We've lived in this neighborhood for almost 20 years. Before we bought this cranky old victorian house, we lived just around the corner in a fantastic second floor apartment with 20 foot ceilings and a loft overlooking the living room. It was a great place to entertain guests for fabulous parties. Big rooms with windows wrapped around the entire second floor. When it snowed in the winter, it felt like a living snow globe. We loved that apartment.
Every year, the week before Christmas, we'd have close friends over for a holiday dinner party followed by neighborhood Christmas caroling. It brought such joy to us and to those who listened to our drunken warblings.
One year, we felt particularly extravagant. I prepared a glorious Beef Wellington with a huge beef tenderloin purchased from Critchfield Meats. I seared the tenderloin briefly to caramelize the exterior before smothering it in a mushroom duxelle and wrapping it in puff pastry. To gild the lily, I took extra pastry, cut it into strips, and tied a gigantic bow with ribbons around the pastry-wrapped tenderloin. When it came out of the oven, it was a thing of beauty. A puffed and golden edible Christmas package with buttery crunchy splayed ribbons and bows. I served it on a pool of dark rich bordelaise that clung to the meat and deepened the flavor of the complex duxelles. The crisp pastry crumbled when cut and was the perfect sauce sopper.
I don't remember what we ate with the Wellington. I do remember that we followed it with Keoke Coffees and slices of Red Velvet Cake. Heaven.
After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, our small happy group of Christmas revelers made our way out into our neighborhood for caroling. People were kind and let us sing for them. It was Christmas, after all. We sang our way up our street, turned the corner and worked our way down the other street. At the very end of the adjacent street and across the road was a three story historic brick house. It stood alone with an old cast iron fence protecting the property. No houses were beside it or near it. As we approached the house, we saw an elderly woman sitting near a first floor window gazing out onto her lawn. We knocked on the door to ask permission to gleefully sing our carols.
As corny as it may sound, we formed a half circle on the lawn in front of that first floor window where the sweet elderly woman sat gazing. Her caretaker fluffed a few pillows behind her back to help her sit up and listen.
With tears streaming down our faces,
we joyously sang Silent Night.
She smiled and waved to our little band of merry-makers as we left her property. It was profoundly rewarding. Giving. Recieving.
The next morning we awoke to the news that her house had burned that night and she had died in the fire.
I think about her this time of year. I think about her house. Her smile. Her wave. I think about those of us who banded together and helped her smile during Christmas.
I drive by the empty lot every day where her house once stood.
And I remember.
Sleep in heavenly peace.