if you let her in and asked her to join us?” asked Shirley.
Emma looked around and saw everyone staring at her.
“Well, if you don’t invite her in,” said Robert, “then I will.” He scooted his chair out.
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, yes, I’ll get the door and let her in.” Emma looked at Oliver while Robert scooted his chair back in.
“It’s time you guys make up. We don’t hold grudges, you know,” said Oliver.
“We forgive and move on,” said Marshal.
“Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill to all,” said Larry.
“And I have a spot for her down at the end of the table right next to Robert,” said Shirley.
Emma went to the door and opened it. She immediately saw her mother who she hadn’t spoken to in three years. “You didn’t come to my wedding. I had no family at my own wedding.”
“I know, and I am sorry,” said Rachel. “Will you please forgive me?”
“Oh, alright,” said Emma. “I forgive you.”
Robert and Rachel hit it off rather well at the table.
It was one of the best Christmases Oliver and Emma have ever had.