This was, by far, the best Christmas I've had in years. Maybe ever. And not a single present save for the gifts of new friends, fine food, and more glorious natural beauty than you could shake a stick at (now, why would you want to go and do that?!).
Christmas Eve started with more snow which resulted in my boss telling us all to go home at 11 a.m. (Don't gotta tell me twice! Zoooooom!) I stopped at the store on the way home, picked up some stuff I needed for goodies I wanted to take to my neighbor's house, a little something for my Christmas Eve cocktail and DVD watching festival, and was back up the mountain by 1:30. Good thing too, as it had not stopped snowing and there was a fresh 8" of powder in my driveway. I got in, hugged and fed my animals, fixed a plate of noshables, poured a drink, loaded up the DVD player, grabbed a couple of books, turned on the Christmas lights, put on my fleece sweats and snuggled up on the sofa with Nino. Perfect evening.
Christmas morning found me up and at 'em 7:30, brewing some fine, dark bean and looking out the window at a world that resembled an old Currier & Ives painting - and it was still snowing. I made a good breakfast for Nino and me (if I don't share his drool will flood me out of the place). I started mixing up some cookie dough and the power went out. All that heavy snow keeps knocking tree limbs into the power lines. So, Nino and I went out and played in the snow. Actually, Nino played. I grabbed a shovel and unburied my back windows. There's been so much snow coming off the roof that it's about 7 feet deep back there and I could hardly see out any more. Then I went out to the road (where it's not as deep) and threw snowballs for the pup.
We came back in to warm up by the woodstove and my neighbor came and plowed my driveway again. At this point I still hadn't met the man face to face. A little bit later the power came back on. So, I finished making my goodies. Packed them and hiked up the hill (through the trees and over the snow, la la la).
Now. The only people I'd met from that household were the wife and daughter (only just as she's home on Christmas break). As I crested the hill, I saw two men hauling a wheelbarrow full of logs to a huge bonfire. "Merry Christmas!" I greeted them, and asked, "Is one of you my knight in snowplow armor?" "Merry Christmas to you, and nope," the one answered, grinning as he gestured toward the garage with a jerk of his head. "That'd be Larry." So I made a bee-line toward the garage and finally got to shake the man's hand and thank him for his kindness.
Larry said, "It's funny, I started plowing your drive the other day and saw you in the kitchen. I thought to myself, 'Oh, I hope she's makin' me cookies!' And once I'd finished all the plowing, I came in and Vicky handed me a box of cookies that you'd brought over!" I laughed and said, "I saw you plowing and said to my dog, 'Oh, that man is SO getting some cookies!' You keep plowing my drive and if you're not careful you'll end up with an entire pie." And another friendship was sealed.
I made my way up to the porch and was greeted warmly by the wimmin-folk, ushered into the house, handed a drink, and treated like I was just another family member ("Hey, you look like you know how to cook... do something with these carrots!") - and I love that. Nothing relaxes me like making myself at home in someone else's kitchen (I turned them into glazed carrots flavored with orange juice and cumin - they were a hit). We all chatted away, completely at ease, the drinks flowed, we laughed ourselves silly, the food was fabulous, the company was... outstanding. I thought, how is it that I only met these people a couple of hours ago? They feel just like family. At one point after a storm of laughter that Kelly (Vicky's sister) and I shared over something ridiculous (we didn't stop laughing as we shared gravy-stirring duty), I heard her in the other room talking to Vicky. She said, "I'm so glad you invited Barb! I'm having a blast with her!" It's one of the warmest, most rewarding things I've ever overheard.
We parted late in the evening with hugs and thank yous and a promise from me of a Hungarian dinner. I guess it's like Tonto said - you're only strangers until you walk through the door.
After that, you're friends. What better gift?