Nana was also the perfect grandmother. She knew when we needed a hug, she made the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the whole world, she always had a jarful of candy just waiting for us to get into, there was always a cookie jar stocked with the kind we liked best (mine were the frosted circus animal cookies), and she kept a special toy drawer in her kitchen for us to keep busy when she was baking. Somehow she made everything better. She knew what each one of her grandchildren liked and didn't like, and made sure that we knew that each one of us was special and unique. For instance, I didn't like fruit in my jello, so she always made a special mold that was fruit-free just for me! When Nana was around, all the world was right.
Nana could always be found in the kitchen, making something wonderful. When I think of her, I mostly remember the box of Christmas cookies she made for our family every year. We really looked forward to that box, which contained an elaborate array of every kind of Christmas confection-- it was truly like opening a box full of love! Inside, I would find the sugar cut-outs I loved so much, decorated so elaborately. There were Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, ornaments, bells and stars. There were dancing gingerbread men (and women!). They were almost too beautiful to eat. I say almost because we always did eat them! That box was more than just cookies and candy, though. It was full of a tradition of Christmas baking that spanned all the way to my mother's childhood. It was the bridge that connected us to her at this special time of year.
So, many years later, as I'm standing in my own kitchen, with flour on my face and cookie dough in my hair, I suddenly had an enormous appreciation of the gift God so generously gave to us in our grandmother. She was loving and kind; always thinking of others. She was generous with her talent as she was happy to pass on her love of baking to her grandchildren. Even though I now had in my possession the recipes and the very same cookie cutters she used to use every year, I still had doubts whether I would be able to carry on this special tradition in the same spirit as my grandmother had. Nana wasn't with us anymore, having passed away when I was in my early twenties. I missed her so much. When she died, it was like losing my mom all over again.
I pushed aside these thoughts and decided to give it my best shot. I got back to work, mixing, baking, frosting, decorating, packaging and wrapping. Later that afternoon, I would get a sign that could only have been orchestrated by Nana herself, that my efforts were good enough to keep the tradition alive. Maybe it was a little Christmas magic, maybe it was my imagination. You can decide.
Here is what happened.
Finishing in the kitchen, I set about cleaning the cookie cutters and putting things away when I opened a cabinet and my eyes came to rest right on an old Avon Santa Claus figure, which had been a gift from Nana when I was a little girl. Each Christmas, along with the cookies, Nana would send something from Avon. This Santa was from many Christmases ago, but yet here he was sitting on my shelf, looking me right in the eye and maybe even smiling. I thought so, anyway. I picked him up, laughing at the coincidence of finding him on this day, and as I turned the decanter over to read what kind of perfume was in it, it was then that I realized that Santa was delivering a message that was meant just for me. The bottom of the container read,
Thank you, Nana, for reminding me that we are never farther than a heartbeat from those whom we love.
Nana and the Santa message
(I wrote this at Christmas about seven years ago, and decided to post it here for Emily at Sugar and Meringue, who tagged me to write a holiday memory. Emily's site originally attracted me because of her beautiful cookies which remind me so much of the ones my Nana used to make)