If there is one recipe that I wish I could replicate with perfection, it would be my Grandma’s sugar cookies. Every year, when it comes time to “Hauling out the Holly”, I inevitably find myself thumbing through my Grandmother’s recipe box to retrieve the handwritten recipe of her infamous sugar cookies. Printed above, in shorthand, is the recipe, written in what seems to be haste, as she didn’t need the expanded instructions. This is a recipe that she could likely execute in her sleep. Years have gone by since my Grandmother’s passing and without the ability to ask her advice, I stumble along each year trying my best to recreate her “Christmas magic”. Some years I get closer than others in texture and flavor. It’s always fun trying and it keeps her memory alive and with me during the holiday season.
My Grandmother was a foster mother in the 70’s and 80’s and was known to many kids as “Mom”. When Christmas rolled around, my Grandmother often single handedly pulled off the magic and miracle of Christmas, not only the grandchildren in her life, but for her foster kids as well. Looking back now as an adult and remembering these special times, I get a little emotional at the love and work that was interwoven into each Christmas that passed at her home.
My Grandmother often had 15-17 foster kids in her care at one time. The regulations were very different back then and her home was always full of children from toddlers to teens. She lived in Florida and had a backyard with a pool and a small playground where hours were passed playing there. She also had a large playroom that was connected to the side of her home for when it stormed and we all needed to come inside for our safety. My sister and I lived behind her home until we moved when I was around six or seven years old. We stilled visited in the the Summers for an extended time, but Christmases were often spent in North Carolina after we moved away. The times spent at Grandmas were always a bit magical and my sister and I came to know many of the foster kids. Some were like cousins to us because they were with my grandmother for a few years and we had formed relationships with them. I still remember many of their names: Danny, Donna, Martha, Rosemary, Star, Kenny, Jimmy, Leroy, etc. Some of her foster children remained in contact with my grandmother even into their adult years.
When Christmas rolled around each year, I can vividly remember my Grandmother in her kitchen, forever baking, which was in the center of her home. Nearly every room lead to the kitchen and it had an opening where she could remain cooking, but still keep an eye on the kids in the living room. Every year my grandmother would fix 12 dozen, sugar cookies, and some years even more!! She would take up the space of the entire table and counters to place the cookies for cooling in preparation for icing and decorating them. And then she would sit down with her foster kids and many of her grandkids and decorate the cookies. It was a sight to be seen! What is even more amazing to me is after she moved to Tennessee to be closer to my mother and her great grandchildren, she continued the tradition of baking sugar cookies, ever single year for them. More than likely, she was decorating the sugar cookies for her great grandkids the year she passed away. The last Christmas I spent with her, I decorated a few cookies with her. If there is one space and time I could return to, it would be to sit with my grandmother once more and really be present in the magic she baked up with her sugar cookies. She probably never knew how much we loved her cookies and how they are part of her legacy of love. Inevitably every year, her sugar cookies are mentioned and someone laments how we can “never get them just like hers!”
Christmas morning was also a time of delight and magic at my grandmothers. She had a fenced in patio outside her home, and each year as my feet grew, I got a new pair of roller skates. So, did all the other kids! We also got dolls, art sets, coloring books, games, lite brights, slinkies, etc. Because she had so many kids in her home at one time, I kid you not, the presents were stacked as high as the Christmas tree and spilled out onto the floor. Everyone got gifts from Santa and the foster kids were shown the same love as her grandchildren. To all of us, it was pure magic! I regret never asking her as an adult how the heck she accomplished such a feat! Was it some of my Aunts, like Terri or Glena, who lived in the area, or my Mom, who assisted her in this yearly spectacular event? All the wrapping and stacking of the gifts? The elves were definitely busy at work, but who were the elves? Surely, it would be nearly impossible to pull off on her own! No less, every year she pulled off Christmas for a house full of nearly 20 kids and she was just the kind of person to not only “get the job done”, but revel in it. My heart swells thinking of the children she touched by giving them a normal and joyful Christmas.
And, so, today I will try again, Grandma, to make your sugar cookies. I will have in my hand the very recipe card that you one day sat down and so hurriedly wrote. And while I kneed the dough and roll it out, I will think of the work of your hands. I will remember you giving me instructions when I was a small young girl eager to help: “Let’s make the bells yellow! Use the red icing for Santa’s pants and here is black icing for his belt! The Stars can be yellow too and the Snowflakes, let’s do them in blue!”. And I wonder to myself now, how many people you have inspired to make sugar cookies! I’d give anything to sit down and decorate your cookies with you again. But, since I physically cannot, you will be with me today in thought and in spirit. I can’t wait to see how they turn out this year. God bless you Grandma for the special times and memories you have created. You are forever in my heart!
Hope your season is full of merriment and magic! Sometimes the greatest joy is felt in the smallest of things, like the simple goodness of a sugar cookie!