The setting is a dining room with a large table, center-stage, partially set for Christmas dinner. Holiday decorations are all about. Upstage, a banister with stairs lead to the upper rooms. Farther upstage, behind the banister, an open doorway reveals a den and a lit Christmas tree with presents underneath it. Against a wall stage right, a cabinet full of china, silverware, and various knick-knacks. There are two exits: one stage right that leads to the kitchen, and the other stage left.
The curtain rises on a 50ish woman busying herself with setting the table, going into the kitchen and returning several times with bowls of food. Beth, her 20-something daughter, enters stage left. She pauses looking around the dining room, then crosses into the den and puts a present under the tree. As Beth returns to the dining room, she takes off her coat and puts it over a railing on the banister.
BETH: (As her mother enters from the kitchen) Why haven’t you packed anything?
MOTHER: Merry Christmas to you, too.
BETH: Mom, you haven’t even started.
MOTHER: It’s Christmas, Beth.
BETH: The movers are going to be here in four days.
MOTHER: I’ve been cooking and preparing all this food for the past three days. What do you want me to say? I’m only one person. (As she exits into the kitchen) Will you please set the table?
BETH: (As she gets plates and silverware from the cabinet and sets the table) But everything’s settled. (A little louder) You promised to be ready, Mom Aaron already has the week off to help you get moved in. (Pause) Now we’re going to have to spend all weekend getting you boxed up and ready. And Aaron’s going to miss the game now, too.
MOTHER: (As she enters with a goose on a platter) Speaking of which, what did you do with him?
MOTHER: (Overlapping) You didn’t run off and forget him, did you?
BETH: Mom, I know you didn’t.
BETH: You know what. That’s a goose.
MOTHER: (Setting the goose down) Yes. Yes, it is. Imagine that.
BETH: But why—
MOTHER: We very well can’t eat bologna for Christmas.
BETH: You’re doing this on purpose.
MOTHER: (As she prepares the goose) Doing what, Beth? We’ve been having goose for Christmas since before you were born. Even before that.
BETH: You know that’s not what I’m talking about.
MOTHER: (Overlapping) Our first Christmas together, your father wanted a turkey—a turkey of all things. Can you imagine that? For Christmas! That’s so absurd. Everybody knows that turkeys are for Thanksgiving. We had such a huge row over it. Our first—
BETH: (Cutting in) I know, I know—your first argument, Mom, Aaron can’t eat any of this.
MOTHER: Nonsense. Even your father, bless his soul, even he didn’t put a turkey on this table. I cooked a goose because we’ve always had a goose on Christmas in our family. And this Christmas is no different.
BETH: But there’s nothing here for Aaron.
Her mother stops and looks at the table.
MOTHER: I’m sorry.
BETH: There’s not even a salad or anything.
MOTHER: A salad? For Christmas?
BETH: For Aaron, Mom.
Beat. Mother resumes preparing the table.
MOTHER: Well, he’s family now. And a big boy. He can just take one for the team, as your father used to say. Bless his soul, he always said that family trumps everything else and if you can’t put your family first, then—
BETH: I can’t believe you, Mom.
MOTHER: (Stopping) So we’re just supposed to stop our Christmas tradition because he doesn’t like goose?
BETH: He’s a vegetarian—
MOTHER: (Overlapping) I imagine we should unwrap all the presents, too. And the tree—take it down, and the lights and all the decorations and just celebrate the cold weather with lettuce and breadsticks then.
Aaron enters as she concludes.
AARON: All the snow’s off the driveway—
He pauses, noticing the tension, then takes off his coat.
AARON: Something sure does smell good.
Aaron tosses his coat on the banister.
MOTHER: Thank you, Aaron. (As Aaron crosses to the table) I’m glad somebody appreciates all the work I’ve put into this.
AARON: It looks great. (He kisses Mother on the cheek and sits down) Merry Christmas, Mother.
