Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe Kiss

Gracious!  Look at the date!  What with decking my halls and wedging myself into a corner of an overstuffed hotel ballroom for the Jonkheer’s office holiday party, doing ankle-strengthening exercises for the threatened ice-skating at my own office holiday party and berating dilatory family members for their failures to produce either travel plans or Christmas wish lists, I’ve fallen behind on the Christmas-scene re-caps.  For the fourth of six times, let me just note the finalists for the upcoming TUJD Best Christmas Ever (2012 version) vote:
Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)
The Mistletoe Kiss actually opens in October, with Ermentrude Foster and Ruerd ter Mennolt meeting for the first time over his desk at St. Luke’s hospital.  As autumn strolls toward winter, they get off to a bad start, rectify that over boiled eggs, rescue a kitten, adopt a dog, and so forth.  Ruerd’s rude and unkind fiancée suggests he throw a Christmas party, and Emmy begins knitting a pullover for her father’s Christmas present.  Mr. Foster gets a job offer, engineered by Ruerd, that will allow him, the Mrs. and Emmy to spend Christmas in Dorset, where they belong, rather than in noisome, crowded, dingy London.  But before that can happen, Emmy must get hit in the head by housebreakers, and Mum and Dad must discover that the Dorset plumbing is faulty and the house over-burdened with the previous owner’s furnishings, which sad setting for a convalescent Christmas inspires Ruerd to invite the whole clan over to Huis ter Mennolt.

And then we get truly festive.  The Fosters and Ruerd decorate the tree together, topping it with a fairy doll that his youngest niece will receive as a gift after the holiday, and Emmy and Ruerd deck the nursery walls with paper chains before a bevy of siblings arrive with their children (so important an element of a true, old-fashioned Christmas, right?) in tow.  There’s shouting and laughing, racing, dog-hugging and uncle-hanging-onto.  Twenty people sit down to dinner, with white lace and sparkling glass and polished silver surrounding an epergne filled with holly, Christmas roses and trailing ivy.  You may imagine the menu.

Next day is Christmas Eve, with the promise of snow in the air, a brisk walk, tea by the fire with Christmas cake and another magnificent menu (roast pheasant tonight).  “Christmas Day proved to be everything it should be”: church in the morning, with carols albeit in Dutch, then presents after lunch.  Emmy gets a “blue cashmere scarf, the colour of a pale winter sky” that will remind her of the professor every time she wears it.
And the mistletoe of the title?
“She turned to go back upstairs again.  ‘I ought to be changing,’ she said quickly.  ‘Thank you for my scarf. I've never had anything cashmere before.’
“He didn't say anything, but wrapped his great arms round her and kissed her.
“She was so taken by surprise that she didn't do anything for a moment.  She had no breath anyway.  The kiss hadn't been asocial peck; it had lingered far too long. And besides, she had the odd feeling that something was alight inside her, giving her the pleasant feeling that she could float in the air if she wished.  If that was what a kiss did to one, she thought hazily, then one must avoid being kissed again.
“She disentangled herself.  ‘You shouldn't…’ she began. ‘What I mean is, you mustn't kiss me. Anneliese wouldn't like it…’
“He was staring down at her, an odd look on his face. ‘But you did, Ermentrude?’
She nodded.  ‘It's not fair to her,’ she said, and then, unable to help herself, asked, ‘Why did you do it?’
“He smiled.  ‘My dear Ermentrude, look up above our heads.  Mistletoe—see?  A mistletoe kiss, permissible even between the truest strangers. And really we aren't much more than that, are we?’
“He gave her an avuncular pat on the shoulder. ‘Run along and dress or you will be late for drinks.’  Emmy didn't say anything; her throat was crowded with tears and she could feel the hot colour creeping into her face.  She flew up the staircase without a sound. Somewhere to hide, she thought unhappily.  He was laughing at me.
“But the professor wasn't laughing.”

Not an entirely unmixed Christmas for Emmy, then.  But, as Grandmother ter Mennolt says, “I must confess that I prefer the quiet of my room, but it is Christmas and one must make merry!”  Which seems to involve stuffing oneself with bonhomie, turkey and mince pies, although as a cousin ter Mennholt notes, “‘Of course, not all Dutch families celebrate as we do here.  This is typically English, is it not?  But you see we have married into English families from time to time, and this is one of the delightful customs we have adopted.’”  And after that, we have some lovely wintery time with children and pea soup, blow hot-blow cold professorial nonsense and bitter-twisted-fiancée/ex-fiancée-lies, escape plans and loin-girding to arrive at the eventual HEA on the beach with a bitter wind slicing into our snogging bones.