Family Traditions

I love family traditions–what ornaments go where on the Christmas tree, the inside jokes that only the family understands, summer evenings with board games, photos, trips, memories.

Did you know that scents are the strongest memory makers we have? A whiff of cocoanut and you are back on your honeymoon in Hawaii. A scent of cinnamon and you are in your grandma’s kitchen helping her to make cookies. A favorite perfume and you are there with a favorite aunt or your mother, even when they are no longer with us.

When I went to write my story for the Authors of Main Street Christmas boxed set I decided to put a twist on a family legend and cookie.

So, the legend goes that the butter cookie recipe came from Ireland with the Redmond family and has been passed down generation to generation. I can’t say whether the legend is true, but the cookies are to die for. So I took the IDEA of a family tradition of a cookie recipe, hijacked a little of my family history, and came up with Sugar Sprinkled Memories.

Maggie Mason has dreamed her entire life of owning her own bakery and making the family-famous Traveling Cinnamon Cookies. The only thing standing in her way is tall, dark, and handsome Warren Kincaid who claims he owns the building where the bakery now sits and he wants it for his new law office. Tempers rise, misunderstandings get in the way, but just maybe–a sprinkle of sugar, a touch of Christmas magic, and life-long memories will be made for Maggie and Warren.

 

 

Chapter 1

Maggie, age 8

 “Mommy, tell me the story. My story, about Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger,” Maggie Mason pleaded as she snuggled deeper under the covers.

Her mother smoothed the covers as she sat on the edge of the bed. “I’ve told you this story a thousand times. You must know it by heart now.”

She nodded. “I do. But you tell it so well.”

Dimming the bedside light, her mother leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Okay,” she whispered. “The tale of Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger.”

She began, “In the wee village of Dunby, which no longer exists, if it ever did…”

Dunby, Ireland 1919 

Maggie McGill nee O’Shay rushed up the pebbled path to her home, her shawl wrapped tightly around herself on this blustery March day. Winter didn’t want to loosen its grasp this year.

Her fingers tingled from more than just the chilling breeze. Sean at the post office said her ma had received mail special delivery this afternoon while Maggie had been at work in the button factory.

She crossed herself. It had to be good news. The factory was closing next month and that would spell the end of Dunby. Her gaze swept over the cottages nearby. Two more had boarded-up windows and a board across the doors. The Great War had started the end of her hometown with the leaving of all the eligible men and the factory closing would end for those who were left.

“If only…” She sighed. Wishes were for the wee folk, not regular people. Wishing her John had returned from the war wouldn’t make it so. Crossing herself, she wiped her shoes on the doormat. Pity served no one when her John wasn’t the only husband who hadn’t returned.

The aroma of cinnamon wafted over her as she opened the door. She hadn’t dared hope, but her mother’s smile gave her the good news anyway. If the scent of the cinnamon buttons hadn’t proclaimed it before she’d opened the door.

“Mama, mama,” tiny voices cried as Virginia and Robert flung themselves at her legs, wrapping her in a warm muddle of boy and girl.

She hugged them back and then pushed them gently away. “Go clean up, I’m sure Granny will have dinner for us shortly.”

Her mother turned from pulling cookies from the oven. Tears flowed down Maggie the elder’s cheeks, threatening to ruin the precious cookies.

She looked away before she had tears to join her mother’s. Cinnamon was a luxury they hadn’t seen during the war and only had some since they’d had it before the war, hidden away in the back of the cupboard. Saved for only one thing. The traveling button cookies.

Setting down the cookies, her mother opened her arms and swept Maggie into a hug. Her body shook and tears dampened her hair. She clung to her mother. The familiar scents of flour, butter, and sugar painting a picture of her ma she would remember to her dying day.

Maggie stepped back, wiping the tears from her mother’s face. “I haven’t even opened the letter yet. How do you know it is good news?”

Her mother smiled, touching the side of her head. A dusting of flour added to the white strands in her dark hair. “I know you’ll be needing the cookies. You’ll be traveling far over the sea to America.”

Maggie’s fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope. She’d read the few pages in a moment. All she could do was stare at the three tickets for a ship to Baltimore, Maryland. One for her and each of her children. Unconsciously, her hand settled on her stomach.

Her mother placed a hand over her own. “This little one will be born where no one knows he doesn’t have the same father as the other little ones.”

She jumped, her face heating. “I didn’t know you knew,” she whispered, whipping her head around to see if the children were back.

Maggie the elder smiled, touching her head again. “I knew. I will always know how you are. Are you safe? Are you happy? Even when I’m an ocean away.”

She couldn’t stop the tears, even when Virginia came back into the room and wrapped her long arms around her mother and grandmother.

“Did someone die?” the eight-year-old whispered, her face blanching white with her freckles sticking out like the pox.

Maggie wrapped her arms around her. It had only been a year since the men had come and told them of John’s death in a nameless field in France. Her little boy had only been three and would never remember the devastating news or the father who would remain just a few pictures and stories and memories from his mother.

“Ginny, we’re going to America. Uncle Thomas has sent for us.”

The little girl’s face lit up, her green eyes sparkling with the idea of a grand adventure. Her red hair bouncing on her shoulders as she grabbed up Robert and danced around the room.

“Robby, we’re going to America,” she crowed as they spun across the wooden floor.

She started to speak up, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Let them have their fun. Time enough to hear the story of the traveling buttons before we get you packed and sent on your way.”

A week later and Maggie the younger stood among the bags and trunks of all her worldly goods. Her vision blurred but she refused to let tears fall down her face. Her last moments with her mother would find her with a smile on her face as she waved good-bye to the only family and home she’d ever known.