MOTHER: (To Beth) See? It’s not that difficult. (To Aaron) She says you can’t eat any of this.
AARON: (Looking at all of the food) Technically—
BETH: (Overlapping) You know that he can’t.
Aaron looks at Beth.
MOTHER: Well, the yams turned out nice. Yams are ok, right?
AARON: Actually, yams are my favorite—
BETH: But he can’t eat them.
MOTHER: Why in the world not? He just said—
BETH: Mom, he’s allergic to marshmallows.
MOTHER: To marshmallows?
AARON: Afraid so. Sorry.
MOTHER: Who ever heard of such a thing? I thought everybody liked marshmallows. Okay, what about my green beans then? (As she dips a spoon into the bowl) They’re vegetables.
BETH: There’s pork fat in them.
MOTHER: Only for flavor.
BETH: From an animal.
MOTHER: But he doesn’t eat meat.You never said anything about fat.
AARON: It’s okay.
BETH: No, it’s not.
MOTHER: The dressing then.
BETH: She didn’t make anything for you.
AARON: It’s not that big of a deal.
Beth’s mother spoons dressing onto Aaron’s plate.
MOTHER: Here. You can eat this. No meat or fat in it at all.
BETH: What’re you doing? He can’t eat that, either.
MOTHER: (Overlapping) Celery, some apples—that’s a fruit. (As Beth reaches over and pulls away Aaron’s plate) But all fruits are vegetables anyway, right? You can eat that. And here—some egg whites. And—
BETH: Mom, stop it.
MOTHER: (Digging through the dressing) It’s made out of cornmeal. Some spices. Oh—and here’s a raisin. (To Aaron, with the raisin on the spoon) I know you can eat raisins.
Beth grabs the spoon from her mother and jams it into the dressing bowl.
BETH: He can’t eat any of this. You cooked it inside a goose.
MOTHER: But there’s no meat in my dressing—
BETH: (As she crosses to the banister and her coat) You’re impossible. Aaron, let’s go.
AARON: Go? Go where?
BETH: To get you a Caesar salad or something and—
AARON: Beth, it’s Christmas. Nothing’s open. Besides, even if there was something open, we’re not leaving your mother here alone. What’s the matter with you?
MOTHER: Thank you, dear.
BETH: (Overlapping) With me? (As she crosses back to Aaron) Aaron, she did it on purpose. She knows full well that you’re a vegetarian.
AARON: You’re getting all worked up over nothing.
MOTHER: Absolutely nothing.
AARON: (Overlapping) I’m sure there’s something in the fridge—
BETH: But that’s not—look around, alright?
BETH: I know you’ve noticed that nothing is boxed up. She hasn’t packed anything, Aaron. She’s being difficult on purpose, and she knows it.
AARON: Calm down, okay? What’s gotten into you? There’s no reason to—I mean, we have all weekend. We’ll be ready for the movers.
BETH: Do you have any idea how big this house is?
AARON: She’s only one person, Beth.
MOTHER: That’s what I told her.
BETH: She hasn’t even started yet.
MOTHER: If your father, bless his soul, were still alive—
BETH: But he’s not. Why do you have to bring Dad into everything? (Pause; her mother gets up) Mom, I’m sorry.
MOTHER: I’ll make you something else, Aaron. What would you like?
AARON: (Overlapping) No, please don’t bother You’ve already knocked yourself out with all of this—
MOTHER: Nonsense. I have some mac and cheese—
BETH: I didn’t mean it like that.
MOTHER: I’m not moving out of my house.
BETH: Mom, don’t start with that.
MOTHER: (Overlapping, to Aaron) Mac and cheese?
AARON: If it’s no trouble.
BETH: We’ve been over this a hundred times. You can’t afford to stay here.
MOTHER: You father used to say, if there’s a will, there’s a way.
BETH: Mom, you can’t live as though—
MOTHER: I am going to live as I always have. I’m not going to let you push me out of my own home—the house you were raised in, Beth.
