I think this Christmas holiday ranks as one of the best I have ever had. It's one thing to have a guest or two for the holidays, but it's a whole different ball game when 20 family members show up. As I try and sum up the past week, one phrase best describes the event: genetic soiree.
Renting houses on both sides of my hacienda, family began arriving in twos and threes. First here was my 24-year-old son Logan, all the way from Los Angeles; then my daughter Camden and her husband from Virginia; a brother from North Carolina; a sister from Florida; plus nephews, nieces -- they just kept on coming from all parts of the country. The first thing they all said upon arriving wasn't "hello" or "nice to see you," it was "where are the pickled shrimp?"
Pickled shrimp is one of my family's most cherished holiday foods, based on a recipe my father came up with a long, long time ago. They are in such demand during family gatherings that I have to hide them in a neighbor's refrigerator so that one or two selfish family members don't sneak a taste and end up eating the entire batch. You might laugh, but two years ago my sister, Grace, and her daughter, Maya, stole the entire batch, ate them all and lied about taking them. It wasn't until my son read an entry by my sister on Facebook some six months later that we solved the crime. They would pay dearly this year as everyone, except the two of them, knew the location of the shrimp. When they weren't looking, various family members would sneak over for a shrimp or two. It darn near killed my sister and her daughter because pickled shrimp leave a telltale oil slick on your chin after eating them. They were like detectives interrogating a suspect. It was hilarious to hear the two of them accusing family member after family member with a stern "you've been eating pickled shrimp haven't you?"
Paybacks are hell!
You know how I am always saying how lucky we are to live here? After this gathering I will stand by that statement until my last breath. Expecting this outcry for seafood, I had frozen shrimp caught during October, so on the night before Christmas, I thawed 20 pounds of these lovelies for a Lowcountry boil. We steamed up four bushels of oysters, one and half bushels of clams and by night's end not one spec of seafood was left. It was like watching a pack of hyenas tearing apart a gazelle.
It was almost spooky the way my family ate. There was pushing and shoving and every once in a while strange animal-like cries as they tried to edge toward the center of the pack. I just hope they're all current on their tetanus shots.
I had planned on taking all the guys creek-fishing, but as you may remember, the wind was blowing a good 40 knots, so instead we had a family fishing contest in some of Hilton Head Island's saltwater lagoons. Luckily I had enough rods to go around, and the competitive spirit was alive and well in this group.
After two days of rain and strong winds, I wasn't sure how good the fishing would be, but luck was with us as everyone caught redfish, trout and big black drum. One part of this experience that really touched me was how every single person made some comment on just how lucky I am for living here. I can't tell you how many times I heard that. Even though we all had grown up here in the Lowcountry, I am the only one who decided to make this my home for life. I sensed regret in their voices about leaving the area, and that just made me feel even better about my life's choice to forgo financial wealth for a wealth of a different type.
The last evening before everyone left, I took them all to the marsh area by Pine Island to watch wave after wave of ibises, herons and egrets as they came to roost in this huge expanse of marsh. The sun was beginning to set; the late afternoon sun turned the marsh grass into golden rods standing at attention. Then, as if an exclamation point to their visit, a lone bald eagle landed in the marsh grass right in front of us to eat a fish he had no doubt stolen from an osprey. That white head and bright yellow beak surrounded by nothing but gold was the perfect ending to a perfect holiday.