We have entered the second week of Advent. A time of waiting, anticipation, contemplation.
The nights grow ever longer, the cold ever stronger.
And we wait.
When I was a child, I always knew Christmas was drawing near when both my parents disappeared into the kitchen and the pots and pans started clanking and the smells started wafting throughout our home.
Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Allspice. Cloves.
These are the smells of Christmas.
Flaky crusted tourtiere. Mince tarts and lemon squares.
Christmas cakes soaking in a bath of rum.
Buttertarts and sugar cookies. Lemon loaves and fresh baked bread.
These are the tastes.
Both my parents loved to cook, and at Christmas they always outdid themselves.
Sometimes, they even competed.
One Christmas, when I was in my twenties, I flew from my home in Alberta to my parent’s home in Germany. I arrived at Frankfurt airport to be greeted by both my parents. Before the hugs and kisses were barely finished my father and mother handed me a plate with two buttertarts. Looking at them, they seemed identical. Light flaky pastry cooked to golden brown. Edges perfectly crimped.
“What’s this?” I asked. I had no idea the hellstorm I was about to unleash.
“We want you to decide,” my mother told me. “Which one is better? Your dad doesn’t put walnuts in. I do.”
I still don’t know what caused that year to become, The Great ButterTart Bake-off, but no matter how vehemently I insisted I thought they both looked perfect, and with or without walnuts was always a personal preference, they were adamant that I make a judgement.
I copped out.
I don’t like buttertarts I told them.
Yes you do my mother insisted.
And the war was on.
Me insisting I didn’t.
She insisting I did.
My father, quickly recognizing the state of affairs was close to bubbling over into a boiling mess of angry words and hurt feelings, bundled us up into the car for the 2 hour drive home. As we sped south on the Autobahn, my mother kept asking me to try the buttertarts. I kept refusing with a petulant, I don’t like them.
No matter the distance nor time between us, my mother and I still knew how to engage in our most dysfunctional patterns without even taking a bite out of the possibility of something different.
It was our way. From childhood to adulthood, my mother would ask me to do something ‘her way’. I would insist on doing it mine, regardless of where I was or whether I thought her way was a good idea, or not.
Neither my father nor my mother make buttertarts anymore. My father passed away 20 years ago and my mother no longer has a kitchen. She lives in a lodge where meals are served and cooking by residents is not on the menu. Plus, at 94, her arthritic fingers cannot hold a rolling pin nor take the pain of cutting out the little pastry shells for the tarts.
I miss the smells of Christmas that permeated our home when I was growing up. The busyness in the kitchen. My father rattling pans, my mother cleaning up after him. I miss the lemon loaves and cherry cakes, the gingerbread men and shortbread cookies. And most of all, I miss my mother’s buttertarts. Because, even though my father’s were good, I prefer my buttertarts with walnuts.