Our cookie backing project over, Sharon and I still had more of a wonderful Christmas Eve to enjoy. As soon as the credits rolled for “The Black Stallion” but before the old Bing Crosby movie started, I mixed an apple and cinnamon snacking cake. In that pre-microwave era, a wide variety of quick-bake desserts were marketed. Snacking cakes consisted of one bag of ingredients, to which only water had to be added, a disposable baking pan, and a foil bag of icing to be applied after slight cooling.
By the time the next movie began, the little cake was in the oven, and I was again snuggled next to Sharon on the old blue blanket on the floor. “The Bells of Saint Mary’s” was a particularly fine example of good things about old movies. The story was sweet, the mood sentimental, and the ending happy. By the second commercial, our perfect little cake for two was ready. I put two pieces on our small real china plates, and put the plates, paper napkins, forks, and two glasses of milk on top of our green and orange serving tray.
“Oh, Mommy! That’s so pretty!” Sharon scooted over and made room on the blanket for me and the tray. That movie and that little snacking cake were the perfect ending for our Christmas Eve doings. Then, we read the Christmas story from the Bible , and I sat on the edge of her bed, speculating with her about the presents might be.”
“Now, Sharon. How late are you going to let me sleep tomorrow?”
“Oh, maybe until six.”
“What! You can’t get up that early, you know, if you do. . .”
Finally, though, it really was time for one last good-night kiss. I stood up and walked to the door.
“I’ll leave the door open just a crack. I’m going to have one more cup of cocoa, then I’ll come to bed, too.”
“Don’t stay up too late, Mommy. Santa Claus won’t come if anyone’s awake, you know.” she said with exaggerated seriousness.
In the kitchen, I turned off the overhead light, turned on the stove light, and put one cup of water on to boil. As I stood by the stove, I inhaled deeply. The air was rich with the distinctive smells of baking: sweetened dough, chocolate, and peanut butter. I used the sponge to scoot a stray cookie crumb into the sink, then put the sponge in its assigned resting place, just so, to the right of the faucet. The smooth surface of the toaster gleamed in the soft light from the stove, and the counter looked strangely empty without cookies and mixing bowl and spoons and spatulas.
“Count your blessings, count your blessings,” I repeated to myself as the hot water made the instant cocoa foam to the top edge of the mug. But my mental discipline failed me.
I sat on the good end of the love seat, put the cup of cocoa on the floor and turned to look at our tiny tree, twinkling in the semidarkness.
“It is a charming little tree,” I told myself, “and lots of people have tabletop trees because they prefer them.” But that’s as far as my rationalizing went. The tears came then, the tears as well as all the feelings and fears that had been bottled up for all the weeks before Christmas.
“Surely,” I thought, “she will soon see all this as it really is. She’ll understand how really needy we are. She’ll see how small our homemade gifts and cookies were compared to what other people give us. She’ll figure out that she did not really have much for Christmas, but that I had just made it appear so. She’ll find out that her friends’ mothers don’t buy clothes from Goodwill. She’ll be ashamed of how I look and how our house looks, too. She’ll see past the department store improvements and start thinking about our threadbare love seat and that wobbly old rocker, and… ” On and on went my negative spiral of woe-is-me thoughts.