“Hand me that bowl, dear. I still don’t understand why Peter didn’t make the trip with you.” That her small frame seemed to have diminished in the last year changed nothing in the authority with which she spoke. Deftly reaching the ceramic bowl three feet above her head, my glance caught the faded gold band encircling her left ring finger. Helping Grams with her famous cookies was a favorite tradition. Working the sticky molasses dough into 300 charming ginger men and women was easy. Explaining to my grandfathers wife why Pete and I, after 12 years of marriage, had decided to spend this Christmas (and every Christmas hereafter) apart, was something I was woefully unprepared for.
“It’s not as easy nowadays, Grams. People change. Sometimes, love’s not enough.” Tepid and spongy on my tongue, my words tasted every bit as trite and empty as I had fervently prayed they wouldn’t be. Repeating them 600 times on the drive from Maryland to Maine hadn’t added the credibility I had hoped for. Her fingers, slightly curled with 81 years of use, tied a practiced knot in her apron strings as she eyed me.
“Chatter’s not going to make these cookies, child. Start scooping your dry ingredients, and if you think you can talk and mix at the same time, you can explain to this old woman how you’ve found yourself in the only situation to ever occur where LOVE is not enough.” Grabbing for the flour and memorizing the grout line between my feet, I cursed Pete for getting to miss this conversation.
“There’s nothing to explain. Pete is married to his job, and between massaging his ego and raising the kids, I guess I’ve just forgotten who I am.” Blowing a rebellious strand of hair from my eyes, I straightened my shoulders. This was comfortable ground – well worn in hours of therapy sessions. I deserve to be happy. Five words that graced every scrap of paper I could get my hands on. I chatted animatedly with the rapidly filling bowl of dry ingredients, as I added baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cloves. The fact that Grams had stopped working and staring holes to China through the side of my head only registered faintly at first.
“Now I want you to do something”, she said firmly. “Take the baking soda out of that bowl.” Confused at this new step in a time tested ritual I stared at her as if I’d lost use of my faculties. “Go ahead, Kelly. Grab a smaller bowl from the pantry and put the baking soda in it.”
“Grams, that’s ridiculous!” She nodded slowly as if completing a conversation only she was privy to. Grams’ riddles were famous in our family, but after my long day and even longer year, I found myself wondering if baking for 30 consecutive Firehouse 508's Annual Christmas Bake Sales had finally caught up with her.
“Of course it is Kelly. Once it’s mixed you can’t undo it.” Her eyes glinted as she spoke and she winked as though we were co conspirators in a bakescapade. My bewildered look must have amused her because she giggled. For a while, we were comfortably silent. With a practiced choreography, we finished mixing.
“Do you remember when you snuck into the kitchen and tried to bake cookies by yourself? You were about 10, I think. You did everything perfectly, except one thing.”
“I didn’t soften the butter before I mixed it.” The memory was precious to me, my first little bout of independence.
“Right. And did your cookies turn out?” She was grinning now.
“No,” I said with a chuckle. “The most certainly did not.” In fact, the cookies had been a disaster.
“Kelly, marriage is like a batch of cookies. Like flour and sugar, once you mix the two, you can’t separate them again. Neither of them are what they started as, but both of them are better for the pairing. All the ingredients give a little in the mixture – but just like the butter, we have to soften ourselves, or we will never blend our lives with another.” She didn’t look away from icing her cookies as she spoke. I didn’t have to speak for her to know she’d struck a chord. With a hand showing just the faintest tremble of age, she handed me a perfectly iced ginger couple. Her blue eyes finally locked on mine.
“Call Peter, Kelly. Tell him Grandma said he’s going to be late for dinner.”
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