In the dining room, Belva carefully stirred a blend of rum, cognac, brandy, and milk into the Tom and Jerry punch bowl, being careful not to disturb islands of spicy meringue.
“I never heard of Tom and Jerrys before Father Nick told me about them,” she said to Ruthie.
“When I was little,” Ruthie said, “my mother served it for every Christmas party from Belsnickel to New Year’s Eve. She always made hers with milk but Mother Bertie said she used to make hot Tom and Jerrys with coffee.” As she said it she looked up to find her tall, imperious mother-in-law headed toward her. Ruthie reached for the last mug and ladled punch and meringue into it.
“Here, Mother Bertie,” Ruthie said, “let me fix one for you. I’m so glad you got here before all the mugs were taken. I tried to keep them just for Tom and Jerrys but the kids love them and keep grabbing them for their fruit punch.”
“That’s perfectly all right.” Bertie smiled with genuine pleasure in her eyes. “It just warms my heart to see my grandchildren using the very same mugs that my mother served our Christmas eggnog in.”
As Ruthie turned the cup to hand it to her mother-in-law she saw something that made her hand tremble and her knees wobble.
“Oh dear!” she gasped before she could stop herself. A few guests standing nearby glanced over at her. Bertie looked up.
“Whatever is the matter?” She reached to take the mug from Ruthie’s shaking hand.
“Oh, my!” Ruthie looked up with wide eyes. “I don’t know how that happened. I never even noticed it.”
“What?” Bertie said, turning the cup. Then she laughed. “Oh, I forgot all about that.” She held it up and ran one finger over a chip the size of her little fingernail in the handle. She laughed. “Oh my. That was a very long time ago.”
Ruthie stared at her—her mouth moving but no sound coming out.
“My husband is responsible for that, God rest his soul—he always was the clumsiest manin town.” Bertie smiled with a misty expression in her eyes.
“What?” Ruthie could barely speak.
“I think it was the last Christmas we spent together.” Bertie sighed. “We had a wonderful party and after everyone left I was starting to clean up, but Norm said he wanted me to come have a drink with him by the Christmas tree.” Her eyes misted with tears and Ruthie stared at her. In all the years she had known Bertie she’d never seen a tear in those sharp eyes. “Norm turned out all the lights except for the tree and fixed us each a drink in these mugs. We were cuddling on the couch and…” Bertie flushed. “Norm was kissing me but he had this mug in his hand and he got so carried away he smacked his hand into a lamp and took a chip right out of the cup.” Bertie took a napkin from the buffet table and wiped her eyes. “Oh my. He thought I would be mad at him but I couldn’t stop laughing. Poor dear Norm. He was killed in an accident at the plant the following summer.” She looked at the chip in the handle of the cup and smiled. “I’m so happy I remembered that.” Bertie leaned forward and kissed Ruthie’s cheek. “Thank you, dear. Thank you so much.”
Ruthie stared with her mouth open as Bertie walked away.
Evening settled in and, though soft snow continued falling, no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Lucius arrived and let Belva lead him around as she showed off her diamond and collected congratulations and hugs. Ruthie thought Lucius looked like he would explode from happiness. She was carrying an empty tray back to the kitchen when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a couple making good use of the mistletoe hanging in the hall. Jim held Ellie against him, his head bent over hers. She ran her fingers through his hair and sighed as he kissed her.