“What’s going on in here?” a voice bellowed through the haze wafting through the kitchen. “The smokehouse is out round the side!”
“I’m just cooking the bacon!” Daisy called back, fiddling with the knobs on the stove. “Everything’s fine!”
“Well, that’s good – sure smells wonderful!”
“Thanks, Dad. Mama’s run over to Miss Carnegie’s to get some more sugar for the pie tonight. I got my hands full with this so I haven’t been able to open the windows up yet.”
Jim finished taking off his coat and boots and wandered fully into the room.
“You all alone in here?”
“I’ve got the bacon under control and the cinnamon buns are almost done. Table’s set, orange juice is squeezed. Do you want to pour out six glasses? We can eat as soon as Mama gets back.”
Her father looked around to see that beyond the kitchen and the table lovingly set out with HAPPY NEW YEAR decorations, his younger children were relaxing in the family room near a roaring fireplace. Bridget, having turned five only weeks earlier, had her animals neatly arranged on the floor and was lost in her own little world. Jim chuckled – were they playing hockey again? Bridget insisted that wild animals in her special park played sports, performed plays, danced, and went to school, all in peace and harmony.
The eight-year-old twins were both reading – Keeley one of the new books that she had received for Christmas and Aidan the instructions for his new Lego monstrosity. It was a quirk of both father and son that they never built anything without planning it first – although Jim was firmly of the belief that Lego was too elaborately complicated. How could it be fun anymore? They had taken all of the imagination out of it. Fine, sure, it was teaching the children how to follow instructions, but what would drive them to design new models? Or improvise their way out of a mistake?
“Hey, Kirwan crew, what say you help your sister out and open some windows? It’s a nice warm morning – we can open the inside door to the deck for a little while. Clear the smoke out, eh? Brunch is almost ready!”
Six eyes turned to look at him, blinking as they registered that the room was filling with smoke and their father had come in from his workshop.
“Beg your pardon, Dad?” Keeley asked. “All I hear is sizzling.”
“Yay, brunch is almost ready!” Bridget jumped up and ran toward the table. Seemingly remembering something mid-stride, she whipped herself around and rushed over to open the nearest window.
“Jourdy won’t get out ‘cause Dad didn’t take the screens out!” she proclaimed. The elderly cat of that name raised his head out of his bed in the sunbeam.
“Jourdy won’t be going out anyway when there’s meat cooking,” Keeley muttered, shoving her bookmark in place and getting up to help her sister with the windows. “But just in case, we’d better make sure the screen door is locked.”
Jim turned his attention to his son.
“Aidan, can I help you build that spaceship later?”
“Thanks – it looks interesting. But for now, can you go wash up? I see your mother coming up the back deck. That means time for brunch!”
“Yay! I’m hungry!” Aidan bolted for the sink.
“Me too. How are you doing there, Daisy?”
“Time for you to wash up too, Dad!” Daisy waved him away playfully, with the added effect of clearing out the remaining smoke.
By the time that Lena came inside with her sugar and removed her winter clothes, thirteen-year-old Daisy had the tray of cinnamon buns on the counter, the bacon on a plate in the middle of the table (with some tiny pieces having purposely fallen into Jourdy’s dish) and a tiny bowl of butter in the microwave to melt. The younger girls scurried off to wash up while Lena caught her breath, surveying her surroundings.
“My my, you fixing to get married already, Daisy? I couldn’t have done this better myself.”
“You’re a good teacher, Mama, and no – I want to be a lawyer, remember?”
“You can get married and be a lawyer, no?”
“I think I’ll keep using the microwave then.”
“Well, you run your house however you want – don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Except me – I’m your mother.”
They laughed together as Aidan passed back toward the table. Unnoticed, the little boy rolled his eyes at them as he sat down.
“You’ve finished everything off – now you get yourself cleaned up while I put the butter on. It’s my favourite part of making cinnamon buns!”
Daisy obediently removed her apron and washed her hands. Keeley and Bridget joined their brother at the table and stared at the plate of bacon and pitcher of freshly-squeezed orange juice eagerly.
