Though I’ve had many, many lovely Christmases with my family, the best memories are from childhood. Isn’t that the way?
I remember Mom standing on the gray and red checkerboard kitchen floor in Nasonville and asking me, “Have you practiced your piece?”
My piece for the church Christmas pageant.
There in the kitchen, I read a piece of scripture from the new Testament over and over, night after night, until it was committed to memory. Then, on the designated evening, dressed in a beautiful new dress my mom had sewn for the occasion, in front of the entire congregation, I would regurgitate my little memorized bite of the story of the first Christmas.
A parade of us – small, clean, terrified speakers in sharp new outfits would do our thing. And then it was rhythm band time. We would be herded over to the choir box where we would pick up our designated instrument and play a medley of carols. Like most girls, I got stuck with the triangle. You had to be male to get your hands on a drum. I’m not bitter about that. Had I been allowed to drum, I might have been an 80’s rock star. Anyway. Just saying.
Anyway, that’s not the fond memory part. It’s the Christmas boxes we were given upon completion of a successful pageant. Each child received a small box – about the size of an animal cracker box – as we filed out the door. Inside was a selection of hard candy and Christmas peanuts. I don’t know why they were so, so much better than any peanut I’ve ever tasted since, but they were divine.
If I saw a Christmas box today, I’m sure my heart would flip anew.
Another memory also involved sugar but was not at all the actions of a Sunday School regular.
Christmas Eve my Mom and Dad, sister Beck and I would hop in the two-tone mustard Torino with our carefully wrapped treasures and drive over the hilly, bumpy, snow-covered Route 191 to Whitneyville. That was the way we did the holidays every year. Christmas Eve with Dad’s side of the family. Christmas at home. New Year’s Day with Mom’s side of the family in Eastport.
Oh, we had such a good time. And then the drive home! Quivering with excitement, wrapped in anticipation – we could hardly breathe there were so many things to think about. Sugar plums did indeed do a merry jig in our little noggins.
One Christmas Eve memory pays me a visit every year when I make cut-out cookies. On the years I’m really organized, I top them with royal icing. And I smile and I think, no matter how pretty they are, they’ll never come close to Aunt Betty’s cut-out cookies.
The year was probably 1972 or ‘73. I was very young, yet old enough to know better than to do what I did.
My cousin Troy and I were running all over his house, playing with toys, laughing, talking. Troy had great stuff. He had a green ride-on tractor that he always let me ride in warm months. Up and down up and down the driveway I would pedal. Wasn’t it fun to visit when we were little?! Did I worry I was dropping by at an inconvenient time? Did I wonder if they wanted to see me? Hell no! I was there to have a good time and I did!
So on this particular Christmas Eve, Troy ran up the stairs to the landing and said, “Come see!”
I tore up the stairs and there on the landing, as my memory tells it, were about five fold up tables, each one absolutely groaning with huge frosted Christmas cookies. Dozens and dozens of dazzling confections and not a grown up in sight. They were downstairs having coffee in the kitchen or some such thing.
Oh. (Insert reverent moment of silence here.)
“Help yourself,” or “Have some” …or something like that… said Troy.
I said something like, “Really?!!”
Now, I knew he hadn’t baked the cookies. And he probably hadn’t made the frosting, but it was his home and he was offering them to me and by God that was all the permission I needed.
Looking them over carefully, I made my selection, based no doubt on size and frosting density. One could call me a frosting aficionado, though I don’t like to brag.
When Handsome Supportive Husband and I go to a wedding or any cake occasion, I get my cake and most of the frosting off his piece. He doesn’t care for frosting. Can you believe that?! Anyway-
Troy was delighted that I was delighted, which was just like Troy. He liked to share. And he seemed happiest when everyone around him was happy. I don’t recall him eating even one.
“Have all you want,” he said. Or maybe it was, “Have another” or “Have more”.
Are other children like this? Once, while my mother was at the clothesline, I ate about a cup of Coffee Mate. I loved that stuff and Mom would allow me a teaspoon of it occasionally. A teaspoon. Well, she was out of the picture and the CoffeeMate was out on the sideboard and I took the opportunity to shovel spoonful after spoonful after spoonful of that heavenly powder down my gullet.
So, I ate cookie after cookie after cookie. Like any criminal worth his salt, I tell you I cannot recall now just how many I ate. It could have been four. It may have been ten. I do not recall.
I can taste the frosting now and recall the feel of it in my mouth with great clarity. Its the kind of frosting I call wedding cake frosting. Thick, sweet, with just the thinnest edge hardened. Oh, I was in heaven. Glorious, glorious Christmas cookie heaven.
Only recently did I confess this transgression to my sister Beck. She never knew. Mom never knew. Does Aunt Betty know? Later when she was loading her wares into cookie tins for delivery, did she come up short? At six, I had no such compunction.
Maybe its like when you plant a garden, you know you’re going to lose a certain amount to critters. Maybe seasoned bakers with small children over-bake to compensate for naughtiness.
I’m so thankful I wasn’t shamed for being a very poor guest. Thankful that my beautiful cookie moment with my generous cousin made it all these years.
In loving memory of my cousin Troy Reynolds.
Click the PLAY icon to listen to Gather Ye Cookies.