When Delphie Benedict declared that this year, they would have a Family Christmas, every member of the family hastened to e-mail, write, or phone his or her immediate agreement. The Benedicts were without doubt a matriarchy of the first order. Delphie, however, ruled through neither a fierce intellect nor great charisma, but rather, simple persistence. Fear of the bitter recriminations that would inevitably result -- quite possibly continuing for years after the fact -- were almost always enough to whip the various members of the family into obedience.
“Ben darling,” Delphie began, when she happened across her husband at the grocery store.
“Delphie,” he responded, acquiring a faintly frozen look. “I hear that Christmas is at your place this year. Is there anything we can do to make it easier for you?”
It was impossible not to love Ben, Delphie decided. She conveniently forgot that her parents had virulently opposed her marriage to her high school sweetheart. Elvis Benedict was everything charming, but he lacked any kind of ambition. His mother had named him in hopes that her baby boy might follow her hero’s footsteps, even in a limited way; but Ben couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket, and the best he had done was accidentally befriend a brilliant critic. This was somewhat characteristic of Ben’s entire life.
The instant she heard her mother’s voice, Kathleen said, “No, Mom, I’m still not pregnant. No grandkids from here, sorry, but Lydia can probably help you out.”
Distracted by the allusion to her favourite, Delphie said, “What do you mean?”
“She’s a tramp, Mom.”
Delphie ignored this and said plaintively, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you all. I know you all have better things to do with your life -- ”
“Good Lord,” said Kathy, “what is it now?”
“Well, are you coming for Christmas or not?”
“Oh hell. Look, Mom, I have to get ready for winter term and -- ”
“Of course. Well . . . maybe Marianne will make it. I hate to spend Christmas alone, year after year -- ”
“Fine,” Kathy said hastily, “fine, I’ll be there, and I’m sure you’ll lay on the guilt trip with all the others too. Mind if I bring my boyfriend?”
“Dear, I’m not sure if we have enough space for another guest.”
“Oh, we can share a room.”
“Kathy,” Delphie said disapprovingly, “your immoral lifestyle is hardly something to flaunt at Christmas, when you should be striving to live a more Christ-like life.”
Kathy snorted. “Do you want grandkids or not?”
And the matter was settled.
You should come for X-mas althogh i understand if you cant make it home. Ill be fine with Mrs willard but I miss my baby girl.
love and kisses,
From: “Marianne Benedict”
To: “Philadelphia Benedict”
Subject: Re: Christmas
I know you went to school. If you want to say something, please just say it. With the right punctuation. I’m coming home for Christmas, and no, I still don’t have a boyfriend. Men are pigs.
Lydia, naturally, posed no difficulties, so Delphie girded her loins (could a woman actually gird her loins? she had always wondered) and made a phone call to her son, the black sheep of the family in Delphie’s considered opinion. Jack had always been that bit wild, and who knew what hijinks he was getting up to in Portland? She knew what private colleges were like. Why Jack had ever felt it necessary to leave Concord was beyond her. The community college had been just fine for Marianne, hadn’t it?
Of course Jack always had to outstrip all the others, he’d always been competitive. Not at all a nice boy, although -- Delphie conceded it grudgingly -- always a good one. There had been none of the trouble she’d had with Kathy and even Lydia -- of course, it was because they were so pretty and high-spirited. Jack had always been so critical, it was no surprise he never attracted any interesting girls.
Unsurprisingly, Jack defied her even in so simple a matter as a phone call, by not being home. Delphie left a snippy message on her son’s cell. Two days later, as she listened to the messages, his voice startled her awake.
“Mom? Hi, this is Jack. We’ll come over on the twenty-third and leave on the twenty-ninth. Oh, I assumed you’d want to meet my fiancé, so I hope you don’t mind the extra, she’s fine with whatever room you can fit her in. Give my love to Dad and the girls.”
Delphie stopped dead, and repeated the message to be certain she’d heard it right. She promptly phoned her husband.
“Ben,” she said, “why didn’t you say something?”
“Delphie,” he said wearily (it was four o’clock in the morning), “what are you talking about?”
“Your precious Jack’s engagement, that’s what!” Delphie exclaimed.
“Oh, that. Did he tell you he’d be bringing his young lady home for the Inquisition?”
“The Inquisition! I suppose you think you’re being funny. What do we know about her? Jack, married. I can scarcely believe it. I thought he was against marriage -- something about institutions and the establishment repressing . . . something.”
“That’s Marianne. Look, all I know is that they’ve dated for a little while, and apparently she’s a relative of Janine Gardiner’s.”
“I have to get a Xanax refill,” Delphie said, hanging up on her erstwhile spouse. Jack, married! Or at least, engaged to be married. I always liked him best, she thought happily, and dreamed of grandchildren to boast about to Mrs Willard.