“Mama, how many oranges go in the juice?” Bridget asked.
“Lots,” she replied, painting the butter across the buns and inhaling deeply. “More oranges than I’d ever dreamed off when I was little.”
“Forty-three,” Keeley answered matter-of-factly. “I counted how many were in the bag yesterday.”
“So you had to squeeze…eighty-six times?” Aidan asked.
“That sounds about right,” Lena replied. “So don’t you be drinking it too fast!”
The children looked shocked at the suggestion. It was a holiday tradition for the whole family to toast with their orange juice, and they were not about to start their drinks any earlier – even if the smoke had made their throats a bit dry.
Daisy and Jim sat down as Lena triumphantly brought the tray of cinnamon buns – oozing with butter, cinnamon, nuts, and raisins – to the table. She used the same body language that she did for carrying lit birthday cakes.
“God bless you and send you a happy new year…” she began to sing.
“And God send you a haaaa-ppy new year!” the rest of the family joined in.
Bridget led the applause as her mother set the tray down in front of Jim.
“Mm, these look and smell heavenly, my darling. The rest of you enjoy your bacon!”
“No!!!” Bridget cried out, before realising that her father was joking.
“All right, I’m sorry, sweetie. No more Dad goofing around!” Jim cleared his throat. “Let’s say Grace.”
“Well, Daisy has tucked herself in for the night with her mystery novel,” Lena reported as she joined her husband in the family room. “We are alone again.”
“I can’t believe how tired the young ones get considering they’re home from school and we don’t have hours of chores like they do on the farms.”
“Our children read a lot,” Lena reasoned. “They think. Thinking takes a lot of effort.”
“Well, we both agreed that was what we wanted.”
“Oh yes, I sure won’t complain. Nor will I complain that they are all in bed. My favourite part of the day is when I get to snuggle with you in front of the fireplace.”
“We built this lovely big room – there’s nowhere to hide if one of the children should come downstairs! We have a perfectly good bed in a room with a lock.”
“Ah, I know, I just like sitting here with you too.”
“Shall I get us some wine?”
“Wine, eh? What’s wrong with a good ale? Or a nip of whisky?”
“You’ve got plenty of that in the fridge in your shop. I’ll go get us some of that cherry wine we bought on our summer trip. It says it is perfect for cozying up by a winter fire. Says it right on the bottle!”
“Well, if it says so on the bottle! Then perhaps a wee nip?”
“How many New Year’s toasts do we need?”
“We have nowhere we need to go to tomorrow, do we? Keeley will get up and feed the pet cat.”
Lena reluctantly pulled herself up from the couch and went into the kitchen.
“Jameson’s, right? Can’t start the new year off with anything but!”
Jim mentally pictured his row of whisky bottles in the cabinet.
“Of course, my dear woman!”
Lena returned with a tray consisting of four filled glasses.
“My favourite part of being married for fifteen years now is that you know exactly how I like my food and drink!”
“And yet you still surprise me.”
“And you me.”
“My favourite part of being married for fifteen years is that you stay much the same!”
“Happy New Year, Mrs. Kirwan!”
“Happy New Year, Mr. Kirwan!”
“Another toast – to my beautiful wife, my other half, mother to our children – Helena!”
“To my handsome husband, my rock, our children’s father – James!”
“To our children – all four of them on Earth and two in Heaven.”
After some time of reflection, they started to get ready for bed. Jim put out the fire while Lena folded the blankets and took the tray into the kitchen.
“If nothing changes in our family now – except that we all grow older, of course – I will be perfectly happy. Do you agree?”
“I do,” she spoke up. “Even if I get all broody whenever my brother comes to visit with his young wife and their wee ones.”
“Well, we aren’t too old yet and I can always make some bunkbeds.”
“Everything is a gift, that is what I have to keep thinking. We live in a good time.”
“The new year is all about ending and beginning. Seems it just reminds us to keep going.”
“That’s what we celebrate – that we keep going.”