making cookies with my babies5:18 PM
As some of you know we moved to America in late December of 1998. It couldn't have been a more perfect time of year to move. We arrived in Wisconsin the land of farms and cheese and a fresh dumping of snow. Oh how the homes sparkled, how the Christmas music all around made my heart fly and filled me with cheer. I never wanted it to end and at the same time I couldn't get enough!
We moved into a small 1960s ranch home and made do with what we could find amongst the ten duffle bags we brought with us. We were sleeping on inflatable mattresses and my parents scrounged up some money for a tree and two strings of lights. It wasn't much but it was still wonderful and magical to me. We weren't expecting presents and there was no big hullabaloo over Christmas eve so when we heard a knock on the door Christmas morning we were completely surprised!
The morning was bright and frigid and on our porch were two of my father's new parishioners - a husband and wife. With them they had a huge tray of Christmas cookies and a box of meat that they generously shared from their own farm. Their kind and thoughtful gifts brought us to tears, we just weren't expecting anything at all. I'll never forget it - the way they looked bouncing from foot to foot in the cold all bundled up, the gorgeous array of dozens of cookies and the box full of meat carefully wrapped in parchment paper.
Over the years we grew to know and love this family. They lived in an old 1920s farmhouse with their four children and animals. They had a few cows, a handful of chickens, two goats and every spring a new litter of kittens. They were salt of the earth folk - kind, down to earth, generous, loving and warm. The days I spent with them at their home are still some of my favorite memories. But I especially loved watching the mother around Christmastime. Every year a week or so before Christmas she would get to work - dusting off decade old recipes stained with vanilla and fraying at the edges. Then for hours she would mix, roll, cut and decorate until every flat surface of their home was covered in cookies. Nightfall would come and she would select a dozen or so for their family, arrange them in some old cookie tins and place them on top of the fridge. Then the children and occasionally myself, would join her in arranging the rest of the cookies on trays, wrapping them in festive plastic wrap and topping each tray off with a bow.
The day before Christmas, or occasionally on Christmas day, she and her husband would drive around town delivering these works of art to friends and family.
I don't think I ever saw her take a bite of one cookie. It was never for her. Instead her eyes would fill with delight when she would see someone enjoying the work of her labor. She would light up when someone would ring that old green house phone to tell her just how wonderful the snickerdoodles were this year or that their granddaughter ate all the peanut butter blossoms in one sitting. In the age of gift cards and black fridays and fist fights over slow cookers it's so nice to think that somewhere in Wisconsin, to this day, a sweet lady is working all day long to make something seemingly simple but from the heart.
She taught me such a big lesson about giving, generosity and selflessness. And she lit a spark in me to continue this tradition in my life as well. So ever since I turned sixteen I have been spending countless hours baking my own cookie trays. I've baked late into the night. I've frosted tray after tray of cookies on the sofa because my feet have given out. I've burned myself and thrown out pounds of cookie dough. I've fretted over recipes and made who knows how many trips to the grocery store because I forgot vanilla, milk or brown sugar. But it's never felt like a burden and I never, ever dread it. In fact it's something I look forward to all year long. And it all becomes instantly worth it the moment I hear the first mmmm.... after someone takes a bite.