BETH: I’m not pushing anyone out. The bank—
MOTHER: No. Even before all that, you’ve wanted me out of this house. Why? Ever since your father passed away—
BETH: This has nothing to do with him!
MOTHER: I think it does.
BETH: I don’t want to talk about this anymore. (To Aaron) I’ll go and get your mac and cheese.
MOTHER: This is the first time you have set foot in this house since your father’s funeral.
BETH: And now you know why.
Beth exits quickly into the kitchen. Beth can be heard slamming her way through cabinets and drawers.
AARON: She didn’t mean it, Mother.
MOTHER: Yes, she did.
Mother sits down. Short pause. Aaron begins to put small amounts of food on his plate.
AARON: Could you please pass the gravy? (She looks at him; he smiles, then winks at her) I’m not really a vegetarian. Well, I am, but not all the time.
Beat. Mother laughs and passes Aaron the gravy. She cuts off a portion of the goose.
MOTHER: I never believed for a second that you only ate vegetables.
AARON: (As he eats) Why is that?
MOTHER: You just didn’t look like a vegetarian to me. (Aaron laughs) Be careful, I don’t want you to choke—here. This is the best part of the goose. (As she serves it to him) Beth’s father, bless him, loved the dark meat. He hated the idea of a goose for Christmas—he was such a silly bird himself sometimes—but he loved my goose. (She laughs) More?
AARON: (Waving her off) No, thank you. This is plenty.
Aaron eats. Pause.
MOTHER: This vegetarian business was her idea, wasn’t it?
AARON: No, not really I mean—well, I opened my big mouth one day. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but—you know. I just didn’t have the heart to argue with her about it. She likes the idea of me being “principled.”
MOTHER: She got that from her father. Bless his soul.
AARON: She misses him a lot.
MOTHER: We all do. (Beat) I think that’s why she hates this house so much. Too many memories here.
AARON: She doesn’t hate it. Beth talks about growing up here all the time.
MOTHER: She does?
AARON: Sometimes she just goes on and on—I have to tune her out. (He pushes his plate away and wipes his mouth) Thank you. That was delicious.
MOTHER: (As she takes away his plate) No point in spoiling it for her.
AARON: And she gets her smarts from you.
Mother laughs and sets a clean plate in front of Aaron. She puts some food on her plate, but does not eat. Pause.
MOTHER: I’m not leaving, Aaron.
AARON: Beth’s pretty adamant.
MOTHER: So am I.
AARON: She said that you’re almost nine months behind on your mortgage.
MOTHER: Everything was so unexpected. And Henry—(Beat) I used to tell him, all the time—I asked him, “When are you going to get your affairs in order?” (She laughs) He’d always say, “Affairs? What affairs? You’re woman enough for me. I don’t need another one in my life.” I never thought—
AARON: No one ever does. (Short pause) We’ll get you packed and ready. Don’t worry.
MOTHER: I’m not going anywhere. I’m serious. This is my home. I’m not going to up and leave just because I’m behind on a few payments. They’ll get their money.
AARON: How? If you don’t mind me asking.
MOTHER: Do you really want me living in that small apartment of yours? There’s only one bedroom. Where do you expect me to sleep?
AARON: We have quite a large bathroom—
MOTHER: That doesn’t surprise me.
AARON: I’m only joking. I’ll sleep on the sofa until—
MOTHER: Until what?
AARON: I mean, until we can afford a bigger place.
MOTHER: No. You two’ve been married less than a year. I won’t have Beth blaming me for—you know. You need your time together. The first couple of years—(She smiles to herself) Henry and I—(Beat; then to Aaron) It’s almost like childhood. You get only one chance to experience being newlyweds. You can never go back and do it over again. And I don’t want to be the one to take that from you and Beth. You are going to need this time together, so later, when the shine wears off things, you’ll be able to polish them up and make them good as new again. (Aaron laughs) Don’t laugh. Polishing is hard work and it takes two people. When you’re young, you think you can do everything all by yourself. Trust me, you can’t.
