No, I did not fall off the face of the earth. I am just December busy. Thing 3 turned 13, converting me into the mother of three teenagers. I can hear the sound of my mother rubbing her hands together in glee from five thousand miles away. Thing 3 has been a teenager since the age of one, however, so this is not new. At her first birthday party/Christmas open house, she toddled around the living room sticking her finger into shot glasses of tequila and sucking it off. She liked it. She could also paint her nails tidily at eighteen months. As Maggie O’Montes said at the time, “That one is going to give you a run for your money.” Indeed.
Thing 3, however, is the only child of mine who actually helps out in the kitchen, making dozens of cookies with me. That I am paying her is besides the point (remember: run for your money). She is there.
This Christmas we are staying in Spain. In October I heard a sermon in Baltimore wherein the pastor advised throwing a party to get out of the communal gloom. So I am throwing several: a cocktail party for neighbors, church folk, and book club members; a coffee for women in the area; and a storybook party for children. Believe me when I say that I know how daunting this is, three parties in December, with minimal household help. All that food! Drink! Paper napkins! But this is something I knew I had to do: I am good at parties.
Cookie making is a December activity, one I have not done for several years as I was traveling to the US for the holidays. I woke up this morning thinking of two women who greatly influenced my life and who always made my Christmases wonderful as a child. My mother always freaked out about Christmas, the equity of the gifts, the food, making sure my father had a nice pre-Christmas birthday. The Christmas tree selection was always an ordeal. Christmas for these women was not an ordeal, it was a natural extension of themselves. Nana, a grandmother and baker extraordinaire, had lots of time to bake. The other woman, Mrs. McDowell, had no children and had been a teacher; her saturation point for children was pretty high.
Nana lived across the hall in an apartment building from my parents. Both new to Hippieville, Nana took my mother, very pregnant with me, under her wing. She was, aside from my parents, among the first to see my face. Nana knitted all of our Christmas stockings. (Although the rest of my family has needlepointed stockings, mine stands alone and will never be replaced. I know what an act of love it is to make someone a stocking). She baked cookies out the ying-yang in December: shortbread, Mexican wedding cakes, sprinkled sugar cookies, fudge, fruitcake, spritzed gems. When I was older she let me help her make cookies in her blue and white kitchen, instructing me on how to roll the dough evenly. Right before Christmas she would invite us over for tea and cookies. My sisters and I would play with her toys set out on the coffee table. Nana gave each of us an ornament and sent my mother home with two plates of cookies – one for general consumption and one as a birthday gift for my dad.
Mrs. McDowell lived in our neighborhood. Every Christmas Eve we would walk up to her house where she had put on a cookie spread for a few families. Punch and coffee were set out on a separate table. She, too, was a baker extraordinaire. A petite woman with a puffy pompadour that looked a cloud and a set of the bluest twinkling eyes, she was Mrs. Claus embodied. As a child, she read me many books over the years. She had time for children.
I am not the baker these women were. My mother is a cook, not a baker, and cookie baking is an art that, I believe, is passed down. But to honor them, I really try. Bea Long gave me her mother-in-law’s sugar cookie recipe; after years of searching, it is the closest to Nana’s I’ve ever found, a mouthful of Christmas. The patience that goes with it is also a gift. As I show Thing 3 how to roll out the dough, I am reminded that I am eternally short of it and resolve to do better. How else will my grandchildren eat Christmas cookies????
After a lifetime of pondering, I finally realized my goal in life is to be a grandma. It’s that simple. I will only have to discipline on occasion and perhaps by then will have perfected a stable of cookie recipes. My bosom and lap will be suitably ample for children climb up on. The big house will smell good and be chock full of interesting items for them to break. There will be toys on the coffee table and, if my eye sight holds, a needlepointed Christmas stocking for each child. (First, however, I have to finish Thing 3’s).
So, dear readers, go make a batch of cookies with your kids and invite the neighbors over. Ignore the dust bunnies in the corner, the boxes that still need to be put in the garage. Read a Christmas story together. Slow down. The gifts don’t last but the memories linger forever.
Thanks to Lulu Powers’ Food to Flowers cookbook for turning me into the little engine that could! An inspiration for Go With the Flow entertaining! Thanks also to my father for reminding me to write. I promise to write about Thanksgiving in Sevilla soon!