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.
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