December 24, 2009

The Long Conversations over Christmas Cookies

Last night, over a failed batch of my Grandma Edith's 1-2-3 Cookies, my sister and I spent our night on the phone. I'd called to see what was wrong with the recipe my mom dictated an hour earlier. Somehow, after Edith's passing, my mom, the one who doesn't bake and doesn't really like to cook, hung on to Grandmother's recipes and gave her Treasured Burgundy Binder to my sister. The binder is something that would have been purchased at a Five & Dime in the day, its about 5 x 7 and filled with loose leaf lined paper. All the very treasured recipes are there. Green Pepper Egg Foo Young, Toffee Bars, Mrs. Blethen's French Dressing, all that she served as we grew up. She must have created it over the years and brought it with her when she moved from the mid-west.
Each recipe is written in Grandma Edith's beautiful cursive, flowing in the Palmer Method,  in fountain ink - mid-blue, from her Parker 51. I inherited a love for the fountain pen from her. (And a Parker 51.) But the style is uniquely her own and a constant in our lives. She wrote hundreds of cards and notes in this lovely hand and we new the curve of every letter, my sister and I. Last night when I opened the 1950's Mirro Cookie Press to make the 1-2-3's, I found a note she'd undoubtedly written to Mom: "Darling's, think of Mother when you use this,  Mother." Uniquely Grandma.
The note has faded from her Azure Blue to a deep midnight and the paper yellowed, but Grandma was there for a few minutes. No doubt she too, wondered what I'd done to the recipe.
My sister quickly identified the mistake, I'd only used one stick of butter, when two were called for. Each is a quarter pound. I'd momentarily lapsed. So the sandy dough, the one gone wrong,  will be used for something else and I moved on to my other grandmother's Orange Meltaway cookies. As I was working. My sister and I just continued to talk. We covered much, kids and cookies and our mother, our grandmother and each other. Familiar, comfortable and uncomfortable things.
My sister and I talk just about every day, touching base, sharing points of view. But this conversation went beyond that and meandered in the history of our family and into the nighttime words in the room we shared and even into the tradition of baking cookies for friends and neighbors with Grandma at Christmas. She never knew that  Grandma's Toffee Bars were my personal favorites and faxed the recipe as we talked. And I never knew she liked the Date Balls best. We both rummaged for the recipe which is noted in the Burgundy Binder, as being found on Page 31 of the Bethany Union Church Cookbook. We immediately called Mom to obtained the precious directions but Mom, who redid her kitchen 10 or so years ago couldn't put her hand on the book and wasn't really willing to get up on a ladder to go through the cook book area. (Recall, this is the mother who doesn't like to bake or cook so these are relics of the past, not treasured friends she touches often.)
This experience lead to the return to our fat-chewing about the holes in our upbringing which lead us back to the thing that's so very important and comes out in the long conversations - the bonds of love. Somehow, when we keep going - discovering, recovering, uncovering and returning - we remember just why we want to talk so very long. It's nice. Lovely and nice and sweet and really, even if it starts with failed cookies, it's about the person we know will be willing to help us get where we want to be, now or much later, because of the thing that unites all things, and us: Love. It's often found in the long conversations.

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