Virginia held the tin of cinnamon button cookies as her granny did up her coat.

“Ginny, this is why they are traveling cookies,” she explained as her fingers pushed the buttons into their buttonholes on the coat. “They are only to be made when someone is going away from home forever.”

The young girl sniffled as she put on a brave face. “But, we will have a new home? Mama and Robby will be there?”

“Of course,” Maggie the elder said, straightening Ginny’s collar made of a fox’s tail. “But the baker makes them to send a piece of themselves with the travelers and the travelers eat them, one each day, to remember the baker.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around her granny, cookie tin and all. “I’ll write to you all the time, Granny. And Robby too, as soon as I teach him how.”

Her comment set them all to laughing and put smiles on their faces as a truck horn beeped outside.

Maggie the elder scooted them around and had Maggie the younger, and the children, and all their belongings soon settled in the truck. She marched up to the driver and leaned in the window.

“Padraig, you take care of my babies. Don’t you leave until they are safely on their ship.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, doffing his hat and pulling it back on as the truck slowly moved down the road.

Maggie the elder stood there until the truck turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Only then did she allow tears to flow into the cinnamon-scented hands covering her face.

*****

Since we only make our family’s butter cookies at Christmas I loved the idea of a cookie that was only for a certain occasion, in this case when a loved one is moving far away and never returning home. Now, in our connected global world today, that is usually not true anymore, but I liked the idea that you can return home but it isn’t the same when you make a new home and are just a visitor to your childhood home and memories.

Hope everyone will check out our new boxed set when it is released….Jill

Family Holiday Traditions

It is that time of year again…holidays with the family! Time for all the remembered foods. Time for all the remembered traditions. But…

Sometimes traditions have to change. People move away and it is harder to get together. Dinner that used to be at six o’clock has to move to brunch at noon or a late dinner at nine to accommodate work schedules. Opening presents has to happen on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning so that everyone can be there. Still…

The feelings. The happiness. The excitement remains the same. The family is together, hopefully, and the fun can commence.

My favorite part of Christmas is reminiscing of holidays past. Thinking of where you got a favorite ornament as you put it on the tree. Laughing about the Turkey Fiasco of ’87 as you are working in the kitchen. Baking cookies with mom’s recipe handed down from her grandmother. Sitting around the dinner table and talking about the shared memories of the past year.

My favorite memory: Every year my mom, my brother, and I would make Christmas cookies. Making cookies with kids is fun but messy. We made sugar cookies, butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and more.  My mom had numerous slips of paper from magazines and handwritten notes from relatives in her cookbook. Some years we tried new recipes and sometimes we just did the usual. Sometimes the new recipes worked and got added to the cookie making day. Sometimes they failed spectacularly and we laughed as we tried terrible tasting cookies and tossed them and moved on. Making cookies in our household was a day-long event. Meals were fitted in between putting cookies in, taking them out, and letting them cool.

But one thing was a guarantee each year. My mom would wear black pants. And by the time we were finished they would be covered with flour handprints. And every year she would swear to remember not to wear them next year. As I spend another Christmas missing my mom, I would give anything to be baking cookies and laughing at her flour-printed black pants.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?


Jill James, romance writer and lover of cookies!

The Scents of Christmas — Jill James

More than the excitement of presents, more than the sound of carols, even more than the visual impact of snapshots, it is the smells and scents that take us back in an instant to a specific time and place. And nowhere are scent memories more prevalent than the holidays.

tangerines-736920-mThe pungent-sweet scent of tangerines transport me instantly to the Christmases of my childhood in the ’60s in Baltimore, Maryland. Back before I moved to California, land of sunshine and year-round fruit, I lived in Baltimore in the 1960s. Land of ice and snow and no global reach of food that we don’t even think twice about today. No pomegranates from Brazil and tomatoes from Venezuela.  Once summer died there were no more oranges and tangerines until next summer. But, every Christmas one magically appeared in my Christmas stocking, along with a handful of walnuts.

I don’t know where my mom got them and why I didn’t see them until Christmas Day, that is part of the magic of Christmas past. But even today, I’ll stop in the grocery store and inhale the scent of a box of Clementine’s or Cuties and think of snow, and cold, and the big, round lump in the toe of a red Christmas stocking. The thrill of the taste of sunshine in the dead of winter. The slowness of eating one section at a time to make the happiness last. Letting the juice linger on my tongue for as long as it lasted.

Second to tangerines was the smell of my mother baking Christmas cookies. She was an amazing cook. She could take odds and ends in the refrigerator and turn it into a meal. She cooked from scratch and unfortunately did not pass down the cooking skills to me. She couldn’t bake a cake or pie to save her life, but she could make awesome cookies.

Here is a recipe that has been handed down in my family since at least 1900.

butter cookiesGrandma Svehla’s Bohemian Butter Cookies
(Mom never wanted me to share the family recipe, but I believe great food should be shared.)

1 pound of butter
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (lemon or almond are nice too.)
4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Mix butter and sugar until creamed together. Add egg and vanilla and mix.
Slowly add flour and baking powder. Mix completely. Refrigerate for an hour.

Drop by spoonfull on to greased cookie sheet. Mash with wet fork for pattern on top. Sprinkle with colored sugar. (for ADD kids or those who can’t have Red 40, just use regular sugar.)

Bake 7-9 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes about six dozen cookies.

*These are very rich. I usually eat 2 or 3 with my morning tea or coffee.

Happy Holidays and happy holiday memories from:
Jill James,
writer of contemporary and paranormal romance

 TheChristmasCon 200x300The Christmas Con is part of the Christmas on Main Street
boxed set
currently #1 in Inspirational romance and Holiday books!