“The internet is down again,” Cassie announced. An eyeroll and sneer punctuated the statement so there would be no doubt, in her mother’s mind, that Cassandra Richards was an unhappy camper.
Sharon smiled at her eldest. “You’re welcome to join your sister and me,” she said, careful to keep her tone light. “We were just talking about recreating great grandma Em’s famous gingerbread cookie recipe.”
“Join us, Cas,” six-year-old Alissa said, offering her sister a gap-toothed grin. “Mom said I could stir,” she held up the new wooden spoon, the one Sharon had cried over the week before when she’d slipped it from the plastic Stop ‘N Go bag and placed it on their kitchen counter. She’d shopped for the Christmas cookie supplies while the girls were in school because she expected to find herself
overwhelmed by the process and she wanted to avoid having her children witness yet another of her crying jags. Lord knew she tried, hard, to put on a happy face and provide the girls some sense of normalcy. The trouble was, she was mired in a sadness so deep she wasn’t sure she had any idea how to create “normal” when so much had been lost to the fire that destroyed their home and left her without her beloved Daniel, and the girls without their dad.
“I had plans,” Cassie said, still sounding aggrieved over the loss of internet connectivity. “It’s bad enough we’re stuck inside now, because of that,” she gestured toward the kitchen window and the thick curtain of snow falling beyond the glass, blanketing the outside world in a thick layer of white fluff. She pulled open the refrigerator, rooted inside for a few seconds, found nothing of interest and closed the door turning to announce, “If the snow doesn’t stop soon, we’ll never get back on-line.”
“Mom says, when the snow stops, we can go out and shovel,” Alissa said, lisping her way through a sentence filled with the letter ‘s’. “She says if we shovel, old Mr. Ashe won’t have to do it.
“Goodie,” Cassie snapped. She shuffled to the table, pulled out a chair and sank down into it. “Let’s pay rent and do the landlord’s job.”
“Your memory is better than mine,” Sharon said, over her shoulder, ignoring Cassie’s jibe. “Do you remember if great grandma’s recipe called for nutmeg and cloves, or just nutmeg?”
“I don’t know, mom,” Cassie said, propping an elbow onto the table and dropping her chin into her fist. “If you’re not sure, look up a recipe on the internet.”
Sharon smiled and snuck a glance in time to note the frown that signaled Cassie realized the flaw in her suggestion.
“Momma says great grandma Em’s gingerbreads are the best in the whole world,” Alissa chirped, her enthusiasm undampened by her sister’s mood. “She’s going to teach me how to make royal frosting.”
“Icing,” Cassie said. “You frost gingerbread with royal icing, not frosting.”
Alissa frowned and peered into the empty mixing bowl. “You frost gingerbread with icing?” she asked.
Cassie sighed and rolled her eyes at her baby sister. “Did you get the good brand of food coloring?” she asked.
“I got the brand of food coloring that was available,” Sharon said, handing the box to her daughter.
Cassie frowned and dropped the box onto the table without comment.
“Are we going to start now?” Alissa asked, growing impatient with her big sister’s moodiness.
“We are,” Sharon said, scooping the last of the bottles and jars into her arms and depositing them in the center of the kitchen table.
Cassie poked at the small jar of ground cloves. “Instead of buying all this junk, you could have just picked up a package of gingerbread cookies,” she said.
Sharon shrugged. “I could have,” she agreed. “But it wouldn’t have been the same as using a recipe handed down through four generations. We’ll work out the recipe as we go, and write it down so we can be sure that you and Alissa will have it when you’re ready to create memories with your own little girls.”
Cassie stared at the falling snow. “What’s the difference?” she asked. “Nothing is ever going to be the same now.”
Sharon inhaled sharply and turned away from her daughter. “We need eggs,” she said, striding across the small kitchen and pulling open the refrigerator door. “And butter,” she said, forcing a note of cheer into her tone that sounded false, even to her own ears. “One of my favorite jobs, when I was a little girl, was creaming the butter for great grandma Em’s cookies. Who wants to take over the job of creamer?”
