Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookies

I've had the box since July. But I didn't open it. In fact, I drove back home to the boat from Chicago and immediately stored it out of sight and out of mind in my friend Captain Jeff's basement. But it wasn't out of  mind. It's been there, back there somewhere, I knew the day would come.

It was a dusty old box that had many generations of tape on it with her familiar chicken scratching handwriting cultivated from years of abuse at the hands of nuns who believed that lefties were evil. My son, dying to know what was inside as he shook it up and down and heard metal rattling, managed to decipher the letters and slowly sounded out the first word.

"C- C- OOOO. C-OOOO. K. IH. EH. Mama is that a blend?" I held my breath as I answered. "Yeah baby, I-E together at the end of a word says EEEEE." I was somewhere else. About sounding out age myself. My mind was swirling like the flour in the air as my little hands banged together with glee while she rolled out the dough.

Pull it together. "Cookie? Cookie!!", he squealed with delight. "A box of cookies, open it mama, open it!"
Not now. Not here.

I thanked Captain Jeff for keeping the box all these months and tucked it under my arm as we crunched on the carpet of brown leaves strewn across his lawn. I was ready for the box to come home. But I wasn't sure if I was ready to open it.

It sat again. Tape glistening in the sun out in the cockpit of the boat. It still didn't feel right. But then the rains came, and the box had to come in. And a small space like a boat is too cramped to share with a secret. So without much fanfare, while Zach and Doug were busy reading and I was mid-stream tidying up the boat I reached for the box and tore off the tape. The sound stopped The Amazing Adventures of Edward Tulane mid-sentence.  A little pair of hands found their way on top of mine in a nanosecond as we pulled back the soft flaps of cardboard.

The smell hit me first. Was it the smell of our old house? Or the smell of the metal? Or the smell of holidays being unpacked after an eternity in storage. It made me dizzy, not in a sick sort of way, but in a heady intoxicating way that made the room disappear as I spun through time and space through my nostrils.  The little hands brought me back, and the little voice woke me up. "Are we making cookies? Hooray!! COOKIES!"

The pile of my mom's old cookie cutters stared back at me from inside the box. It was as though she were looking back at me, and I was looking back at me from age 8 or 9 or so. They were bundled all together in a heap, but I knew them. I immediately knew the shapes and curves and even the flecks of rust that were waiting for me. They were the time she and I spent together. They were our hands touching in the floury mass of dough. They were the laughter as I sang songs and liberally poured out heaps of red sprinkles. They were the burned, skinny legs of the reindeer cookies I'd break off and munch when I thought she wasn't looking. They were her way of showing love.

My mom LOVED to be in the kitchen. That woman cooked and baked constantly even while holding down a full time job. She didn't just love to feed her family, she needed to do it. She stayed up nights making soups and lasagnas and berry purees and freezing them for us to eat when she couldn't be home to make it fresh. I guess the fact that I inherited 99% of her looks flip flopped and gave me about 1% of her personality. I can't stand being in the kitchen and I do it just to keep my family going and to bring up my boy in the most well rounded way I know how. But I was spoiled by fresh, home grown, hand made food so my home grown taste constantly wreaks havoc with my loathing of the process. I want all that goodness she gave me, I just don't want to be the one to make it.

But now I'm the mama. And I have the cookie cutters. And I have a little person who needs that goodness. We start to go through the box and sort them out. Zach is busy making the cat battle with the reindeer while I quietly finger the flower, the angel, and the tree. "Mama why are you crying? Did you cut your finger?"

"Mama is just remembering," Doug says softly.

Through the tears I realized the one thing I didn't remember was the recipe. My poor mama would do flip flops in her grave if I grabbed the pre-made sugar cookie blob from the grocery store. So I emailed my step-dad and asked, hoping he had it tucked away with her things somewhere. And as I typed the email I started to wonder how she did it. You see, she never had a mother. Her mama died, right in front of her, when she was 5 years old. She was raised by the maids and sent away to boarding schools. There was no family cookie tradition, no secret recipes passed down, no mother daughter moments for her to reflect upon. She started from scratch with me and often remarked that she believed I was the mother and she was the child because apparently I popped out of her womb acting in charge. Amazing. Amazing that she could come to a new country and in a new language start a new life as a new mama with absolutely no mama memories of her own to draw upon. And she did it with such love and grace.

And some help. The email came back from my step-dad a day later:
"You must be referring to the Butter Confekt cookies that my great-grandmother used to bake...
Here is the recipe.
Love,
Dad
"

She could have let the American tradition of baking holiday cookies overwhelm her. She could have tossed out the idea all together as too much of a stretch. She could have fretted at the lack of a recipe or cheated with the store bought dough. But my mama reached out, asked around for help, and got her hands on the best she could. A home made, wholesome, old time recipe passed down from generation to generation - while not in her own family - the family she was making now. And she made it happen.

These cookie cutters are it. I don't have any family heirlooms. I never had any tangible things to remember my mama by at all. But now I have these cookie cutters, and with them the reminder of what I do have. I have her calm, determination to make it work even if I have no idea what I am doing. So my boy and I are going to make cookies. And I may add a dash of salty tears to the butter and flour and sugar. But then his hands will touch mine in the soft dough, and my hand will help push his on the top of the cutters. And he'll pour sprinkles all over and munch off the burned reindeer legs. And the shape of a new generation of memories will form.

