Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Color Wheel - December 2004

When I was small my parents had a light wheel that would shine red blue yellow red blue yellow over our stylish aluminum tree and the living room ceiling. The whole extended family that included my father and his six siblings always spent Christmas Eve at Uncle Ray’s and after we arrived home I would lie on the floor and gaze at the tree, all the presents, the ceiling. It was a peaceful, glad time in the midst of a chaotic, disheveled family. Within a few days we would be in Florida visiting my mother’s mother and Mom would have bummed the 20 dollar bill Uncle Ray had given me in a Christmas envelope.

That light wheel is long gone, but, to my delight, a several years ago my Aunt Deedee dug a similar one out of some cavern in her basement and gifted me with it like it was a holy family relic. And I am glad. My boys love it; Scott scorns it and deems it a fire hazard. I prefer to turn it on when the children are in bed. I lie on the couch and allow the past to visit me, which isn’t the least bit like remembering.

The same unbiddible fullness found me a few days ago when I felt compelled to make Christmas cookies. The boys and I had made the dough. It had chilled overnight for several days and there was nothing for it. It had to be done. We made one batch before dinner but I had to finish. I had already pulled out the little recipe booklet that Deedee complied for me just before the boys were born. Some recipe cards were typed, some were clipped, and some were in Deedee’s or Aunt Alice’s hand. It is always poignant to see their handwriting: Deed’s slanting… “Candy Cane Cookies” or Alice’s script just short of a tremor “Swedish Nut Balls”… But as I began making the little balls for Alice’s thumbprint cookies that “mixture of memory and desire” as T.S. Eliot described it, washed over me. I thought of the annual plates of mixed Christmas cookies that the three sisters, Deedee, Alene, and Alice, would miraculously produce each year for each family…Those little molassesy guys with the kiss in the middle, the powdery nut balls, and candy canes, the sand tarts, and ginger boys…the sugary bells and trees with the hard, little, silver cannonballs. I realize now that it was a Stukey-woman competition. My mom, a modern, Midwesterner, who has always thought that there aren’t many dishes that a little Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix couldn’t improve, never felt compelled to play.

As I rolled the sticky dough for sand tarts (with two almond slivers stuck in the middle) and scrutinized Deedee’s handwriting for clues to what she had written, I felt grateful for what we had in our extended family – as nosy, meddling, and financially interwoven as my father and his siblings all were in their grown-up lives. Only the fourth child, my Aunt Alene, who is still a feisty though failing 89, remains.

I feel grateful. So many people I know don’t have recipes and they grew up in neighborhoods with no extended family around. I grew up within walking distance of four houses where I was always welcomed unannounced at the dinner table. It’s only now that I have my children that I realize how rare that was and how rare is certainly is today. Most members of my family are nutty as fruitcakes, and not always in a charming, innocuous, way, but they’re mine and I’m theirs and it doesn’t pay to pretend it’s not true.

Today, Christmas Eve, is a busy day. My in-laws have already been here for brunch, our dear, dear friends the Soucy/Steinbergers and the Zoller/Richardsons are coming for an evening of grazing, scrabble, pinball(!), and non-stop talking between early church and late church. This afternoon Scott and I are still wrapping presents and our sons are, much to my shame, watching back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island we ordered from netflix.

But when everyone leaves tonight, I suspect the non-UL approved color wheel and I will have a little communion in the living room in front of the tree…and I know that for a little while I’ll remember what it feels like to be a Stukey from Stittville. And I think it’s safe to predict that some thumbprint cookies will be eaten and a little wine consumed.

Merry Christmas, friends. Thanks for trusting me with this Friday thing.

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