Alissa’s hand shot into the air, the enthusiasm on her daughter’s small face so naked, Sharon felt her heart skip a beat. “Wonderful!” she said, “You are the new official Richards family butter creamer,”
The smile on Alissa’s face broadened.
“You bought light brown sugar,” Cassie announced, her words fired into the air like an indictment. “We always use dark brown sugar to make gingerbread cookies because we don’t use molasses.” She poked at the offending package and pushed up out of her chair. “We don’t have the family cookie spoon. We don’t have great grandma Em’s recipe card. We don’t have the cookie apron or the bent cookie sheet and now you can’t even buy the right sugar.” Cassie spun on her heel and stomped out of the kitchen.
Sharon swallowed hard, to keep the tears at bay.
“Mommy?” Alissa asked quietly.
Sharon stretched her lips into a semblance of a smile. “Yes baby?”
“Are we still going to make cookies?”
Sharon swiped at her eyes, annoyed that the tears still flowed at the most inconvenient times. “Yes,” she said thickly. “We are going to bake, sweetie. We’re going to bake great gramma Em’s famous
gingerbread cookies and they are going to be the best batch ever.” She picked up a stick up of butter, removed the paper wrapping and dropped the stick into the mixing bowl. “Creaming the butter is a big job. I’ll get you started and then, do you think you can work at it while I go talk to your sister?
Alissa gazed up at her mother, her expression grave. “Are you going to talk about daddy?” she asked.
“I’ll ask Cassie if she wants to talk about daddy,” Sharon said.
“And about the way things were before?” Alissa pressed.
“We can talk about that too, if she wants to,” Sharon said.
Alissa gazed into the mixing bowl, her brows furrowed, and her mouth pinched. “Why?” she asked.
“Why do we talk about those things?” Sharon asked.
“Cassie misses daddy,” Sharon said, gently. “And she misses the way things used to be. I think it helps her feel better to talk about the way things were before.”
“I miss daddy too. And I miss our house, and my toys and my hamster, Scooter,” the little girl looked up, her eyes glistening with tears. “But I've been thinking...if daddy and Scooter loved us, would they want us to be so sad all the time?”
Sharon took her little girl into her arms and hugged her fiercely.
“No honey. They would not want us to be sad. They would not want that at all.”
Alissa nodded, extracted herself from her mother’s embrace and reached for the spoon and mixing bowl. She fixed a smile on her face and said, “When the snow stops, we can shovel and then take daddy and Scooter some cookies.”
Sharon straightened wiped the last of the tears from her eyes and smiled at her little girl. “I am going to go and ask your sister to join us and we are going to make cookies together, as a family. And, when the snow stops, we will take some cookies to daddy and Scooter. Does that sound good?”
Alissa nodded and bent over the mixing bowl.
Sharon turned and walked toward the kitchen door.
“We need nutmeg and cloves, mommy,” Alissa said. “I remember because you let me measure the spices last year, when we still lived in the old house,” she smiled mischievously at her mother. “You and daddy were dancing in front of the Christmas tree so you didn’t see me, but I sneezed when I smelled the cloves." Her nose wrinkled. “I walked into the living room and said, ‘cloves stink’ and daddy dipped you,” Allissa giggled at the memory. Daddy was laughing, and you looked at me upside down and said, ‘Sometimes
stinky isn’t all bad.’ You were smiling, and your voice was funny, and you made me laugh.”
Sharon smiled, remembering the feel of Daniel’s arms around her, thinking of the love they’d shared.
“Our new life is a little stinky, but stinky isn’t all bad, right, mommy?”
Sharon smiled at her little girl. For the first time, since their terrible loss, she felt it would be possible to move forward a little, possible to begin the work of building a new life. A life different from the one she had expected to share with her beloved Daniel, but a life filled with love none-the-less. “You are right, my
sweet girl,” she said. “Our new life is a little stinky, but stinky isn’t all bad.”