The Recipe Box
Ashland Daily Press
December 4th, 2017
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and I was getting ready to start on my holiday baking. My family loved my frosted sugar cookies. I didn’t particularly like making them, they were so time-consuming. But having Christmas tree shaped cookies iced with vanilla frosting was one of our holiday traditions. I had a quiet afternoon ahead of me with the boys off hunting, so I figured I’d start my baking with the cutout cookies.
The vintage-looking recipe box sat on my microwave and was stuffed full of great ideas. The handwritten cards were yellowed with age. The scrawling pen writing was faded from years of handling. The paper ones were those recipes I’d found online and folded in fourths.
It was always hard to find the one I was looking for. I glanced over at the laptop and thought briefly that it may be easier to fire it up and find the recipe online. At least there I could get a star rating guaranteeing success. But instead, I figured it was time to go through my collection and get rid of what I didn’t need.
I pulled the recipes from the box and set them down on the daycare table that centered my kitchen. I chuckled as I watched the stack topple and fan out. I put the empty box next to the heap of paper and grabbed a garbage can. I refilled my cup with pumpkin spiced coffee and settled down into one of the children’s little chairs.
The first few recipes were easy to toss. They were in my handwriting. I had meatballs and chocolate chip cookies down to a science so I sure didn’t need them taking up space. Funny, but those cards dated back to the early eighties. I remembered when I first lived on my own and I’d call my mom for her recipes. I called her a lot back then. There was so much about cooking and baking that I didn’t understand.
I started a pile for the recipes I’d never tried. ‘Better Than Sex Cake.’
I can still hear my friend Sharon and me laughing about that one. It was a recipe that was popular in the 80’s. It probably made its way into the heart of the kitchen about the same time that the bras came off the manikins and live models were used instead. It was also the same time in history when Mr. Leslie Wexner started to mass market lingerie to women. The company he bought out and restructured was called Victoria Secret. For the first time I realized it must have been my generation that started using sex to market products. We were brilliant. Not necessarily wise.
Sharon gave me that recipe, so that was probably why I held onto it. Our friendship has been one those special kinds, the sort that heartfelt quotes were written for.
I started reading the recipes I got from various friends from my past. Red Rice was the recipe I got from my friend Jodi. She was the very first friend I had. She was a year younger than I and lived directly across the alley from me.
When we were growing up, we always played outside. My parents owned the vacant corner lot next door, which gave my family of six kids a huge welcoming yard of possibilities. My mom was the Kool-Aid mom, with strict rules of play.
We had a small basketball hoop with a cement pad tucked in one corner of the lot. The open part of the yard was used for whiffle ball and football. Mom wouldn’t let the boys play tackle, and if the neighborhood kids didn’t like her rules, they were sent home.
I had a play house in the shaded part of our yard, and that was where Jodi and I spent most of our time. We made sand and choke-berry pies, played with our dolls, swam in a plastic pool.
I never made the Red Rice. All these years, almost thirty-five now, I’ve just glanced over the top of the card where it read; Here’s what’s cooking; Red Rice, then put it right back into the box.
The next card I read was from Jane Lynch, Pizza Burgers. Jane lived two houses down from my mom. There was a Lynch kid for almost every kid in my family, five of them, six of us. I had fond memories of us kids playing hide-n-seek and tag. I remember watching the bigger boys with a kind of reverence as they engineered cities with streets in the sandbox. The make-believe grocery store that we set up in the Lynch’s basement was one of my favorite dramatic play themes.
Mrs. Lynch may not have been the first of the neighborhood moms on our block to lose her husband. But Mr. Lynch was the one I knew best. I had walked past the Lynch house many times on my way to visit my parents since then and couldn’t help but feel a sadness for this family and their loss. What I also saw from the outside, looking in, was an empty recliner, and the inevitable future that was in store for the rest of us.
Chocolate Brownies was from Val. After my baby’s accident, she was like an angel who stood by my side. Kristi suffocated in a crib accident and sustained irreversible brain damage. Val cried along with me when there was nothing left to do but sign the Do Not Resuscitate paperwork. She rejoiced with me when my baby refused to die, and fought her way back to the living. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through those dark days without her.
I started filtering through the cards that I was still holding onto. Peanut Butter Bars came from my youngest sister Shell. It was the first recipe card she gave me. Angel Hair Pasta with Stir Fried Broccoli was from Debbi. Our friendship was forged through years of co-teaching Sunday school. I still chuckle when I think about the many times we ran next door to my mom’s classroom to get the proper pronunciation of a name in the Bible, or to get the answer for a student’s question. Breakfast Pizza was from Laurie, my daughter’s aide at school. She noted with a fine brown marker that it was a working mother’s meal, make it the night before. Laurie was thoughtful like that. I had to laugh at the bonus reminder that Kristi owed $15.00 on her lunch account.
And then I came across the recipe I started out looking for. The Cream Cookie Cut Outs that was in my grandmother’s handwriting. I smiled as I recalled those memories of long ago when my family piled in the car and went to my grandparents’ house for our Christmas celebration.
The Christmas tree was lost under the mountain of presents. The kitchen table was covered with healthy snacks and sugary treats. Every chair, couch and recliner was filled with the grownups. The children sat on the floor, impatiently waiting for the gifts to be passed.
And then I remembered when I was twenty-three, how the cranberry red of Grandma’s Christmas dress accented the wispy white of her hair. She held tight onto my baby Stephanie, her great grandchild, with a love that swelled four generations deep.
Grandma passed when I was thirty-six. It’s been twenty years since, and I could almost taste the vanilla glaze of the white icing on her bell-shaped Christmas cookies.
I turned my Grandmother’s faded card over and found a message I’d forgotten was there. It read, “I made these for Christmas for a lovely time. Grandma.”
I gripped the card tighter and looked towards the pile of recipes I had yet to read. My table was covered with my life experiences and all those feelings that made me human. Every recipe had a special flavor that added some substance into my life. The laughter, tears, joy, hope, loss, sweet innocence, they were all there.
‘It was a lovely time Grandma,’ I whispered, tasting the salty tears as they touched my lips.
I couldn’t help but smile when I finally understood what my box was really about. The recipes were the chapters of my life that I always wanted to remember. The cards were the people I was holding onto, forever in my heart. It was my Christmas story.