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A Christmas Story: Cookies the spirit of holidays past

Daniel Clifton and his sons, Luke and Zach, baked these spritz cookies from a recipe book Daniel's late mother used. The project helped the author connect with his story and provide some artwork. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Editor's Note: This is a fictional story based on a Clifton family recipe.

Kerri slipped into the kitchen, her eyes on her phone. She pulled open the refrigerator door — after pulling her eyes away from the handheld screen — and began searching for something, though she wasn’t sure what.

“Can you grab me the eggs, hon?”

The voice startled Kerri. She fumbled with her phone, catching it just before it slipped from her hands. The text she was working on disappeared.

“Mom!” Kerri scolded. “I was texting Corina about the Christmas dance. Why’d you scare me.”

“Scare you?” her mom replied. “I was here the entire time. You didn’t see me? Oh, that phone ...”

Kerri returned her attention to the fridge while deftly texting, but when she didn’t find what she was looking for, she shut the door, spun around, and headed back the way she came.

“Kerri!” her mom called with a raised voice. “Eggs.”

“Huh?” the teen replied. “Eggs? What?”

“The eggs. I asked you to get me the eggs. You and your phone."

Kerri looked up from her phone and at her mom.

“What eggs?” she asked.

“The eggs in the refrigerator. I asked you to get them for me,” her mom said. “I’m trying to make some of Grandma’s spritz cookies.”

Still texting, Kerri returned to the refrigerator and pulled out the eggs.

“They were right there, Mom. Don’t know why you couldn’t get them.”

She plunked the eggs down on the kitchen island among the bowls, wooden spoons, hodgepodge of ingredients, and the electric mixer. Then, satisfied she had fulfilled her task, Kerri turned and began her retreat from the kitchen.

“Want to help?”

Kerri stopped and turned back.

“Why?” she asked her mom. “I didn’t think you liked those cookies. Whenever Grandma gave us some, you, well, you acted nice but never ate them, at least that’s what I remember.”

Her mom shuddered a touch.

“Well, it’s not that I didn’t like them ...”

“Then what?”

“I dunno. They just weren’t my favorite of hers,” said Kerri’s mom, her voice just above a whisper.

She looked down at a piece of paper on the counter. It was a handwritten recipe, complete with a butter stain or two from years of use.

‘Well, then, probably not,” Kerri replied. “Like I said, Corina and I are working on the Christmas party. We’re going to have a dance, and we need to find someone to DJ for us.”

Kerri headed for the living room as her mom cast a glance in her teen daughter’s direction then back at the mess of ingredients and baking items in front of her.

She sighed heavily, feeling grief invade her baking space.

Kerri heard the sigh but didn’t look back. Better to keep moving then ask what’s wrong. That could lead to a long conversation, and she didn’t have time right now. She had to find a DJ.

She plopped down on the couch, feeling something hard-edged press back against her.

“Ouch!”

Yesterday, her mom and younger brothers, The Twins, had decorated for Christmas. They must have missed a decoration. She reached down and pulled up a photograph. It was Grandma in one of those church directory-style photos they got every year from her, usually around Christmas. Nothing sentimental or even nostalgic. Just a mugshot of Grandma.

There wouldn’t be one this Christmas.

Kerri looked at the photo. Grandmotherly eyes looked back at her. She was quite beautiful, or, more truthfully, distinct with her silver hair and green eyes.

Kerri had green eyes just like Grandma’s.

Her phone buzzed, disturbing the moment. It was Corina. Something about the dance. Kerri read the text, looked at the photo and back toward the kitchen. She texted Corina then set down the phone along with the photo.

“What can I do?” Kerri asked her mom as she stepped up to the kitchen counter.

Her mom looked up from the electric mixer to which she was attaching the beaters. “You want to mix while I add the flour? I have the eggs, butter, and sugar already creamed,” she answered.

“Sure.”

Kerri took the electric mixer, pushed it into the creamed ingredients in the bowl, and turned it on low. The blades spun around, gathering flour and pulling it into the doughy mix as her mother added it.

“Why are you making spritz cookies?” Kerri asked. “Of all the things Grandma baked, I just didn’t think you liked these.”

“I guess it’s because it’s Christmas,” her mom answered. “Grandma, she always made these cookies around Christmas. Your aunt Kelly and I would stand by, ready and waiting to lick the mixers or the spoon Grandma used.”

Her mother smiled.

“The cookies, once they were baked, yeah, they weren’t my favorite. That’s for sure,” she said.

The two worked for awhile, the only sound that of the beaters churning around and around in the metal mixing bowl.

“It was funny,” her mother said, breaking the rhythmic sound of the mixer. “Grandma would take a plate of these to the church's Christmas Eve program for after the live nativity, and there were usually just a few missing by the end of the night. Your grandpa, well, he’d go over and eat a bunch before Grandma got done helping with the nativity.”

Kerri laughed. She didn’t know much about her grandfather. He died when she was 4 years old. But she knew exactly what her mom was talking about when Grandma baked around Christmas.

Spritz cookies, dozens of them. While she never really jumped at the batter-licking opportunities, The Twins made sure they were always ready for the job.

“You know, Mom,” Kerri said as they began dabbing the cooking dough on the the tray before placing it in the oven, “these weren’t my favorite of Grandma’s either. That divinity fudge, now that was something.”

Her mom smiled.

“Yeah, I should have made that,” she said as she shut the oven door. “But you know why I made the spritz cookies instead?”

“Why?”

“They’re easier.”

The both laughed. A good laugh.

About 20 minutes later, the two sat down on the couch, each with two spritz cookies in hand. Kerri pulled out Grandma’s photo and showed it to her mom. This time, they both sighed, but not quite as grief-strained as her mother's earlier one.

They leaned into each other.

Kerri held up one of her cookies and tipped it against her mom’s.

“Cheers, Mom.”

“Cheers, hon.”

Kerri took a bite.

“You know, Mom,” she said, “best Christmas cookies ever.”

daniel@thepicayune.com

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