Making memories as sweet as frosting
By Jessie Veeder Scofield
“I have a picture, I can just see it now, of little Levi sitting on the counter with his bare feet in the flour while Julie and I roll out the dough.”
Myra Anderson is reaching back into the archives of her memory, tallying the years by the birth of her sons to come up with the timeline of a tradition that was started as a tribute to her fondest holiday memories as a young girl growing up on a farm near Casselton, ND and making gingerbread cookies with her mother, father and sisters.
“I can remember being about 10 years old, and this was something that was really a fun time because dad would come in from doing chores and sit down for the afternoon and decorate the cookies. And dad was always a teaser and a joker and when mom would turn her back he would cut a leg or something off the cookie or do something silly and we would all giggle and laugh,” recalls Myra. “Using a straw we’d poke a hole in the top of the cookies and then we would hang them on the tree.”
And so when she came across a recipe for gingerbread cookies in the 1980 Better Homes and Gardens Christmas magazine, Myra decided to invite her neighbors over and re-live a fond childhood memory.
That was nearly 40 years ago, when she was a working mother raising two young boys with her husband Ron on their farm and ranch southeast of Keene, ND. The family had recently moved from a trailer house on the ranch to a home with a large kitchen. Myra celebrated by inviting her friends over to make gingerbread cookies and, with young children at their feet or, like that photo of Julie Wisness’s son Levi, on the counter with toes in the flour, together they rolled out the first of the cookies together. The rest? Well, it’s frosting covered history, much like the upholstery on Myra’s kitchen chairs.
“We used to do a whole turkey dinner afterwards, and then we would play cards. Those who had the best hand were out, those with the second best hand had to do dishes and the third best hand had to give all the kids baths.”
As the years ticked on and the kids grew older, the tradition evolved to become a potluck supper, a football game on TV, more cookie cutters and frosting techniques and then, eventually, the children of the children who helped roll out the first gingerbread men all those years ago.
“My boys would invite their friends and we would make cookies and they would go out and play football in the yard,” recalls Myra, who adds that even when they went off to college, they would request that she hold off on Gingerbread Day for when they could both be home.
These days, with Marshall, his wife and two children in California and Ryan in Wisconsin with his wife and two children, it’s difficult to find a time when everyone can get together. Myra holds the time when she’s had all of her grandkids around the gingerbread table among her favorite memories. And her grandkids seem to hold the same sentiment for their grandmother’s Gingerbread Day tradition.
And so do all the neighborhood children throughout the years, having left in their wake little rituals that sweeten the day, like the German pickle ornament that she hangs on the tree. The first to find it gets a special present.
“I’ve run into trouble with that one because I don’t always remember, but the kids always do.”
And then there’s the Cookie Jar of Fame that holds the extra special cookies the children have created throughout the years. “I’ve had to buy a new second jar,” laughs Myra, who, during a recent kitchen remodel, added on a special closet dedicated to Gingerbread Day.
Which she needs, especially since during Gingerbread Day she could host as many as fifty people, sending each of them home with a shoebox full of cookies for the holiday, shoeboxes she and Ron start saving at the start of each new year.
And this year? Well, Myra has the date set, the recipe in its spot, the shoeboxes stacked and she’s calling the neighbors to bring a dip or an appetizer and come and make memories as sweet as the frosting and as warm as the memories in those old photographs.