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New Years Eggnog

Heather Ross11 Comments

As a child in Vermont I often spent New Years Eve at the home of my grandparents. Theirs was a fabulously kitschy circa 70s alpine chalet on the backside of a small, burly ski hill called Jay Peak. There was always heaps of snow on the ground during the holidays back then. My grandmother would put on her dirndl and stand ballerina-still by the fireplace, looking as though the small but lovely party had planned itself, perhaps while she was out roasting sausages while on skis. My grandfather would make and serve eggnog from a big crystal punch bowl placed in a position of honor where his large leather chair usually sat. I remember a wool plaid vest on him, I think. It may have looked Epcot Perfect upon arrival, but somebody always went off the road on the way home. I partly blame the eggnog.

Driving down their icy mountain and up to the top of ours late at night with my mother after a few servings of that eggnog was always harrowing. This was a long time ago, remember, before Mothers Against Drunk Driving brought to our nations attention the fact that while we might have thought the opposite, alcohol made us into terrible and unsafe drivers. In those days it wasn't even illegal. Really, really studid, but not illegal.  It didn't help that we rarely had enough gas to get all the way home, much less to burn while spinning our wheels trying to back out of snowbanks, or that my mothers exchanges with her brother and parents usually put her in the mood to storm out early and then to drive too fast. I should mention here that she is an extremely skilled person when it comes to getting herself out of snowbanks. I have seen her correct an upended honda civic without putting out her cigarette or turning down the radio more than once. Really spectacular. That didn't calm me much though, on those evenings. I was forever telling my uncle to follow us down the hill and keep his eyes open for our tail lights in the deep snow along the 7 mile drive home, which I think he would have always done anyway. Eventually we would get to the bottom of the mountain and turn left to climb up our hill, and he would keep right and find his way to the top of his. Once his headlights had disappeared from our rear view mirror along with the last lights of the houses in the valley, I would watch our gas gauge without blinking. When and if we did run out of gas, I was always a little relieved. Walking was extremely safe, considering. and running out of gas, it turned out, was always much better than worrying about running out of gas. The odds of another car passing us on that road was next to none, and the quiet stillness once the sound of our engine died and we coasted to a stop was the most peaceful sound I can remember. We ran out of gas on summer nights too, but summer forests are filled with noise. In the winter they are silent, even though they are full of life. I would hear very faint feathery sounds and imagine that they belonged to the rabbits with their thick winter coats and broad furry feet bounding across the top of the thick snow silently. If I walked slowly enough along the long dirt road my mothers strong, tall, and sometimes angry strides would put her through the front door a solid twenty minutes before me, which meant that by the time I got home the whole evening would have been balled up and forgotten along with whatever she had used to start what was now a lovely roaring fire.

In later years we moved to town, within downhill coasting distance of everyone we were related to. Sobriety behind the wheel was actively enforced, even in our town where pubs outnumbered graduating eighth graders. I learned to drive, more or less, and how to get myself out of snowbanks. My mother still doesn't trust me to drive in Vermont in the wintertime, even though during college I routinely managed a mile long driveway uphill in reverse on snowy days because my $900 car was rear wheel drive and had better traction that way. The last time I visited her during the winter we drove up that same mountain road that once led to my grandparents house to have dinner. She would not allow me to drive her car, and did not want to drive herself after having had a few drinks, so we took my rental with its terrible slippery little tires. Apparently her fear of me damaging her beloved winter worthy car was a far worse imagined fate than dying together in mine. I gave her one last pleading look in the driveway, promising to drive very carefully if she would reconsider. "Absolutely not." she said, folding her hands across her lap and nestling stubbornly into the passenger seat "and please don't go off the road, I didn't bring my mittens." 

Last night I threw a party and at the very last minute, decided to make eggnog and put on my grandmothers dirndl. Both were a hit, although my grandmother was a smaller woman than I am and the laced up bodice was so tight across my chest that my vision was affected. The outfit looked better on her than it did on me, better in her little snowy chalet than in my post modern loft. Once the eggnog was served though, the evening felt quite complete. My uncle was kind enough to scan and send me his favorite recipe from my grandmothers old copy of Joy of Cooking, he has also carried on the eggnog tradition in past seasons. I have always suspected that my grandfather used Peach Brandy in his recipe, so I instead used this version, which is fortunately available to us all via epicurious. Family members approved and those who had driven to my party knew well enough to stop after one cup. My husband, who did not head my many warnings about the hidden evils of such an angelic looking beverage, had a bit too much of the stuff that he was supposed to be stirring. It didn't stop him from having some of the leftovers today, and he is presently collapsed on the couch, having renamed the beverage Napping Sauce.