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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Meat sticks, mustard, and Jesus

1978 haunted my mailbox with a ghost of Christmas past. Mom, is that you?

The year: 1978. The scene: an overwarm kitchen in Virginia with lino floors, an antique high chair, a breakfast bar with a countertop pattern that hailed from the Kennedy administration. By the snaked coil of the telephone line is The Pile: Harry & David catalog; a few old programs from Mass; matchbooks smelling of sulphur and ash; all dusted generously with flour from the feverish Christmas-cookie baking that has engulfed every available surface. My mom is humming and dancing to the Carpenter's Christmas with my sister Anne; Amanda and I prepping cookie plates I will be forced to deliver to neighbors because I'm the youngest and perpetually holding the short straw. And there, in the debris and chaos, is the beloved, cherished, oft-anticipated "The Swiss Colony" catalog. Meat sticks, fruit cakes, mustards, and Jesus trinkets galore.

And one arrived with my husband's name on it today. A gift from little me to grown me. The serious optimism of the gift packs and party trays is enough to send one back to pre-pandemic times when distant acquaintances hovered over the cheese cubes and tried to think of something interesting to say about their holiday vacation to Winthrop to visit the cousins.

We just call these bracelets in my culture.

Do they know we're buying these aggressively precious Jesus dog tags (for the Army of Jesus? I dunno) for the gay men in our lives?

Nothing says Shitty Pandemic Holiday like cheddar cheeses of dubious origins and a fancy slicer.

This photo really is from 1978. See also: the very last time anyone enjoyed a fruit cake.

It's never too early—or too late—to celebrate The Swiss Colony. Welcome to 2020, TSC. Grab a mask and take a seat.

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