Growing up, we weren’t allowed to sing “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat” because it reminded my mother that her father (my Pop-Pop) was getting old. So we had to sing “good man” instead of “old man” to keep her from being depressed about it.
I’m not sure what it is that is making me think of all these things during this week between Christmas and New Year. Maybe it’s because of our kitty, Peanut, dying too early. Maybe it’s because Simon broke an ornament that my mother made, and now she’s gone and can’t fix it. Maybe it’s because Patrick won me a present from Sideshow Collectibles that reminds me of Victor and presents he gave me for Christmas, and Victor is gone, too. Maybe it was the potential for the end of the world on the 21st. Maybe it’s because I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and somehow, all that stuff relates.
Especially now, when it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m baking a quick double batch of chocolate chip cookies for Patrick and Simon to have while I’m gone because tomorrow morning I start my drive to Tampa for the second residency of my MFA in Creative Writing. And as I’m baking the cookies, I thought about how many cookies I baked for Christmas. And how I’ve now involved my neighbor’s daughter in them, and she loves doing them, and I have to teach her how to bake them. Which reminded me of when I learned to make Christmas cookies.
I think I was 12 the first year I made Christmas cookies. My grandmother – Nanny – had always made the Christmas cookies. She made more than a dozen different kinds, started them in late November, and stored them in tins (real metal tins, not the plastic ones you buy at Wal-Mart nowadays) on the top shelves of her pantry, which I only remember as being big, dark, and cool, and it had a huge hook with hundreds of re-usable bags from different stores. She had the time to bake them, in between cleaning house and taking care of my uncle, Victor, who lived there, and my grandfather, Pop-Pop, who was often hiding in the basement, building things.
Nanny had arthritis, and she decided she was not able to make the cookies that year. So she sent down her cookie cutters and her cookie cook book. And suddenly it was my job to make the cookies. I had no idea how to make them; she didn’t sit down and teach me. She just assumed, and rightfully so, that I could figure it out. But it was a lot of trial and error. All that I knew about the cookies were how they looked at the end. The rest of it was one big mystery. But I tried, and I tried, and I tried…and after a few years, I had the right idea.
Now, every year, I make Christmas cookies. And I have to say, they come out pretty damn good. But this year, I got an additional challenge that I haven’t tackled yet.
One day, not long after the tree got put up, we heard this noise. Kind of a cracking noise, like plastic being stepped on or a piece of something being snapped. Since Simon, like any other ten year old, tends to break the more fragile of toys, we rushed out to the living room and looked around. He said, “It’s broken,” but he says that all the time, and he couldn’t point to what was broken. Whatever it was, we figured, it wasn’t important.
But then I was staring at the tree one day, and I realized that one of the ornaments that my mother had crocheted was no longer hanging right. It had been a ball. Now it was more of an oval. Or a football. Either way, it wasn’t good. Apparently Simon had been playing with it, maybe squeezing it, since he loves to squeeze things, and obviously the plastic globe was finally old enough to snap under the pressure. None of it had fallen out, but it had collapsed. And there’s no way to just put another plastic bulb in there.
I came up with a solution, though. Knowing what I know, just from being around my mother all those years while she did the creative stuff and I typed up the instructions she wrote out longhand, I decided that what I would do is carefully remove the broken plastic and blow up a small balloon in the middle. Then I could starch the crochet ball around it, and once it had hardened, I could pop the balloon and pull it out.
I haven’t done it yet, though. It’s a good plan. On paper. Or in my mind. But I’m not sure it will play out quite the way I planned it.
So maybe that’s another reason why I’m having this blog about reminiscences. Maybe the broken ornament is all it took to remind me of what I was missing and what has been lost over the years.