“Farm hands,” she says as I turn the camera on her, grating nutmeg onto the eggnog. Two gallons, at least, of deep yellow, delectable concoction, consisting largely of homegrown eggs and liquor. The Bad Dog Ranch girls came early to mix the eggnog in the ancestral punchbowl that I’ve talked about but have not used since I’ve lived here. In the family since the late 1800’s, it’s one of those heirlooms that only came on out very special occasions. It’s been in a trunk for twenty years. Poor thing. Like an opal it needs to breathe, to see the sun from time to time. The punchbowl had a very nice afternoon, did a great job, and got a lot of admiring attention.
The Holiday Cookie Exchange has quickly become a favorite tradition in the past few years up here on the mesa. Each woman brings a couple of dozen cookies, and a tin or tub to take home that many. People pull out all the cookie stops with some of their creations. This year we had seventeen lovely women from all three towns and the valleys and mesas scattered among them. There were occasional hijinks from the dogs, who were otherwise gracious. Snow lay across the land outside, still tall on every twig, on fences, outlining everything white, but paths and patios were clear; the ground was so warm when the storm hit last night that snow didn’t stick too much to bricks and concrete. I knew we’d be warm inside, all our happy warm energy, and kept the door to the mudroom open, where boots filled the floor and coats, hats, and bags were stacked on every surface.
It wasn’t possible to taste even one of each kind of cookie, there were just too many. Most had labels; there was a small table devoted to gluten-free offerings. Fortunately, some people brought spiced nuts, ham biscuits, apples and cheese and crackers, to balance the sugar fiesta. The holiday music of my childhood, choral and instrumental Christmas works, played in the background of waves of conversation. All that sweeping and rearranging furniture paid off, creating lots of smaller sitting and standing areas, so that seventeen broke into five or six more intimate groupings, rearranging themselves through the afternoon, and each got to visit with all. Our stories wove together, catching up the threads of the neighborhood, the past weeks and months of our lives since we’d last seen each other, pulling the safety net of love in our community a little tighter this winter day.
Everyone also got to fill their tubs or plates with more cookies than they brought, and somehow there were still dozens left over. How did that happen? The math didn’t add up but the sense of plenty flowed through us.
“Old hands,” said one of them as I was taking pictures. “We all have old hands,” I said. And lucky to have them, I thought. The stories they could tell. The meals they’ve prepared, the fences they’ve built, the babies they’ve held. The lives they’ve lived, these hands all gathered here around this generosity of cookies.
Well, all of us have old hands or farm hands or both, except for the one beautiful daughter who came, a young mother herself, and she brought a baby! With the baby snugged to her chest in a cozy wrap, Rocky couldn’t get enough of them both. If he’s ever seen a baby that young it was when he was a baby himself. He was fascinated, and maybe a little jealous. The big catahoulas, bouncy as Tiggers, relegated upstairs or outside for the whole afternoon, were jealous of the littlest dog, who got to sit on the lap with the baby. But several people took a break from the cookies and walked out through the snowy woods to the canyon rim; the big dogs got their joy escorting guests on their walks. I wallowed in gratitude all afternoon.
Marla brought a beautiful strudel for dessert! Like anyone needed dessert. And it was gone in no time. Some people went home, saying “I need a nap!” Some people took their nap in situ.
The baby behaved as well as the dogs, as cloudy afternoon wore on to dusk. People drifted off as they needed to leave, to check on a puppy, to feed a husband, to get home before dark; half a dozen stayed to watch the last of the Broncos game on TV. Suddenly it felt like any holiday I ever spent with family growing up, sitting around chatting and laughing, sated, with the soft drone of a football game (even though we were all women, it struck me sweetly) lulling everyone off to sleep.