Christmas is upon us, with the wonderful sights and scents and heightened emotion of this lovely season. No matter where or when, if I catch the scent of sugar cookies baking, I am taken back to the days of frosting Christmas cookies with my sisters while more of the rolled dough was being cut in to snowmen and stars and Santas, with even more baking in the oven.
My mother’s only brother lived in Florida, working at Cape Kennedy, and we eagerly awaited the box of Christmas cheer he would send to us every year. As the oranges were unpacked in our humble little kitchen, the sharp scent of citrus made our mouths water. We could barely wait for someone to peel the first one.
On another winter day before Christmas, we four little girls got to spend a day with our Aunt Marilyn, baking cookies and her secret recipe date nut bread in the old family home in which our dad was raised. For me, the biggest treat was getting to wear an apron, made by our dear aunt.
When I was told the reason she wanted me to wear an apron was that I was the youngest and most likely to spill things on my nice clothes, I decided that gave me free rein. Flour, frosting, powdered sugar and sprinkles — that apron could handle it all. I was in sugar-induced heaven!
Decorating the tree
In the days just before Dec. 25, we would find and cut a tree, one growing somewhere on our farm, and spend a fun evening decorating it with big, colorful light bulbs as large as my hand, and very old, delicate glass balls hung with needle-sharp wire hooks. Mom would bring freshly popped popcorn and a big bowl of cranberries, needle and thread, and help us get started stringing these to add color to the Christmas tree.
When we finished, we were treated to a rare and wonderful evening of hot chocolate, popcorn balls and Christmas cookies, all the lights turned off except for those on the tree. We sat on the floor and admired that beautifully decorated tree, always just a little bit more amazing than any we had ever seen.
Christmas, for us, was much more about tradition than gifts. Old socks were our Christmas stockings, and Santa only placed a few candy canes, an orange, a wrapped candy or two inside. I remember asking if Santa went all the way to Florida to get the oranges for us, because each one seemed just as fragrant as the ones Uncle Chuck sent us from the groves near his home.
“We will never know, because Santa is so magical he keeps a whole lot of his powers secret,” I remember my big sister telling me. “Just think of reindeer that can fly!” she said with her blue eyes wide with amazement just thinking about it.
Sleep would not come easily, excitement coursing through our veins, magical hopes that Santa would remember how hard we had worked, and what good little girls we had been. Before I drifted off to sleep, my heart hoped I had been good enough, even though it was suddenly worrisome that I had spilled lots of powdered sugar on my aunt’s clean kitchen floor.
Plus that one day, I took a sip of black coffee from my daddy’s cup even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, only to find out it tasted dreadful. But maybe I would still somehow be lucky enough to find a new doll baby under the tree for us in the morning.
I promised, silently, that if there was only one, we would share that doll baby without fighting. And if it would be possible that one baby bottle came along with that dolly? Oh, that would be heaven. Pure heaven.
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