Every Christmas season it’s the same. The hard-scrabbling fight for presents, the intense gleam in greedy eyes as we steal the gaily wrapped packages, the glint of green and red holiday lights on the dice as they clatter against metal.
Lights dim low in Nancy’s living room as we eight women sit cross-legged on the floor, like children, except for one of us who leans low from her chair to throw the dice.
We’re looking for sixes or ones to land face up. If we throw the magic numbers, we get to choose a package. We already know what lies wrapped beneath the gold and green paper, inside that elf stocking, under those dangling bright purple balls. We know books lie within the package, for we’re at Book Club, our annual Christmas book exchange.
Nancy sets her kitchen timer but we barely notice. We’re throwing dice and laughing wildly. If you toss ones or sixes, you choose one of the eight packages we carefully purchased for the exchange. No challenge, right? The little extra fun comes because we’re allowed to grab any package which lights our fancy, even if Jan or Joanne or Kathy has already claimed it.
Mary sits smugly with three packages in front of her crossed legs. Do you think she’ll claim them for long? No, a dice rolls and someone grabs her favorite. She protests in mock horror.
I roll the red dice. A one! In glee, I grab Cheri’s package. In the meantime Joanne–the witch!–has rolled a six and grabbed MY gift. How could this happen?
So easily we gain our gifts. So easily we lose them.
The kitchen timer buzzes. We’re red-cheeked and breathless. Three book club members remain without gifts. If someone retains, say, three packages, they must now relinquish two to the center of the pile.
The package-less must now throw the dice until everyone has a gift.
You wonder what happens if someone receives their own gift? A kind soul volunteers to exchange, because we’re really not heartless grabbers. We’re really loving souls celebrating the Christmas season and we want everyone to get a book in the exchange. We love that it’s only a mock fight, a pretend ruse, an exciting return to the magic of games.
I peek into my package. Ah ha! It’s an intriguing book called Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. It’s the story of two women from the tame East who travel West as pioneers and experience the adventure of a lifetime. I look over at Sue. Of course the book is from Sue. You can usually tell the gift-giver because, after ten years, you know their taste in reading material.
“I want to read it when you’re done,” Sue announces.
Of course, my friend. How could you not?
Besides our wild scrambling dice throwing game, you wonder what else happens at Book Club?
Nancy sets out fancy maroon crystal dishes and goblets (sometimes we get paper plates) and we dine on Beef Stroganaff, coleslaw, Cheesy Potatoes, wine bread (to die for), deviled eggs, tapioca pudding, oh what am I forgetting?, the best layered pumpkin cake on the planet, and ice cream. There is no room for Joanne’s cream puffs. I contemplate chasing her around the township for leftovers today.
We also passionately discuss last month’s book for longer than our usual book discussion. (We’re not really a serious book club. We’re not at all. Most of the members are more interested in the food, the socialization, and the wild annual gaming.)
The book, you ask? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I tried to read it and did not succeed, to my daughter’s chagrin, as she loved it. I found it too wildly creative and hard to follow. So did other members of our book club. One liked it as much as my daughter.
We’ve never universally agreed on a book yet, except perhaps The Kite Runner.
At 9:15 yours truly beginsto yawn repeatedly and catches her rider’s eye.
“Time to go!” I announce and they all undoubtedly roll their eyes because they know Kathy is a party-pooper and always rises abruptly and announces departure time before 9:30, because her carriage turns into a pumpkin again at 10 p.m.
Everyone stretches and our little group disbands into the cold night, Nancy’s twinkling lights guiding our way toward our cars.
“Good night!” we call gaily beneath the starry skies as we head to our warm homes. “See you in February when we share about our Christmas books. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”