From the Pastor: A Father Palka Christmas
Once again this year I have to write the bulletin article for the weekend after Christmas early since the office will be closed after Christmas and we have to print the bulletins while the staff is still here. So I get to tell you the story of how I spent Christmas by jocosely using my clerical time machine. Enjoy a peek into the life of a priest on Christmas Day!
I would be glad to tell you all about how beautiful, reverent, and prayerful the Christmas Masses were. I would be delighted to write a column thanking everyone who helped to decorate, clean up, set up, sing, serve, and everything else that goes into Christmas celebrations. But, while that would be an honorable and perhaps even a moving tribute to all of our dedicated staff and volunteers, it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as telling you what happened at my sister’s house after everyone woke up from an all too short, “post Midnight Mass” snooze. And so the story begins midmorning on Christmas Day while I was celebrating the morning Mass at Epiphany. My sister’s house was bustling with friends and relatives, including our favorite Aunt, Irma. As many of you know from past stories, whenever she is around, weird stuff happens, and “weird” might be too tame a word. But this time, just to make sure that she couldn’t get into too much trouble, she had a simple task to keep her occupied: bake French toast for brunch. On Christmas Eve I had sliced the bread and left it soaking in an egg and milk mixture in sheet pans in the rectory refrigerator overnight for her to just “take and bake”. It was foolproof. She had a task to do, she felt needed, she couldn’t get into trouble simply turning on the oven, and hungry people love the cook. Soon the whole house, yard, and neighborhood were filled with the wonderful aroma of toasted coconut. What? You’ve never had toasted coconut French toast? Me neither, but that is what Aunt Irma was baking, with thick slices of Panettone which, if you don’t know (poor you!), is a rich, Italian form of brioche bread with fruit baked into it. Oven-baked toasted coconut Panettone French toast. Wow, what a Christmas treat! The kids could hardly wait and the adults were pretty jealous of them getting first dibs. The youngsters gobbled up as much as they could eat just as fast as they devour the donuts after Sunday Mass. Then the adults came in for the next batch and boy, did they compliment the cook. But after they finished their meal they noticed that the children were acting a bit, well, they were all acting just like Aunt Irma. It’s hard to describe their actions exactly but everyone assumed that the kids were just playing a game of imitating her. It was just about then that I finally got over to the house, having locked up the church for the day. Although I was exhausted, I wasn’t so tired that I didn’t notice how strange even the grownups were acting. The women seemed to have a bad case of the giggles. A few of the men were telling jokes and funny stories, each trying to top the other, while a couple more were arguing belligerently, the women just kept snickering like schoolgirls, and the kids were wild. To me, as one just walking in off the streets, it was pretty obvious that everyone was tipsy! “What in the world have you been doing?” I asked, “How much have you had to drink already?” But nobody had so much as even opened the first bottle of wine so early in the day. “We just had breakfast!” they said and told me what they ate. I had noticed the delightful aroma as soon as I had gotten there but had been too distracted by their odd behavior to pay any attention to it. But now, hearing what Aunt Irma had fixed for them, I was beginning to get a clear picture of what happened. You see, I had brought with me the trays of French toast she was supposed to have taken to bake that morning and which I had discovered still in the rectory refrigerator. “Aunt Irma,” I called to the figure in the kitchen, “Did you get the fixin’s for the French toast from the rectory when you came by last night?” She replied with a sweet, almost condescending, “Of course, sweetie. I gathered up all of the bread and French toast batter from your kitchen. Why? Is there a problem?” I couldn’t bear to tell her that the Panettone loaves were actually gifts that Fr. Chien was planning giving out that afternoon on behalf of St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission! As for the “coconut French toast batter” she found in the refrigerator, what she actually discovered and used was several gallons of a delightful drink some cookbooks call “Carribean eggnog” which a parishioner gifted us with this year. Instead of using eggs and cream as in typical eggnog, this form of eggless eggnog, called “Coquito,” uses coconut and coconut cream as the base. Oh, and one more very important ingredient. Rum. Lots of rum. As in enough rum that thick, luscious slices of Panettone soaked in it, even when baked in the oven, does not burn off the alcohol. As in enough that children should not eat it ever, nor should adults consume it for breakfast. And that was just the beginning of Christmas Day with my family. How was yours?
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka