A friend of mine shared an article on Facebook yesterday about the marginalization of domestic duties – as something to be endured, avoided, or hired out – rather than enjoyed for their own sakes. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying I am jumping with excitement when I have to scrub the toilet. BUT – the article made lots of points which… I am inclined to agree with. But it started by talking about the term koselig – a Norwegian word for “cozy,” which has a deeper meaning, an intangible feeling of warmth and home. You can read the article in full here.
There is a feeling of warmth that cannot be bought in a superstore and there is a feeling of hospitality that cannot be replicated in a restaurant. That feeling cannot be manufactured overnight either. It is the sum of traditions and togetherness that accumulate over years. Familiarity, safety… “home.”
I spent a lot of time baking over the last week. THat’s not to say I had spare time lying around in my non-busy life…I made the time. Because, while my cookies and breads may not look as good as what I could have bought in stores, I do believe that making them for my family and friends has a value of its own. It helped me slow down and reflect on my gratitude for those people and a warm home to do the baking in. I hope my goods will help those I love feel cared for when they are shared.
This reflection brought up thoughts of neighbors that my grandparents had when I was growing up. Frank and Esther were an elderly couple with two grown sons who had moved out of state. Their sons rarely came back to visit and never during the holidays. They had high-powered careers and I suppose small town Iowa was a boring place. So, my grandpa gave them a standing invitation to every holiday we celebrated as a family: Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. They were always there, arriving with 2 pies that Esther had made from scratch. Apple at Christmas, pumpkin at Thanksgiving, and often a lemon meringue for the spring and summer events.
When I say this woman made the best pie I have ever tasted… I mean exactly that. I have eaten at lots of restaurants and parties in my 32 years of life. I have never tasted pie that could match Esther’s. It’s all about the crust and she made other-worldly pie crust. And Frank was a kind, jovial guy who always added laughs to our gatherings. For Easter, he planned an elaborate Easter egg hunt for all of the kids, divided into sections for each age level. It was a pretty sweet deal for us – we had a 3rd set of grandparents and amazing pies and Easter egg hunts. That’s all stuff their own kids didn’t get.
By the time we were grown, they had started to fail. Frank passed away first and Esther not long after. And when they were gone, our family gatherings were quieter. And we suddenly had to think about who was bringing dessert. Now, there is always a dessert but when it’s brought out, someone always mentions Esther and her pies. My uncle inevitably says, “One of you should have taken the time and learned how to make her crust. What a shame, no one could make crust like her.”
Taken the time.
That’s the thing, isn’t it?
All of those “domestic” things, like putting up a tree in the living room and decorating it, and the rest of the house, and Christmas crafts, and sending cards, and planning menus and table settings and grocery shopping and baking 10 different kinds of cookies for a platter, and making cinnamon rolls that need to rise, wrapping presents and curling the ribbon by hand, and mixing all of those casseroles, and then the dishes, oh the dishes…
All of that is work. That’s why I know some people who would rather order Chinese and sit in their pajamas with the TV on than go to a holiday gathering.
But that’s the problem. We are so short on time in the 21st century that the idea of making gifts by hand and devoting a day (or two!) to making cookies and pies or even creating a center piece for a table setting might seem completely crazy!
But I would say that what is actually crazy… is thinking that those things don’t matter.
Take for example, the year my grandparents didn’t get around to setting up the tree because of my grandpa’s shoulder surgery. After much cajoling and debate, my uncle’s insisted on dragging it out of the basement storage closet to its proper place in the living room. They took it down the next day, before they left town. So why bother? It wasn’t Christmas without the tree.
Or, take the case of my grandma Langel’s last Christmas. She had advanced Alzheimers, didn’t really speak anymore and was wheelchair bound. But we brought her out of the nursing home and over to our house for Christmas morning brunch. The house I grew up in, was the house my grandma grew up in, and the house she raised her family in. So maybe it was the garland over the door, or the lights on the familyar railing or the smells from the oven when my grandpa maneuvered her through the door – whatever the reason – when she got in the house, clear as day, she said, “Merry Christmas!” We said it back, and she said it again, “Merry Christmas!” She said it about 5 times.
If you have ever been around someone with advanced Alzheimers, you might understand how remarkable that is. For the last 2+ years of her life, I never heard my grandma call me by my name. She barely communicated at all at this point and mostly with facial expressions. The only reason I think she was able to say those two words, was a perfect storm of seeing the house she knew so well, and the decorations, and experiencing the scents and the people dressed for the day. And all of the years of traditions, all of the joy and love she had felt on that day in all her life, was strong enough for a few short minutes to penetrate through her disease.
That’s why the cookies that you make by hand, that create a mess and are never as picture perfect as the once in the store or the magazine… matter.