BUTTER CONFEKT COOKIES
5          eggs                             2-¼ C.            sugar
1 lb.     butter                           Grated rind of   lemon
¼ tsp    cream of tartar              7 to 8 C.          flour
½ tsp    salt
Ingredients should be at room temperature.  Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs and lemon rind.  Add two or three cups of the flour and then mix cream of tartar into the next cup.  Continue adding flour, changing to hand mixing when the dough gets stiff.  When about 7-1/2 cups have been added, collect the dough together, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  (It will keep there for several days.)

26 comments:

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

This is one of the most beautiful things I've read all year.

THANK YOU.

Erin J said...

What a beautiful, touching post. It brought tears as I read it.

Crystal HW said...

Holly was kind enough to leave a link to share your story on her blog. I was all teary eyed as I read this. THANKS for sharing. :0)

Martha♥ said...

A beautifully written and sentimental post. Thank you so much!

Michele Horne said...

My mother will be here this weekend and I have planned for her to spend Sunday baking with myself and my 3 daughters so that we can creat many memories like the ones I have of my mom baking when I was a little girl. It is such a great family pastime.

Amanda said...

Oh, so beautiful.

Sara Hernstrom said...

what a joy...what great memories. Thanks for sharing. I'm sitting here crying in my tea. Blessed Holidays to you and yours!

Cassandra said...

What a lovely story to share with us. I am rather foggy eyed right now. Love that mushy mama stuff, you know...

Behan said...

lovely, lovely, lovely!

thank you for sharing this part of your family...you are building such great traditions and memories.

hmm...maybe I'll dig our cookie cutters out later today- we managed to put a few on board, how can you skip cookies at the holidays?

Michele said...

You made me cry. I miss Martha and her cookies - but mostly I miss Martha. I can only imagine the laughter and joy that would have burst from every seam of her to have met and played with Zach. She would have been the BEST grandmother.

Laureen said...

Fabulous, my dear. Fabulous. I'm sitting here all choked up.

Susanna Joy said...

Oh, Cindy,
how precious. What a treasure those memories and experiences are, past and present.
What a lovely holiday memorial to your mom. {crying like a baby}

Bumpkin Bears said...

I just came across your blog and can so relate to your feelings. I too have lost my Mum and she was a wonderful baker, always making cookies and cakes. How truly special those cookies cutters are. I have a box of Christmas cake decorations that always take me back to baking with my Granny and Mum. Wishing you a Happy Christmas, Hugs, Catherine x

kelli said...

I haven't stopped in for a while but I'm so glad I did today. Precious post. Truly beautiful in every way.
My kids and I are staying with my parents for the holidays while my husband is in Iraq and there has been a lot of cookie making going on. I love watching my kids knowing they are making so much more than cookies -memories that will be with them forever.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and such a special recipe!)

Annette said...

This is an absolutely lovely post that had me crying. Thank you for sharing it.

Simple Mama said...

Sending you lots of love and light this holiday season. This was the most beautiful thing I've read in so long. I lost both of my parents by the time I was 26 - and before my son was born. There are so many times I wish I could ask them things...but especially around the holiday season.

MomCO3 said...

This is a beautiful post. May Zach hold these memories in the fabric of his being.

gardenmama said...

Dear Cindy,
Thank you for sharing such sweet memories with all of us. I feel so honored and blessed to have read this post. You know how much I connect to my grandparents through some of the smallest things they have left behind. It is in these memories that keep their spirits alive to us and to our children. Your mama is right there with you guiding your hand as you make shapes in the dough just as my nana and pa guided our hands as we hung their ornaments on our tree. You are a beautiful mama, my heart breaks reading this post but I am also so happy for you to have found this connection to your mama and for keeping the Butter Confekt cookie tradition alive. Your mama would be pround, proud. xoxo

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

What a bittersweet and heartfelt post...sitting here with tears and a smile on my face. I think those cookie cutters are the best heirlooms you could ever ask for. They are obviously so much more than just their forms.Actually they seem to be a perfect symbol for what you are writing about...giving shape and meaning to your memories and solidifying connections between your mother, your step-father, your son, yourself. Beautiful. Simple and so meaningful. May you and your son have many more wonderful holiday baking sessions together.

Christine said...

so beautifully written... And that is where you get your strength, just as your mother had with you. you're an amazing mother and i feel honored that you share your family recipe with us.

barefoot in gitchigumee said...

thats it, im crying and you should write a novel...all there is to it. warmth and love your way and the boy too;)

Little Lovables said...

I love hearing about your mother. So tender and sweet, thanks for this post and for spreading her legacy with the recipe. I strive to one day be able to create memories with my boys like this.

ohabbyreally said...

This was so beautiful, it made me cry as well. Thank you for sharing.

boatbaby said...

I want to thank each and every one of you for your sweet and supportive thoughts and words. It means so much to me that you'd take the time not just to stop in and read, but to share your comments. Thank you!

Diane, Evan and Maia said...

Hey Cindy,
I never read this last year, but it's beautiful. Have a wonderful time this week remembering Christmas's past and dreaming about those to come:)

Diane Carter said...

Damn I hate to lose people like your Mom. I console myself by thinking that I am lucky, I knew her, I basked in her essence. It's a blessing to know someone like Marta even when it is cut short too soon. Some are never so lucky.

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