This is about a family event that happened 2 and a half weeks ago. Since the event was a Christmas celebration occurring 8 weeks after Christmas, what’s a little further delay?
Dateline Onstead, MI (pop’n 1,132): Cowboy Creek Lodge
40 or so of the spawn of my late bio–Dad Dick Spei plus their spouses have gathered here and as of this morning (Sunday 2/21/22) are dissipating back to their homes. The gathering – our first in 2 years – was joyful as always, maybe more so this year. And what was the biggest hit? You’d think among descendants of a gourmet who taught them all to approach each meal as if it was their last, the spread would win the prize. Indeed, there was the usual dazzling delicious variety. Beasts of all stripes were slaughtered, broiled, smoked, grilled, braised, fried, and baked so no one seeking protein felt deprived. Perhaps the winner in this category was my brother Nick’s deer heart chili, a mere side dish, but always a hit. Nick never misses a year without bagging a few carriers. The plant kingdom offered up stuffed grape leaves, out-of-season tomatoes of many varieties, and even my lowly mashed garlic spuds plus oh such more, including all those products of fermentation.
But all attention was pretty much decentralized among the eaters and drinkers, that is until my sister Suzanne stepped up to the front table beside two big boxes and clapped her hands. Everyone knew what time it was – Chimney time! – and snapped to. The Christmas Chimney is a Spei family tradition started by my Suzanne’s maternal grandmother more years ago than anyone can remember. Suzanne took it over from her mother maybe 20 years ago and has it down to both art and science. Before I tell you how it works, see the main box. There’s a smaller box for the kiddos, added as Suzanne and her sibs became grandparents.
Those white vertical strands on the side of the box are ribbons, tied at one end to a gift and on the other end to a card. The gifts tend to follow a different theme each year. This year, the girls all got bags of some sort while the guys all got some multifunctional implement that usually could open beer bottles. Each gift has some specific significance to the identified recipient. Retrieval of the loot comes through a very organized process. Family members approach the Chimney based on age, oldest first in each category. Children and adults alternate. Once at the Chimney the potential recipient must scrutinize the cards to find the one with the cryptic message that syncs with him/her. Mine was “professional blogger”, Kathy’s was “52nd anniversary the women made it happen”, and Nick’s was “2nd amendment”, for example. The ribbon on my card pulled up a 2” button bearing my phrase backed with an opening clearly meant to pop a top.
Kathy got a bag depicting those NASA mathematicians as depicted in the movie “Hidden Figure”. Nick got a keychain with a large bullet on which the text of the 2nd amendment was inscribed. All the rest were similarly apt, including the tag. Suzanne sure does her background work. Delight of the chimney goers is palpable. See here some examples.
a. brother Nick admiring his bullet
b. Kathy loving her “52nd anniversary of the NASA women mathematicians” bag
c. Suzanne gets a bag with a flamingo on it! (she has a thing for flamingos)
d. Suzanne marshalling the kids
e. kid loving his bag with the big tiger on it
The Chimney is followed by inspired spontaneous gift giving, exchanges ranging from little art works from Marty’s daughter, and many food items – spices, jams & jellies, infused oils, and our garlic paste among others – getting passed about. Dan’s many pies follow, which usually send the endorphins and CCK levels high enough to leave folks no choice but to roll off to bed. And I believe it truly is those brain chemicals – not the alcohol – that are responsible.
It’s a wonderful affair, and one of the main things that make me happy to be part of this family I didn’t even know I had 11 years ago. Can’t wait till next year. I’m making less potatoes.