AARON: I understand. But—
MOTHER: Something will come up.
AARON: We can’t—I mean, you know that if we had the money, you’d be more than welcome to it. But I’m afraid we don’t have a choice.
MOTHER: You always have a choice.
AARON: If there’s only one alternative?
MOTHER: You choose another one. That’s what Henry would say.
AARON: Bless his soul.
MOTHER: Yes, that’s right.
AARON: What do you think he would do if he were in your position?
MOTHER: Henry? A pack of wild horses couldn’t drag him out of his home.
AARON: I believe that. But what would he do?
MOTHER: He would have you two move in here.
AARON: Here? I never thought about—(Beat) I mean, your mortgage is more than our rent, but— (Pause as he thinks) It’s not that much more. Beth could cut back on—and I could … you know what? I think we could do it. That’s a good idea. An excellent idea, Mother. We can definitely make it work. And it would solve most of your problems. Why didn’t we think of this before?
MOTHER: Well, that’s what Henry would do.
Aaron looks at her.
AARON: But not you?
MOTHER: Beth doesn’t want to live here.
AARON: Do you know that for sure?
As Aaron speaks, Beth enters with a cardboard box full of kitchen items. She sets down the box and looks at her mother and Aaron, both of whom are staring at Beth.
BETH: It’d be nice if you’d help instead of stare.
AARON: Where’s my mac and cheese?
BETH: We’re never going to have everything packed and ready.
AARON: (As Beth turns to go back into the kitchen) Beth.
BETH: You can fix your own mac and cheese.
MOTHER: (Getting up) Not today, he’s not.
BETH: Somebody has to get things boxed up.
MOTHER: (To Aaron) If you’re still hungry, I can—
AARON: Your Mother’s not leaving, Beth.
BETH: What are you talking about?
AARON: We’re moving in here.
BETH: We’re moving? Into this house?
BETH: (Crossing to Aaron) We are moving here?
AARON: That’s what—
BETH: (Overlapping, continuing) We means us, Aaron—you and me. And I don’t remember agreeing to this.
AARON: We can afford the mortgage. Barely. And—
BETH: And what about me? (Beat) I am not moving in here.
AARON: Why not?
BETH: You make a decision for both of us without even discussing it with me? That’s not how we agreed to do things, Aaron.
AARON: But you like living here.
BETH: Since when—what makes you think that?
MOTHER: This is your home. Why wouldn’t you?
AARON: You always talk about growing up here. About how you enjoyed playing with your dolls—(He gets up, then points upstairs) Up there, in the hall—right outside your parents’ door.
MOTHER: (Laughing at the memory) The only time I ever heard his blessed soul curse. He would come out in the early morning—that man was up at 4:30 every single day of his life—and step on something you’d leave out. I never thought people’d talk like that outside of the movies.
AARON: You told me that your best memories are here, in this house.
BETH: I liked living here as a child. I spent the first 19 years of my life here—why wouldn’t I have good memories of this place?
AARON: But not now?
MOTHER: I was right. You hate it here.
BETH: Mom, I don’t hate—
MOTHER: Then it’s me. You don’t want to live with me.
BETH: (Exasperated) You’re moving into my bedroom, okay.
AARON: Why don’t you want to move back here, Beth?
BETH: I told you.
AARON: No, you haven’t. (Beth sits down) And it’s not because I didn’t talk to you about it first, either.
BETH: I can’t live here.
Her mother crosses to Beth and sits down next to her.
MOTHER: This is still your home.
BETH: This house—it’s not the same. (Beat) It’s not the same without Dad here.
MOTHER: Nonsense. What’s different?
BETH: Besides the fact that he’s not here?
Mother hugs Beth.
