Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Can You Seat A Large Party?


            It’s Christmas Eve in St. Pete Beach, Florida and Grandma tells us we need a reservation for 22 people.  It’s hard enough securing a table for a party that large on a normal day, let alone December 24.  It took a few calls, but we made it happen.  Skidders at 5:00 P.M.
            Taking a step back, I guess I should explain how we gathered together 22 hungry Jews in the first place.  Our extended family happened to be gathered in Florida for the occasion of my grandparents’ 50th Anniversary.  Apparently that’s a pretty big deal…so here we were.
            When we showed up at 5:03, our tardiness was the least of our problems.  Choosing a good seat is imperative for the success of the meal—no one wants to listen to that distant relative bore them to death with their entire life story—so everyone was scrambling to perch themselves amongst company they could at least tolerate.  To make matters worse, there were only 20 seats (actually, 19 and a high-chair) at our mile long table.  It was another seven or eight minutes before a couple of extra chairs were fetched and everyone was squeezed into place.
            I felt nothing but sympathy for the poor waitress who proceeded to take our orders.  Serving 18 adults and 4 children is difficult enough, not to mention my family’s notoriety for giving exceedingly complicated directions.  After all the onion-less salads, on-the-side pasta sauce, and extra-medium burgers were ordered, the real fun began.
            The kids played with silverware, the drinks were refilled, and the food was slowly but surely delivered.  One child fell asleep at the table and was wheeled across the street to her bed at the hotel.  Her younger sister was wide-awake but refused to eat anything that wasn’t one of her mother’s French Fries.  Finally, the dishes were cleared and it was time for the adults to square away the bill.
            This is always the most entertaining part of the meal (at least when you’re in no danger of being the one that ends up with the check).  The respective heads of households jockeyed over rights to pay.  It’s mostly the men of the family that take the reigns, but the fiercest competitor of them all is my stubborn grandmother.  With such a large group this process was exceedingly difficult, but once the dust cleared we emerged with some kind of impromptu plan for splitting the total.  Still, the losers could be seen passing cash across the table to a chorus of screams and curses.  It’s amazing how good adults are at pretending they enjoy shelling out large sums of money for their family.
            Of course when that was over, there was the typical scheming about how much to tip; no one wants to be the one who comes out the cheapest.  There was also a controversy over whether or not some gratuity was already included with the meal.  It took a solid half hour for this entire payment process to be completely resolved.  So, when all was said and done, there were a handful of grumpy adults, a crowd of disinterested spouses, and a faction of tired kids who all just wanted to go home.  One by one, we filed out, en route to our respective hotel rooms.
            I’m sure my version of Christmas Eve dinner wasn’t exactly of the traditional variety.  We don’t go to mass, we don’t light up the tree, and we wouldn’t dream of eating pork (actually, I got a bacon-cheeseburger).  But as far as I can tell, my family’s holiday meals are just as crazy as the rest.