Snickerdoodles, chocolate drop peanut butter, sugar cookie angels, gingerbread men. Flour dusting my cheeks, the oven warming my back. I think of you, Grandma. I remember you, Aunt Sandy. I use your recipe, Momma. And I talk as I go, slow and repetitive. “Grandma Leona always made sure that the butter was well blended. Do you know why?” She shakes her haystack hair, licking flour from her fingers. He copies his best friend, shakes his head and laps up the powder. “It makes the batter rise better, so he cookies look nicer and taste good all the way through.” They do or don’t hear me, but they wear their tiny aprons, pull their fingers through the flour and make little wet snail tracks on the counter.
We dip into potholes our car almost can’t withstand. They bump up and down in the back seats, putting their hands in the air and wailing. Making a roller coaster out of a car ride. We walk the rows of short, tall, fat, pokey, fluffy, sparse, pines, nobles and firs. They put curious noses to the needles. He cries when a particularly needled spruce pokes his nose. “Grandpa loved to cut down his own tree. He’d bring his own saw, get underneath it in his gardener’s overalls. He grimace and grunt, but he’d always come up smiling as it fell down. I think he always wanted to be a lumberjack.” The kids like the word lumberjack and sing a song about it. I wonder if they heard the other part, the part about a father I loved, a grandpa they will never know.
We sing songs loudly as we decorate the tree, stringing lights to old Christmas carols. And I can smell the cinnamon candles, the hot cocoa. I can feel the chill of a winter snow. I look out the window and expect to see the fresh, heavy mush of December in Illinois. But all I see is Evergreen. Because I live in the Northwest, now, not the Midwest. But I can feel my siblings, my mother, my step-father, when I hang my old decorations on the tree.
I attempt to sew my children pajama pants, but I’ve cut the pattern all wrong. The bobbin spins free of the machine like a mischievous toddler, every time I touch the pedal. Tears sprinkle my cheeks because I wanted to offer my children the comfort of brand new cotton, stitched by hand. We didn’t have a lot of money but we always had brand new pajama bottoms, and a mother who found the time to fit so much love into our lives.
My cousin shares a post of a recipe in a scrawl quick and messy. I remember the grocery lists we’d read to you, squinting to make out your words. And I sob uncontrollably. More than I sobbed when I heard that you left us forever because my emotions are stupid and they have chosen today to work. I could make those waffles, the sweet sour cream, the dripping syrup, the chewy heaviness of Christmas Eve. I could make your tradition stand, Aunt Sandy, even this far away.
All I have to do is remember and try. And try to remember what made me understand my worth. You all worked it into the meals you cooked, the trees you picked, the crust you made, the way you looked at me to make sure my eyes followed your process, soaked in your words. You remembered, and you made me remember. And tradition is just remembering, after all.
It’s why I have seasonal joy and seasonal sadness. I know not every person has this joy. I know some people have no memories of moments packed with love. That makes me sad. Sadder than I feel today, missing the wonderful people in my life who have passed away. Because the times they come back, the time they took to create in me the memories worth sharing have brought me back from the brink. I always have my memories. And they always save me.
H.M. Jones is the author of the B.R.A.G Medallion book Monochrome, as well as the short stories “The Light Storm of 2015” and “Tiptoe Through Time.” Her poetry is scattered all over the place, as are her blogs. But all of her writing is infused with memory, not all of them hers. Follow her on Twitter @HMJonesWrites, Facebook or her website.