98: Houston, We Have Lift-Off

98: Houston, We Have Lift-Off

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Houston, We Have Lift-Off

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

As soon as my four children were old enough, I began to teach them to bake. Standing on one of the kitchen chairs, the little ones were taught to count four cups of flour or two cups of sugar. With the bigger ones, I tackled fractions: 1/2 cup of butter or 1/4 cup of honey.

As they got older, we tried to expand our expertise to include as many different cookies as possible. Not just chocolate chip, an all time favorite, but pecan sassies, lemon bars, peanut butter blossoms, and raspberry bars. The children were always on the lookout for new cookies. If they were at a friend’s house and ran across one they liked, they never hesitated to ask for the recipe.

One year we decided to tackle gingerbread men. I bought an intricate cookie press with lots of details. We planned to hang them on the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, the cookies refused to cooperate and every day a few more would fall off the tree. Of course, my children, Scott, Paula, Melissa, and Glen, had great fun with this.

“Mom, remember. The gingerbread man, he runs away as fast as he can.”

“I bet it’s peer pressure. Some of them do look a bit chunkier than the others.”

“Maybe they’re afraid we’re going to eat them.”

I started getting more creative. I decorated them with Royal Icing, the kind that dries really hard. I painted their faces and clothing. With a garlic press, I made elaborate hairdos; long flowing tresses for the girls and short curly cuts for the boys. The gingerbread people looked great, but they still kept falling off the tree. One year I tried baking them until they were as hard as rocks. I even varnished them, but to no avail. No matter what I did, they wouldn’t stay on the tree.

My husband Ed decided they might be too heavy, so he built a small wooden Christmas tree that would hold six boys and six girls. I put the tree on my kitchen counter and hoped for the best.

The next morning, my youngest son Glen came into my bedroom.

“Mom, I have bad news for you. Four of your gingerbread man tried to rappel down the kitchen cabinet and fell to their death. I found them lying on the kitchen floor.”

Soon all four of the children began offering suggestions.

“Mom, maybe you haven’t told them that you love them as often as you should.”

“Have you listened — really listened — to their problems?”

“Since the house is empty all day, we need to play music for them while we’re gone. I bet they’re lonely.”

“Should we ask around school, find a good therapist that they can talk to?”

They began stopping by the tree when they got home from school.

“How was your day?” they’d ask.

“Remember, we really care about you and promise never to eat you.”

One night, my oldest son Scott put the tree in the middle of the kitchen table so the gingerbread people would feel like they were part of the family.

I never thought of giving up. I was too determined, or perhaps just too stubborn.

Always searching for the perfect one, I tried more recipes than I can even count. The day I heard Martha Stewart was doing a show on gingerbread, I was so excited that I took half a day off from work. I dutifully copied down every ingredient and all her directions. At the end of the show Martha casually commented, “Of course, if you live in a very humid climate, no matter what you do; they’ll never stay on the tree.”

I couldn’t believe it — there was my answer. I wasn’t inadequate and it wasn’t a defective recipe. Martha said it wasn’t my fault. It was Houston’s fault. I was vindicated.

That night, I couldn’t wait to tell the children the good news. We all had a good laugh. They said they always had faith in me and knew I would find the answer. They just didn’t expect it to take ten years. I finally accepted defeat and bought wooden gingerbread ornaments for my tree.

I guess you never know what will start a family tradition. My fascination with the gingerbread world has become woven into the fabric of our family. Over the years, my children and grandchildren keep buying me gingerbread items for my kitchen. So if you happen to visit my house around the holidays, I’ll be happy to show you my extensive gingerbread collection. The day I baked my first gingerbread man, I never dreamed it would take me on such a long journey. I just know that my gingerbread people have provided my family with some very tasty treats and lots of laughs.

~Barbara Ann Carle

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