Family Christmas meal

The table with only the three youngest kids. That’s me with a fork in my mouth.

I come from a large family. Let me size it up for you. I’m kid number 10 of 11. My parents have 29 grandkids. While my mom’s family is small (she has only 4 siblings), my father’s family is immense. He has 16 siblings and almost all of them had at least 2 kids. To say I had many cousins doesn’t do it justice. We live in the same province as my dad’s family, so we visited each other often.

At my family’s peak, we had 12 people living in a small (think very small) home. Mom was an excellent cook, and everything was made from scratch. We were a boisterous bunch, and we weren’t forced to eat in silence. By the time I got into double digits, some of my older siblings were married and had kids of their own.

My siblings, their spouses and their kids came to my parents’ home for Christmas day. That meant the kitchen table was always full and we filled the living room and flowed into the hall and closets to find a place to eat when the eating time came.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner early 1980s

We have always been a family that talked and joked over food. The evening meal was a time to come together after a long day of work or school and share our lives and what happened during the day. They were often joyous times, and I remember them fondly.

This experience has flowed over to my fantasy writing. It is one of the reasons I made the Darrow family have so many kids (there are 7) and why Maisie and Gaven’s children return to share the evening ration even after they’ve united and had children of their own.

In Scattered Stones, we see how Bronwyn Darrow, the youngest of the brood, views the evening ration:

Bronwyn watched his mum gaze around the table. She enjoyed this most of all: gathering the family for the evening ration. It was the time to share their lives, the joys and the disappointments. She had often said it was the occasion to renew the family bond and for each to gather strength to carry on. He believed that now. One day he wanted to bring his family to the table and continue the tradition.

One of my favourite scenes from Shadows in the Stone takes place around the table as the Darrow family comes together to eat and share the day. Maisie and Gaven Darrow welcome their children, Bronwyn, Rhiannon and Loren, as well as Isla and Alaura of Niamh to the table. Their second-oldest son, Joris, comes in late.

“Joris. Isn’t this a surprise?”

Although his mum smiled, her voice sounded as though she wasn’t happy to see him. He glanced around the table and saw his dad, younger siblings and Alaura of Niamh, the woman his brother drooled to have but couldn’t build up the courage to claim. Releasing a low snicker, his mind worked on ways to entertain himself at his brother’s expense. “The surprise is mine; look at this fine ration.” He plopped down in the empty chair between Isla and his mum. “How is my little nymph?” He tickled Isla’s neck and pretended to reach for her biscuit.

She grinned and stuck out her chest to show off the jerkin.

“That’s the prettiest jerkin I’ve ever seen.”

“Vest.”

“Of course.” He glanced at Bronwyn and winked.

Maisie retrieved a plate for her older son and filled it to the edge.

“Mum, you’re certainly generous tonight.” He gawked at the mound of food on his plate.

“Remember not to talk with your mouth full. We have a guest.” She patted him on the forearm sternly and lowered her brow. “You may begin the ration.”

Joris ogled the guest. She was pretty by hauflin standards, but her human features dulled her beauty. She appeared too delicate for his liking, and her reserve manner told him she’d be a boring date. However, these shortcomings hadn’t stopped his brother from becoming infatuated with her and tonight, he’d stir the embers to see if a flame erupted. “Alaura, you add more beauty to this table than a hundred bouquets of delicate flowers.”

Alaura tried to suppress a smile. “I’m sure the flowers would do the ration more justice.”

“I could argue the fact but don’t wish to disagree with one so enchanting.” He glanced at Bronwyn. “I’m jealous; little brother has the best view.”

A reddish hue grew on Bronwyn’s neck. He dug his fork into a slice of potato and put it into his mouth, keeping his eyes on his ration.

Shadows in the Stone“Joris, you should eat before it gets cold.” Maisie gripped his arm. “You look unwell. Have you been eating properly?”

“I’m fine, Mum. Never felt better.” Joris stabbed a carrot and propelled it into his mouth.

Between the clinking of silverware, Rhiannon and Loran told Alaura about the new material at their dress shop. Their discussion changed to designs they wanted to try and gossip about a nasty customer who refused to pay full price for anything.

Bored by the conversation, Joris tickled Isla’s side. “How is Liam? Has he stolen a kiss, yet?”

Isla grinned. “Why would he kiss me?”

He leant near her ear. “Because that’s what boys do.”

She pushed him away. “Liam won’t. He’s my best friend.”

“He will. One of these days he’s going to lean in to see dirt on your cheek.” He glided past her defences. “He’ll flash those eyes and cast a Be-still Spell so you can’t move and before you know it, wham!” He kissed her forehead. “He’ll steal the first kiss.”

“What if I push him away?”

“He’ll try again. If a boy likes a girl, he’ll keep trying for years. And Liam is sweet on you.”

“What if I steal the kiss first?”

“Then I’d say you’re nothing like your das.” Glancing at Bronwyn, he bet he hadn’t stolen his first kiss from Alaura. But why did she wait; most women would have moved on by now. Could it be bashfulness had claimed her, too?

Bronwyn grunted and frowned at him. “Isla’s only twelve; too young to think of that stuff.”

That stuff brings dreams to life.” Joris raised his voice. “It makes you feel alive in all the right places; a sensation you can’t get from an immaculate uniform.”

Beneath the table, Maisie discreetly kicked him in the shin and smiled. “Leave room for dessert. I made lemon pie.”

Joris jumped from the surprise as much as from the sharp pain and stared at his mum. “Lemon pie? I love lemon pie.” He bent towards Isla and chuckled. “So much, I think I’ll kiss it.”

He watched Bronwyn steal glances at Alaura. His obsession with the enchantress couldn’t be more obvious. Alaura appeared less transparent. His brother could catch her for a mate if he set his mind to the task, but he never used his good looks to his advantage. If he had those features, he’d flaunt them. Regulations and duty filled Bronwyn’s thoughts, and he didn’t live for the moment. He looked sharp and secure in his uniform, but he couldn’t hide behind it forever.

Joris slid his leg out of his mum’s reach. “Alaura, it’ll be dark by the time we finish the ration. I’ll walk you home to ensure you arrive safely.” He saw his mum make the kick, but she didn’t make contact.

“Never you mind, Joris.” Maisie glared at him. “Bronwyn invited Alaura to stay. He’ll see her home.”

He didn’t look at his mum. She had always protected her baby, but Bronwyn needed a type of courage he couldn’t get from wielding a sword. “It’ll be no problem, only my pleasure. And Bronwyn can get this little nymph home and into bed.” He patted Isla’s head.

“Thank you for the offer,” said Alaura, “but I’m capable of walking home alone.”

“Nonsense. Bronwyn will escort you.” Maisie eyed her son. “Bronwyn?”

“Of course.” Bronwyn rested his silverware on the table and furrowed his brow. “Alaura, it’ll be an honour to protect your virtues from the fiends who roam the streets as well as those with whom we share our ration.” He grinned at her, and she gazed back with her hand over her mouth to hide her smile. Her eyes sparkled, and his gaze lingered.

Joris put a forkful of food in his mouth. He loved his brother and would give his life for him, but he wouldn’t coddle him.

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