Every Christmas my Mom’s family gets together to bake holiday cookies. There are a few staples combined with rotating appearances, but one of the guaranteed productions is Gingerbread cut outs.
One of my earliest memories of this ritual is sitting around my Grandmother’s kitchen table decorating Gingerbread with my sister, Kirstin. Grandma mixed milk and powdered sugar in bowls with a few drops of food coloring. She pulled out the pink capped sprinkles and toothpicks. Armed with the necessary materials Kirstin and I went to work under minimal supervision decorating a myriad of snowmen, trees, Santas, reindeer, mini angels, and a few rogue pumpkins (I mean, why not?).
Kirstin is a freer spirit than I (you might recall her feelings on over planning) and promptly unscrewed the tops of sprinkles and DOUSED cookies in candied sugar while I carefully placed each one strategically so as to accomplish the most refined vision. Needless to say Kirstin’s decorating went along with a greater rapidity than my own at that time.
As we worked away in the dining room, my Mom, Grandmother and the baby of their family, my Aunt Christy, continued working on other items in the Kitchen. Aunt Christy would peek her head around to the dining room inspect our work and grinning she asked Kirstin to, “be sure to make one with red hots.” It was a bit of an ongoing joke that Aunt Christy would eat the cookies that Kirstin absolutely annihilated with red hots. For those of you unfamiliar red hots are the red spicy cinnamon hard candies that are typically used sparingly for say, a Rudolph nose. Kirstin saw them as more of a performance art opportunity. I can still hear Aunt Christy say, “It’s not that I love red hots, I just don’t mind them,” which for Kirstin was an open invitation to go cray-cray on a gingerbread tree with hard red candy.
As adults one Christmas, Kirstin was home over the holiday baking for the first time in many years – and we were all gathered at Aunt Christy’s house to do the annual baking. Aunt Christy’s own children were the ones charged with decorating, but Kirstin was providing the necessary oversight (she may have also just wanted to eat icing, some things you never out grow). Aunt Christy looked up from her work and said to Kirstin, “Make sure you make one with red hots for me,” winking and smiling. Kirstin set right to work. She uncapped the red hots and dumped them on a recently iced cookie.
Aunt Christy passed away this last winter and we weren’t able to get together and make cookies as we’ve done so many years before. I know Christy’s daughter made cookies with her paternal Grandma this year – which I’m glad for. But my Mom, My Grandma and Kirstin and I, we didn’t. And maybe we couldn’t. I know we will bake this coming year because we must, but it will be difficult to do without Aunt Christy there.
I share many things with the women in my family – unusually long fingers, rich tone of voice to the point people can’t tell us one from the other on the phone, and a firm kindness that leads us to contentedly participate in less than pleasant tasks (such as consuming a toddler dressed cookie of copious red hots). But perhaps most importantly we’ve shared many moments that are seemingly mundane, but rich in memory and connection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to throw flour and sprinkles and warmth around with my family each Winter season. Aunt Christy might not physically be there with us this year, but in every red hot and wink and grin – her spirit, her face and her voice are likely to peek out.
Rakastan sinua täti Christy. Kippis!