MOTHER: I miss him, too, Beth. But that doesn’t mean he’s gone. He can never leave us.
MOTHER: (As she gets up and crosses to the cabinet stage right) He’s still here. Your father is part of this house, still part of everything in it. (She takes from the cabinet a yellow ceramic salt and pepper shaker shaped like a baby chick) What does this remind you of?
Beth looks at it, then laughs She gets up and crosses to her Mother.
BETH: Dad storming around the house, demanding to know who let chickens into the house. (Mimicking her father as she takes the shaker from her mother) Chickens are food, not pets. We don’t eat dogs and cats do we? Where’re the rest of these foul birds? Do you smell that? It smells like— (Beth and her mother laugh) Dad was so funny—
MOTHER: (To Aaron) Beth bought us these salt and pepper shakers—when was it?
BETH: Oh, I don’t know. The fourth grade, I think.
MOTHER: Henry, bless his soul, loved to tease Beth.
BETH: He’d search every little nook and cranny for a whole hour sometimes.
MOTHER: Beth wouldn’t be able to stop giggling. She’d follow him from room to room, shrieking, “There ain’t no chickens! Mama, tell him!”
BETH: And Dad would always say, very solemn—like, “Don’t use ain’t. It ain’t a word. And don’t bother your Daddy right now. You don’t want to sleep in chicken poop tonight, do you?”
MOTHER: Then she’d run off screaming, “Mama! Daddy said poop!”
They all laugh.
BETH: He wouldn’t stop until I’d open this up and pour salt all over the table. But he’d act all skeptical. (Mimicking him) “Are you sure it’s salt?” Then he’d sniff it, put a little on his finger and taste it. Finally, he’d say—(Mimicking him) “So it is, so it is. For a minute there I thought I was going to have to build us a chicken coop.” He’d smile and pick me up. “And put all my little chicks in it.” We would just laugh and laugh—
AARON: Like now.
BETH: Yes. Yes, like now.
MOTHER: (Still laughing) Henry, that poor soul, couldn’t nail two boards together.
BETH: Remember the time he tried to fix that cabinet door in the kitchen?
MOTHER: What a mess!
BETH: (To Aaron) Dad ended up just taking all the doors off the cabinets.
MOTHER: (Mimicking him) “They weren’t serving any purpose, anyhow. Just a waste of good wood.”
BETH: But Mom made him hire a carpenter to put all the doors back on and fix the broken one.
Pause as their laughter subsides.
MOTHER: So many memories.
Beth sits down and starts to cry.
MOTHER: Oh, Beth.
Her mother and Aaron cross to her. Aaron sits down and hugs her.
BETH: This is why I don’t want to be in this house. It’s too painful.
MOTHER: It doesn’t have to be.
BETH: I can’t help it.
MOTHER: You didn’t cry when your father was here. He wouldn’t allow it.
BETH: (Smiling wanly) Because he’d start tickling me and—
MOTHER: And call you his little sunshine.
BETH: His little sunshine.
MOTHER: Because rain doesn’t fall when the sun is shining. And then he’d sing—
BETH: That silly little song.
MOTHER: (Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. (Beth laughs) See? You were laughing a few moments ago, too. Why do you think I’m so happy here, dear—why I don’t want to leave? I can’t leave this house—it’ll be like leaving him.
BETH: But—I don’t know, Mom.
AARON: I haven’t seen you laugh so much since the wedding.
MOTHER: When your father was still with us. (Beat) Like he is now, bless his soul. Here. In our home—your home, Beth. You know that he would want you here, too.Where you can be close to him.
BETH: I miss him so much.
MOTHER: He misses you, too. (Beat) Even more when you’re not here.
Pause. Beth gets up and crosses to the cardboard box she had packed and set on the floor, As she opens the box and begins to unpack it, Beth sings “You Are My Sunshine.” Aaron and her Mother jump in and sing as they cross to Beth and help her unpack.