Norm, my step brother, was the first to arrive, much to his surprise. He prides himself on being "fashionably late" but had mistaken the start time for our party and was early.
I was talking with Norm, but it was my brother Keith and his wife Lynda I was thinking about. Keith had had by-pass surgery just a couple of months ago and then, on boxing day, his dog Jasper died. The loss was unexpected and devastating to them. A case of life throwing one blow too many your way.
Keith had phoned just before Norm arrived to say they were clearing out Jasper's things and to ask if we would like what was left of Jasper's dog food. I had told him to bring it over. There was a clear quiver in his voice beneath the surface normalcy.
Lindsay was staying with friends, she being too much of a party animal for our subdued affair, but different food would be a nice treat for her return.
This would be Keith's first big social gathering since his surgery. He has lost twenty pounds and is looking better. He is scheduled to return to work on Monday.
My youngest daughter Heather and her family were next to arrive, their children shy and sleepy after their long drive in from Guelph. They were quickly followed by my other daughter Kathy and her new baby. Kathy's husband and son were at a Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre and would be with us in thought, but only if they gave us a thought during the game. Which wasn't likely (the Leafs lost anyway).
Next came my brother John and his wife, who actually live closest to us.
Keith and Lynda had still not arrived and it wasn't like them to be late.
I was busy getting everyone drinks and finding games for the kids to play. Linda was busy with hor d'oeuvres and snacks. Everyone was talking and joking with everyone else. There was a lot of laughing going on. And music.
Linda's older sister Marg and her husband arrived. They had the furthest to come, from Burlington.
It was now two hours into the party but still no Keith and Lynda. I was wondering if I should phone them?
And then they were here, smiles on strained faces, a large bag of dog food and treats in Keith's arms, that Jasper would now never eat. Lynda telling me Lindsay would love the dog treats, they were gourmet dog biscuits she had brought hoping to coax Jasper to eat over Christmas. I gave them each a hug and took the bag from Keith.
For them, the difficult part of the evening was now over.
After dinner, my granddaughter Natasha (8) played her violin while I made coffee and threw another log on the fire.
Then, family by family, they put on coats and headed back out into the cold and drives home of varying distances. At least it wasn't snowing.
I picked up Lindsay from Nigel's, and she ran excitedly around the living room identifying the scents of people she had missed. Nose quivering, tail wagging.
I got out the package of gourmet dog treats that had already been opened for a Jasper who could not be tempted.
Lindsay had no such compunction. She is full of life and appetite.
The photo of my granddaughter playing the violin was taken by my brother Keith using his cellphone.
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