Nothin’ Says Lovin’ Like . . .

Nothin’ Says Lovin’ Like . . .

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Nothin’ Says Lovin’ Like . . .

Christmas was coming, and I didn’t have one ounce of spirit or energy. I couldn’t even muster a half-hearted “ho-ho.” I was a gray heap of sorrow, enmeshed in my own pity party.

I had taken a last walk with my closest friend that year and still grieved her passing. Neither of my away-from-home daughters would be able to get back for the holidays. My recently retired husband, grappling with his own identity, didn’t or couldn’t see that I was a mess. My joints ached; I felt old, looked old and was losing my grip on things that had always been so sure and steady in my life. I slogged through my days, unable to even recognize myself.

I mourned for the past when everything ran smoothly: The girls were growing; I was busy and involved in their lives; my husband was working. My grief had reached crisis proportions after our move across town a few months earlier. Even my neighbors had been replaced with strangers.

I tried walking the new neighborhood. I tried holiday shopping. I even saw a movie or two. But I felt like I had lost my way. Then the phone rang one afternoon.

“Isabel,” a voice chirped. “It’s Julie. Nicholas is wondering if you’re planning your annual cookie-baking day. Are you?”

Ever since Nicholas was able to toddle across my kitchen in the old neighborhood, we’d had tea together and baked cookies. This year, his younger brother Zachary was old enough to join the activities.

“Oh Julie, I don’t think . . .” I paused and mustered some false enthusiasm. “Of course I’m going to bake with Nicholas. And send Zachary along, too. It’ll be great!”

I set the date and hung up the phone with a weight sitting in the bottom of my stomach like a wad of raw cookie dough. This was the last thing in the world I wanted— two little boys racing all over my house, my kitchen and my life. Still, it would be nice to carry on an old tradition.

Down the block lived another child, a quiet little thing, sometimes peeking out at me from behind a large ash tree in her front yard. One day I saw her sitting idly on the curb and, recognizing a kindred spirit, joined her.

“Hi. I’m Isabel. I moved in over there,” I pointed, “and I’m lonesome because I don’t know anybody. What’s your name?”

“Kelsey,” she answered. “I don’t have anything to do.”

“Hmm. Well, I’ve got just the thing,” I heard myself saying. “Tomorrow my friends Nicholas and Zachary are coming to bake cookies. Would you like to come?”

Kelsey’s mother eagerly brought her over the next morning. Standing on my doorstep were three grinning kids and two parents. I told the grown-ups that it would take about three hours, but I’d call when everybody was ready to go home.

And the four of us got started.

We measured.

We mixed.

We laughed when flour powdered our faces and hair.

The dough was over-rolled and over-handled, but it didn’t seem to matter. Nor did anyone care when the cookie-cutter shapes were crooked or lopsided. And there were no tears shed over the burned sheet of Christmas trees that set off the smoke alarm. Instead, we discovered they made splendid Frisbees to bulls-eye the frozen birdbath out back.

Amid singing and conversations both long and short, I hauled out the frosting: red and green pastry tubes that oozed both top and bottom. After a minilesson in rosette making, the three little ones practiced squeezing the sugar concoction onto the countertop. Did you know that red and green icing turns mouth, teeth and tongue an awful purple? Even my own!

Tiny fingers pressed raisin eyes and red cinnamon buttons onto gingerbread fronts. The kids ate two for every one they used. Colored sugar sprinkled the table, the Santa cookies and the floor.

Secrets were whispered, little hurts mended and problems solved while we downed three refills of beyond-sugary sugarplum tea in real china cups.

And—miracle of miracles—frosted holiday cookies, divided by lacy paper doilies, were all neatly packed in white boxes decorated with “Merry-Christmas-I-love-you” tags when the doorbell rang. Six hours later.

“I thought you came here to decorate cookies, not yourselves,” Kelsey’s mother teased. All three kids grinned back with purple teeth. I kept my own mouth closed.

“I miss you, Isabel.” Nicholas grabbed me around the waist before he left. “The lady in your old house doesn’t make us cookies or tea.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Zachary.

“One day,” I smiled, holding Nick’s rosy cheeks in both my hands, “you’re going to grow up, and you won’t want to bake Christmas cookies anymore. And I’ll understand.”

“Oh no, Isabel! I will never, never be too old for you. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” said Zachary.

“Me, too,” whispered Kelsey.

And suddenly they were stuck to me like Velcro.

Christmas came. I invited all the old neighbors and a few of the new ones. My daughters phoned, bereft and homesick, and, of course, we all cried. I still missed my friend. And my husband didn’t change at all. But the most important thing I learned that year was:

When life seems sorrowful—reach out.

Find children.

Bake cookies.

Isabel Bearman Bucher

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