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The Magician

(by Jennifer Irwin)

Everything my mother Ellie did had a certain magical quality to it, but her greatest magic happened when she entertained. After she passed away, I realized that I was in charge of making the holiday magic and carrying on the family traditions, but I wasn't entirely clear what our traditions were. The only memory branded in my brain was to remain flexible because one never knew who would be at our table and what sort of food we might be eating.

Whether a guest at someone's home or hosting her own party, my mother was bigger than life—six feet tall with legs up to there and a wicked sense of humor. She was a flirt but never threatening to other women—it was her way of making everyone feel welcomed. At her funeral, at least ten women whom I had never met told me they were Ellie’s best friend.

Before guests arrived, Mom would send me outside to pick flowers and leafy branches from the yard. We’d make arrangements in tiny orange juice glasses to decorate the table. It was okay if the plates and napkins didn’t match because it was more eclectic and fun that way. The fo