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Settling into winter’s pause | KERRI EIKER

Settling into winter’s pause


I had forgotten that the second hand on the kitchen wall clock made a ticking sound as it jumped forward, but by the time the holidays were over, I could hear it again. That hand moved much too quickly through December, as far as I was concerned. And a drip outside on the back porch stairs, from that clogged place in the gutter that I can never seem to get Eric to clear, kept a jazz-like beat. Drip-drip-drop … drip-drip-drop. The second hand was like a metronome.

I poured the last of the homemade eggnog down the sink. The once soft white peaks of whipped cream and egg white had fallen into a pitted yellowed froth. The smell of nutmeg and bourbon still blossomed from the festive libation, but it was tainted by the sour smell of old milk. It made me sort of nauseous and sad as the pungent glob was slowly swallowed by the drain. The drain almost seemed to gag between gulps.

I turned on the TV, something I rarely do during the day — not to watch anything but just to have some noise to drown out the quiet that made the second hand and that drip seem deafening.

All of December, the house was filled with chatter, mostly from the deep male voices of my young adult sons. Each of them is musical, so while I was busy in the kitchen creating vats of high protein food for my army of ravenous young men, they combined their talents and a small, but very loud, band was formed.

Windows (and ear drums) rattled when Elliott blasted the trumpet. The walls and my bones resonated to the deep beat of the bass as Tyler strummed. My heart melted and I held my breath in amazement when Joshua’s fingers floated across the keyboard, recreating part of Rachmaninoff’s prelude in G minor. “Oh, don’t play that!” I cried — literally, drying my tears with a kitchen towel when Jamie and Seth picked the sad, sweet notes of Eric Caption’s “Tears in Heaven.”

As the TV blared, I gathered the last of the containers of leftovers from the extra fridge in the basement. The turkey had been whittled down to the carcass. We did well with those 22 pounds of poultry, polishing off the leftovers in turkey Rubens, turkey salad and turkey soup — and I often caught the boys just dipping pieces of turkey into the mayonnaise jar.

A spoonful of stuffing remained in a little white ramekin. Though stale, it was still pretty, golden bread, speckled with deep-green parsley pieces and textured with tiny chopped pieces of onion, celery and apple.

The gravy was long gone. We might have even finished it on Christmas night. I think it was the best gravy I’ve ever made. The empty gravy container with scrape marks from a spoon was put back in the fridge by my boys the same way they put the empty container of milk back on the shelf. I tossed into the trash the handful of leftover brussels sprouts, which over the weeks had tripled in their potent garlic scent. My dog, who a moment before was fascinated with the tasty treasures I was throwing away, turned her head from the garlic stench in revulsion.

I stepped outside with her, where the air was cold and clean, and hoisted the overstuffed trash bag into the can. She helped by being ever ready and watchful in case a morsel missed the can. Back inside the air seemed as stale as the food. I left the door open to let the house breathe.

As I packed the ornaments and lights, gathered up fallen pine needles and run-away tinsel, my mind replayed the happy events of the full house over the holiday season. I turned off the TV so I could hear my own memories.

As I packed away Christmas, it seemed as though I was also tidying up its memories. Instead of a sense of the full month being over, it began to feel more like I was adding new boxes of memories to the storehouse.

We are entering into what I refer to as the quiet half of winter. With all the festivities and heavy food of the holiday season behind us, this time of year seems like a giant pause. When I was younger, I strived to fill that quiet space with just about anything — TV, for one. Instead, I decided to make peace with the metronome of the clock and the beat of the back-porch drip, as I mentally and physically settled into winter’s pause.

After all that calorie and love-laden December food, my body felt as full as my closets stuffed with Christmas decorations. As I embraced winters pause, I noticed I was craving quieter calories. I restocked the now-empty refrigerator with yogurt and kimchi, nut butters and fruit, root vegetables and bone broths.

Tonight, the candlelight flickers and casts dancing shadows around the room. The wind howls. The drip has turned into an icicle. A pot simmers on the stove, the lid dancing and rattling atop a bubbling pot of root vegetables in a tomato base that smells like a memory: my grandmother’s kitchen at a winter Sunday dinner after church. A layer of steam fogs the kitchen window panes, separating me from the cold blue-black winter evening. The clock ticks, the second hand moving so slowly now.

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