I'm 8 years old. It's the week before Christmas. I'm watching the Sonny and Cher Christmas special with my parents. There's no smell of nutmeg wafting through this house and no time will be wasted opening presents. Such is the life of a secular Muslim immigrant in this land where Santa Claus visits a lot of people, but not everyone.
Fast forward 17 years. I'm married to my French Catholic husband, I have a stocking hanging on the mantle with my own name on it, Firoozeh. It had to be specially ordered.
That first Christmas together was magical. The next year, Francois decided it's time to include my parents.
"I want them to experience a French Christmas meal," he said.
For the next three weeks, all our conversations centered around The Menu.
"Would your parents like carpaccio?"
"Would they try quail eggs?"
"Bone marrow on toast?"
"Dad yes, Mom definitely no."
My parents arrived on Dec. 25th in jovial moods. This would be their first real Christmas meal and they came laden with gifts.
"Open them now!" my parents insisted.
Kazem and Nazireh always buy wrapping paper on sale, paying attention only to the pretty colors. As Francois held his stack of gifts, all emblazoned with "Happy Birthday!" and "Congratulations Graduate!" he looked a bit puzzled.
Once we opened all the gifts, my mother announced, "Von more for Fransva! Fransva, I make you carrot jam vit pistachio. I know you like!"
She sprinted into the living room and came back with my father's carry-on bag.
"You put it in my bag?" my father asked.
As my mother opened my father's favorite bag, a look of horror came upon her face. The jam had spilled.
My father leapt to his feet.
The lid of the jam had come off and everything was covered with sticky, orange goo interspersed with slivers of pistachio.
"Why did you have to put the stupid jam in my bag?" he yelled at my mom, completely forgetting that there were others in the room.
"It was for Fransva," my mother said, invoking the name of her new son-in-law as some sort of human shield.
"Why couldn't you have put it in your bag?" my father asked.
"We'll help clean everything," I said.
"Why didn't you put in a Ziploc?" my father continued.
"I was going to," my mother meekly responded.
"But you didn't. Why didn't you put it in a Ziploc? You put everything else in a Ziploc. You put Ziplocs in Ziplocs. Why didn't you put the jam in a Ziploc?"
It was clear this argument was going to go past New Year's.
My mother was clearly embarrassed that her new son-in-law had just witnessed such an inappropriate scene. "I'm so sorry Fransva. The jam voz for you and so good."
"Maybe he can eat my bag," my father suggested.
For the first course, Francois had cured salmon.
My mother picked at her gravlax and asked me in Persian what else there was. "Een khameh," she said. (It's raw).
"It's salmon," said Francois, guessing from my mother's scrunched-up face that there was a problem.
"Eez good," my mother said to him. "I can't eat it," she said to me in Persian. "What else is there?"
I explained to her, in Persian, that there were several courses. I also told her that a scrunched-up face means the same thing in French and English as it does in Persian.
"Why didn't you tape the lid on the jam jar?" my father asked, reaching for the bread.
"I did," my mother said.
"I didn't see any tape," my father said. "What kind of tape did you use?"
"Please stop, Baba," I told my father.
"I just want to know what kind of tape she used," he said. "Een mahi khayli khameh," he added. (This fish really is raw.)
Francois was, by now, fully aware that my parents did not like the gravlax.
The next course — quail stuffed with foie gras and served in a porcini mushroom sauce — evoked oohs and aahs from everyone.
"Vat eez een dis?" my mother asked.
After Francois explained what foie gras was, my parents didn't touch it.
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" Francois asked me. We went upstairs.
"Why won't your parents eat anything?" he asked.
"They love you, but this is a new adventure for them. Did I mention that they love you?"
Back downstairs, Francois went in the kitchen to make coffee. "Firoozeh!" he yelled. I ran into the kitchen. "Look!" he said, pointing to the Yule log which he had spent the entire previous day preparing. Marzipan mushrooms, chocolate holly leaves — looked OK to me.
"Look inside," Francois said.
That's when I noticed the mocha butter cream filling in the Yule log was missing two inches on each end. "Your parents ate this while we were upstairs, probably with their fingers," he said.
Francois cut off both ends of the Yule log and tossed them in the trash.
The Yule stump was the one part of the meal that my parents ate with gusto. "The inside is the best!" they told Francois.
"I know you like that part," Francois told them.
As we cleared the plates, my parents thanked Francois profusely. "Fransva, tank you so very much. Deh best Christmas ever, very best," my mother said, several times.
The Frenchman and I cleaned the kitchen while my parents sat on the sofa, admiring the Duraflame.
Francois took down the Armagnac from the cabinet. "I know your parents won't drink this, but pourquoi pas?" As he poured the drinks into tiny glasses, I heard, for the first time, the Frank Sinatra record that had been playing in the background the entire evening.
And then I heard my father's voice: "Why didn't you put the jam in your bag?"