I Took A Bite of Memory

I took a bite of memory yesterday. It slid across my lips and landed on my tongue full of tantalizing reminders of Christmases past.

It took me back. Back to my early teens. We are living in a white house with a big Chestnut tree in the middle of the front driveway. The deck overlooked the garden and then the city below. The drive backed onto a hillside that took you up into the vineyards that dotted the edges of the Black Forest town in which we lived.  

Inside, the house is full of the smells and sounds of Christmas. My father is baking in the kitchen. Christmas music playing. Loud.

My sister, Anne, and I are squabbling over whose turn it is to vacuum and whose turn to clean the bathroom.

My mother is fluttering around, trying to keep dad’s dishes to a minimum and desperately trying to admonish Anne and I to ‘quit fighting’ and get to work.

My brother is wafting in and out from his room. Like a prince holding court, he stands (forever) in front of the full-length mirror in the front hallway trying to determine between blue shirt, white shirt or maybe a sweater? In the middle of turning this way and that, he asks Anne and me what we think of what ever he is wearing.

We roll our eyes and say, in unison, “Whichever”, and pretend to go back to doing our jobs.

It was our way, we’d placate our brother and then whine together, like co-conspirators in a bad spy movie, about how he always got to go out and do whatever he wanted while we had to do all the work around the house. Sometimes, if we got the tone and attitude just right, he’d think we were talking about him and pester us with questions. “What’d you say?” “What? You think I should go with the sweater?” “There’s nothing wrong with my hair today, right?”  We’d tell him we weren’t even talking about him and scurry off to get our jobs done so we could go meet our friends.

If high-fives had been a ‘thing’ in those days we’d have worn our palms out.

And through it all, my father would be bustling around the kitchen, elbow deep in flour and sugar and everything nice to make one of his many baked Christmas delicacies.

Yesterday, I took a bite of a piece of Stollen. I’d picked it up that morning fresh from the bakers and was transported back to those days long ago..

My father’s Stollen were home baked. It was his way. The kitchen was his domain during the holidays. And while deliciousness was his ethic, excess was his trademark.

In later years, when I was living in Canada and my parents had not yet moved back from Europe, my dad would parcel up a huge box of Christmas goodies and have them delivered by airmail to my front door.

That box came full of his loving hands spicing up every bite and, my mother’s hands too. Because, while the production of so many culinary delights was my dad’s purview, making it all look pretty was my mother’s gift. She shared it well.

Butter tarts. Tins of many different cookies. Pound cakes. Christmas cake.  All wrapped up in crinkly bows. Pretty, sparkly papers around each cake. Cheery tins of laughing Santas and elves and trees all dressed up in Christmas finery. It was a gastronomic and pictorial odyssey.

There was something for everyone in that box. Chocolates for my daughters. A treat for the dog. And always, wrapped in a piece of cheese cloth covered with wax paper, tin foil and red wrapping paper, there was a Stollen. Waiting to be devoured.

I took a bite of memory yesterday.

It tasted good in my heart.

Let It Be And Love Will Have Its Way

For several days now, the Beatles iconic hit, Let It Be, has been playing through my mind.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

When I chatted with both my sisters yesterday we talked about how this is our first Christmas without mom. And, though her arthritis had made it too painful for her to make the journey to join us at our Christmas dinner table, she was always present.

My mother loved Christmas. In her 80s, living alone in a one-bedroom apartment, she would spend days decorating it up with boughs and bows, glitter and glitz. Garlands of fir, poinsettias, stars and angels graced every surface.

And always, her small Christmas tree was placed on a table visible from every corner of the living room. And Mary and Joseph and all the animals were placed in the manger in the middle of her sideboard. Of course, just as when I was a child, the baby Jesus would not be amongst them. At least not until Christmas eve when, as if by magic, we’d return home from midnight mass and there he’d be, lying peacefully on the straw, surrounded by his tiny family of Mary, Joseph, the animals and the three Kings.

He was only a small clay infant swaddled in a white cloth but he held such magic for me.

Of course, Santa would also have paid a visit while we were out so after a cursory check to make sure the baby was safely tucked into his place of honour, I’d run off to join my siblings in “The Great Christmas Present Opening Mayhem”.

What I remember most about my mom in those bygone Christmases is how she never sat down when we got home from midnight mass. While the rest of us raced in to check out what had appeared under the tree, she’d head straight to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on ‘Le Réveillon de Noël’, our post-midnight feast. And to wrap some last-minute gifts because, inevitably, my father would have invited friends from church to join in the festivities. And in my mother’s house, no one ever left empty-handed.

While we kids tore into the gift-laden tree, my father would pour drinks and mum would glide in and out of the room carrying platters of mince tarts and deviled eggs and cheeses. By 1am, I’d be yawning and trying desperately to keep my eyes open as the Tourtière was carried in.

And the eating and drinking would get down to business as I sleepily watched the mayhem unfolding around me.

I think it is the mayhem I miss.

The comings and goings, the toing’s and froing’s of getting ready for Christmas throughout the month. And, of course, the staying out of trouble to stay on the ‘good’ side of Santa’s list.

Staying on the ‘good’ side of Santa’s list was a struggle for me as a child. But in December, without my mother’s eagle eyes watching my every move and with my siblings equally as excited about Santa’s visit, (which gave them less opportunity to tattle on me) it seemed easier to stay out of trouble – though as the youngest of four whose nickname was, “The Brat”, getting into trouble came too easily to me. At least, that’s what my mother told me.

But at Christmastime, she was so busy shopping and cooking and decorating and wrapping gifts and volunteering at the church, she didn’t have as much time to notice when I wasn’t behaving ‘like the others’, which was her most frequent request of me.

Even as a child, that one confused me. “How could I be like the others if I was going to be me?” I’d ask her, innocently enough (at least in the beginning) but, as the years went on and her desire for me to ‘be like the others’ remained just as strong, my question became more of a ‘poke’ than innocent curiosity.

Eventually, with my mother’s repeated requests that I just ‘Let it be’ so she could have some peace, I learned to poke less. And though it never meant my mother and I had an easy relationship, it did mean I quit searching for my answers in her and started looking for them in me.

Sometimes, to find our answers we must let grace open our hearts so that we can find peace with the unknown.

The heart always knows.

And sometimes, all the heart wants is for us to “Let It Be” so that Love can have its way.

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And… just in case it’s been a while since you watched or listened to the version of Let It Be from one of my all-time favourite movies, Across the Universe, I’m sharing it here.