Back in 1971, I was a broke college student. We were having a BIG Christmas with my family of seven plus our boyfriends, grandmothers, and a whole bunch of favorite cousins coming from Canada. I was frantic, knowing that there was no way I could afford to buy even cheap gifts for so many. So what was the solution? Make Christmas cookies.
I stayed up until six in the morning as it was the only way I could have the kitchen to myself. I made rolled anise cookies from six to eight inches long. For each person, I created a design that I thought was perfect. I remember I gave my brother Chris a guitar, brother Bill a tin soldier, sister Francie a golden trumpet, and my Grandma Borel, a big red heart. I think sister Celeste had a ballerina. Each was glazed with egg white mixed with food coloring which made vibrant enamel-like colors. I wrote names on little tags, made hangers of curled wrapping ribbon, and hung the cookies on the tree. All 18 of them. I sat alone in the front room admiring them for a quarter hour before I collapsed into bed.
There was only one thing I forgot.
Everyone would awaken Christmas morning and head straight to the celebration around the tree. They’d gleefully rip open presents, run to hug the givers, laugh, weep…all the while, their stomachs growling from hunger. Mom would make sourdough pancakes and bacon, but not right away.
Now I know what it must have been like in the 1930’s when locusts devastated the fields of Kansas. A roar erupted as siblings and cousins received the, “Okay, come on down!” from my parents. They thundered down the stairs and I ran to join them.
I guess I expected to see everyone standing mesmerized by the artistic magnificence of my night’s labor. Instead, all I saw was the quivering tree as a dozen pairs of hands grappled for the treats. Someone exclaimed, probably my Auntie Ann, “Why, aren’t these pretty?” But mostly, I heard crunching and munching. Horrified, I watched my grandmother nibble away at her cookie. The whole time, she was exclaiming, “Oh, this is so pretty! (Chomp) I really shouldn’t be eating this! (Chomp)…”
I stood frozen, doing everything I could with my twenty-year-old face to keep from crying.
I can’t remember if it was Mom or Dad, but one shouted, “Wait! Let’s at least look at them first! I distinctly remember the silence as the hoard stopped mid-bite. Whether it is my imagination wishing things had turned out differently or if it was real, I remember my siblings and cousins showing off their fancy cookies. Legs and heads were missing and Grandma held up one-third of a heart. I think the only whole one was the couple with their arms wrapped around each other. The one I made for my parents.
Yes, it’s become one of Mom’s favorite Christmas stories, but at the time, it was awful!
You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but I’m still making cookies and sending them to my family. That’s because there is one thing that is still the same as that very first night. While I’m covering the table with clean papers, creaming butter and brown sugar, and dabbing a spot of vanilla behind my ear (a trick from my Grandma Hedge) I imagine my brothers and sisters and parents and children and sweetheart around the table. I see my son Joey asking for “Heavenly Hash.” My brother-in-law Clay waits for chocolate chip cookies with pecans while Celeste, his wife, wants them without. Bill and Scott reach for peanut butter, as does Francie. Hot out of the oven. Plain, criss-crossed with a fork. Chris and Sharon, my daughter Amy, and Mom chomp on little pfefferneuse. Dad isn’t with us anymore, but his spirit is the only one that can really be with me. Every time I burn some a bit, I feel him leaning over my shoulder saying, “Save that one for me.”
I imagine my family way out in California, opening the packages. I can almost hear them exclaim gleefully, “They’re here! It’s Christmas now!” Then I know that they know that I love them.
That hasn’t changed from that first morning, either.
Merry Christmas, Everyone! Love, Cathy
©Catherine Hedge 2012