Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Tale of the Christmas Cookies, or, Anything You Can Do I Used To Do Better

Ah, Christmas.

It's my favorite time of year. No, really. As a Christmas baby (Dec. 22nd), Christmas is my middle name (Kimberly
Noel). And nothing warms my heart more than combining my two great loves - Christmas and baking. Hence, Christmas cookies. I tend to bake twelve or so dozen of them, sticking to a basic three (cut-outs, chocolate chip, and raspberry turnovers) and then picking a few interesting things for variety. This year it was rugelach pinwheels, flourless chocolate walnut, and Linzer cookies. I take this seriously. I start preparations weeks in advance, and bake with the mental focus of a professional chess player.

Granny used to bake. Used To. And she won't let me forget it. And I am a captive prisoner to her baking stories while I use her kitchen to make cookies.

Did you hear the one about how, when my Aunt Rose moved to California something like twenty-seven years ago, my grandmother baked some kind of Italian chocolate-grape jelly concoction and sent them to her? Like three hundred of them? You didn't hear that one? Because I have. Ten times.

Did you hear the one about Minnie down the street, you know Minnie, her husband still has the diarrhea, how she bakes all those Italian cookies? No?

How Granny always carried her cookies in a specific basket when taking them anywhere? And I should really use it, since she still has it? Haven't heard that one?

And how they used to have tasting parties at Home Bureau, and there were like sixty ladies there, but no more because the fire department wouldn't let any more in the building?

My professional chess player concentration is faltering. AND THAT WAS HER EVIL PLAN ALL ALONG.

Because you see, she can't stand that I can do it and she can't. And that I don't do it exactly like she did. Nevermind that there is a fifty-five year age difference between us. This is a competition folks, one I never asked to be in. Granny is the very definition of frenemy.

Eventually she will take a different tack. "Why are you baking all those cookies?" she will ask in a stricken voice. "Who's going to eat them?" She will do the same thing on the morning of Christmas Eve, when I make a broccoli casserole. "Who's going tho eat that?" she just about screams at me. Now, I can assure you that my family has never thrown away a Christmas cookie or leftovers, so, again, the competitor is back.

But the funniest part is this: She won't eat the cookies, even though she desperately wants to eat the cookies. Now if Minnie down the street (George still has the diarrhea, BTW) brings her a plate of cookies, I never hear the end of it, about how incredibly tasty they were. For days, hundreds of cookies resided in her kitchen, untouched. I took them to my mother's for Christmas Eve. When my Aunt El showed up with my grandmother, she pulled me aside and said "She was panicked over what happened to the cookies".

"Well, they're all here..."

"I know. She brought her own container to take some back home in."

I Don't Want To Get Old and Afraid

Ask anyone how long they want to live and how they want to die and most will give you the same answer. "Until I'm 100 and I want to die at home". I think these people had grandparents that dropped dead at 40 or so, because if you see what 91 looks like up close I think you would reconsider. Oh sure, you always get that 95 year old on the news who just swam the English Channel, but that's the big exception to the rule. Just this Sunday, the New York Times outlined how most elderly and some terminally ill people die - hooked up to Lorazepam, sedated to the gills, unaware of the fact that they're not dying at home and immune to their loved ones' goodbyes. Everyone assumes that dementia, Alzheimer's, emphysema, cancer and adult diapers will happen to someone else.

Granny has undergone a precipitous physical decline in the last two months. In October, she was getting around the house just fine, if slowly. Then the cane came out. Now its the walker, and it's all the time. She still insists on doing what she thinks she can do for herself, like still getting down into the cellar to do her laundry, but she really shouldn't
have to be doing these things anymore. Last week Monday, I came home to find her attempting to make soup. She said to me, "I couldn't carry the soup" which I guess was her way of saying "I dropped the soup". She has lost the strength in her hands, and last week her sister had to put the sheets on her bed for her. She can not go to bed without taking copious amounts of Tylenol to dull her aches. Because of the loud ass walker (and my constant state of night-owlishness), I know just how many times a night she gets up to use the bathroom. Tying a garbage bag closed is becoming a production.

She can no longer even walk to the mailbox to get her mail or Sunday newspaper, nor can she really make it around a supermarket anymore. Which means she no longer really leaves the house. My aunt got her to my parent's house for Christmas Eve, but she couldn't really stay long. Then she yelled at me for buying her Christmas presents. And "making all those cookies". But that's a story for another post.

The physical decline is sad, but even sadder to me is the near constant state of fear and worry she lives in. This is a woman who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, raised five kids (two of which weren't technically hers), and yet she could beat Woody Allen in a game of neuroses. For instance, once it gets dark outside she wants to have the house all locked up for the night. Now that works in July, but in December it gets dark so early, so, ya know, I might still need to get into the garage for something after 4:15 pm. And that drives her

Here is a partial list of things Granny fears or worries about:
The placement and amount of the garbage can and "recycles", when it gets picked up and who will bring the can back to the house. That I might get run over/kidnapped/shot in a drive-by by random thugs when taking the garbage to the curb or getting the mail. That I may drop dead of a heart attack/stroke while shoveling snow. The amount of snow in the driveway despite it getting plowed and whether or not my car will get through it. Where I am when I am not in the house, and when I am coming home. That those damn kids will trash her new mailbox/steal her mail/steal her newspaper while walking to or from the high school down the block. That I am not using the proper rolling technique while making Christmas cookies. That I will drop or ruin said cookies or desserts while transporting them because I do not transport them like she used to. That I am not putting enough of something in the hamburgers. That the house is too cold. That the house is too hot. That the guy ringing the doorbell the other night at 7:15 was here to murder us (it was UPS).

Though I am not her caretaker, she has become spoiled by the fact that I have been unemployed since June and am usually home. But come the new year I really have to find a new job, and hopefully an apartment of my own. Who will get her mail? Her newspaper? Take her garbage out? Find her if she falls down the stairs?

I think I wanna check out at 70 or 75. That seems like a nice round number.