The Ties of Christmas, a short story by Katie Stairs at Spillwords.com

The Ties of Christmas

The Ties of Christmas

written by: Katie Stairs

 

The soft thudding of a little girl’s footsteps down the carpeted staircase roused the spirits that dwelled within the shadows of her grandparents’ old Victorian home. Quick on her feet, Lucy scaled the stairs within a matter of seconds and scrambled into the living room. Her face lit up instantly at the sight of neatly wrapped presents that reflected soft hues of reds and greens beneath the lights of the Christmas tree. She examined the gifts she was able to spy from where she stood as she knew not to touch them till everyone was up. House rules, of course. Christmas was always a family affair, no matter what. However, that didn’t stop a small flame from sparking in her belly as she pranced around the tree, careful not to trip on the rug to avoid repeating what happened last year when she got a little too big for her britches; at least, that’s what Gramma Sophie told her when she nearly knocked over the tree. Finally, she settled on the couch when the fresh smell of gingerbread and cinnamon swirled around the room; followed by Gramma Sophie holding a plate of cookies and a glass of milk.
“Morning Gramma.” Lucy said when she settled down next to her.
“Good morning, Lulu.” She smiled and handed her the plastic cup that was beaded with cold droplets. Lucy nestled against her gramma’s side and they both shared their family’s famous cookie recipe. “Did you sleep well?”
“Of course. I always sleep well before Christmas.” Lucy beamed before she dunked her cookie in her milk. The cinnamon sugar turned its white color into a frothy light brown. On most days, Lucy would be a bear to wake and the sun filtering through the window was her enemy. Though she loved school, the idea of waking early for it kept her feet dragging until her mom got her buckled into her car seat. However, Christmas morning was always a different story; it was tradition to rise the moment when the sun broke over the horizon because her gramma would be waiting for her in the kitchen, baking up the last batch of cookies from the night before for the whole family to enjoy when they woke. While they waited, the pair would walk around the house and her gramma would tell her stories about her mother when she was around Lucy’s age. The young girl never got tired of her gramma’s stories, even when some details changed over the years; some tidbits even being forgotten. Although, when Lucy knew her gramma was confusing two stories together, she still kept a smile on her lips. She enjoyed the time just drifting from room to room where gramma would sit and finish each story that would haphazardly change into a new variation.
Up until a few years ago, her mama told her that her gramma would retell the stories to keep them fresh but there always seemed to be a part she left out. Like the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, details blinked in and out with each reiteration till all that was left was a mesh of a fuzzy warmness that Gramma Sophie’s cookies carried as she spun each tale throughout the past few years. The fire crackled and tried to reach for the tinsel that dangled above it, but the wood burning would crumble every now and then, making the attempt futile. Not that it could have reached the sparkling decoration in the first place; her daddy and papa were very proactive in making sure nothing could spoil the night before Christmas. They took much more pride in their work this year and lined every possible stand and shelf with as many figures from the family’s Christmas town collection that her gramma and mama had accumulated over the years. Even the chipped pieces were out and stood tall from where they were placed. Usually, a fuss would be kicked up about it as Gramma Sophie didn’t want them to chip further if accidents were to happen. But, this year, she seemed quite content with the layout. At least, Lucy assumed so as she made no comment about them as they sat together munching on the cookies.
“Lulu.” Her gramma finally said, breaking the comfortable silence, “Where shall we start this year?” Lucy scrunched up her nose and tapped her chin as she thought about it. Last year, it was the living room because her gramma wasn’t feeling well, and they did the kitchen the year before since she woke up even before the sun did and right before the oven’s timer went off.
“Papa’s study.” Lucy said and pushed herself off the couch. Her hand gripping tightly to her half full cup. Sometimes, when Lucy’s family came for a visit, Gramma Sophie and she would sit on the velvet green armchair that was next to the bookcases and pronounce all the foreign book titles they were able to. It always turned into babble before fits of laughter when the stumbling of words became too much.
As they shuffled their way to the study, everything Gramma Sophie passed reverberated with colors of memory. The soft coral wallpaper of the cozy nook took up a warm hue when Gramma Sophie sat in her usual spot and that usually drab chair instantly brightened up into the shade of freshly cut grass. After Lucy settled down on her grandmother’s knee, she asked what the story would be this time.
“Let’s see,” She said, “When your mother was just about seven…”
“That’s my age!” Lucy chimed in and Gramma Sophie chuckled while her granddaughter’s eyes sparkled.
“It is, isn’t it. Well, when she was your age, we would bring cookies to Papa while he read in his favorite chair every Christmas Eve.”
As Gramma Sophie spoke, the warm colors of the room melted into a scene of old where a little girl with familiar raven curls was bouncing on her heels as she walked through the door with her mother.
“Daddy!” The little girl, Lucy’s mother, beamed and a younger Papa bubbled into view. He was sitting in his favorite old rocker that he kept by the bookcase. He read by the light of a lantern that illuminated the fresh holly lining the bookshelves. The sweet smell stirred with the cinnamon that radiated from the cookies on the plate. “Mama made Christmas cookies!”
“They smell like heaven.” Papa smiled and closed the fat novel in his hands. The musty smell of old pages blending with others as he filed it back onto the shelf. In one smooth motion, Gramma Sophie leaned down and held the plate to him with both hands. Heat radiated off the fresh batch and he instantly plucked two from the bunch and devoured them; crumbs raining past his lips scattering in his graying beard.
“Harry. You’re going to choke one of these days if you’re not careful.” Gramma Sophie said and lifted the plate away from him before he could grab more.
“I know, you always remind me.” He said with an even sweeter smile as her frown deepened. “Your cookies are just too irresistible.”
“Then you should savor them.” She pointed out, “Instead of gobbling them up like a hyena.” Papa just shrugged and leaned back in his rocker.
“One bite is all I need.” Papa said and their daughter fought to smother a giggle when Gramma Sophie rolled her eyes.
“Don’t come crying to me when something happens.” She finally said before planting a kiss on Papa’s cheek. “Don’t stay up too long. We have a busy day coming.”
“Your Papa never ever learned his lesson.” Gramma Sophie finished and Lucy rubbed her eyes as the scene fizzled out. She blinked a few times, but everything had turned back to how it was when they first came into the room. Papa rarely decorated his study anymore and the smell of must was pallettable since his collection of old Gothics kept growing. “I don’t think he will either.”
“It’s cause he loves your cooking so much.” Lucy said as her gramma brushed back her bangs before she chuckled.
“I suppose you’re right.” Gramma Sophie said, “Though he also never learns.”
“Still your cookies are the best!” Lucy pointed out and pushed herself off her gramma’s knee. Her soft pink nightgown was slightly wrinkled and sparsely speckled with cookie crumbs.
While her grandmother pushed herself off the old sitting chair, Lucy gave the study one last look over. While they were sitting, the walls seemed shorter, the room less empty, and the space was overwhelmed with the strong smell of cinnamon; even when there were no traces of cookies to be found. Her Papa never liked anyone eating where he wrote, though often he would break this rule with his usual snack of cheese and crackers. To give the room a homier feeling, especially during Christmas, Gramma Sophie would get away with lining the shelves with scented pinecones; but this year, it seemed, she decided not to bother with it and the room remained soaked in the smell of musk.
“Where to next?” Gramma Sophie asked after she smoothed out her wrinkled, bunny white apron that was decorated on the edges with a pattern of faded strawberries.
“The kitchen.” Lucy said when her tummy gurgled. “We can get a snack there too.”
“Alright Lulu.” Gramma Sophie smiled once more and held her granddaughter’s hand, “To the kitchen we go.”
The strong scent of cinnamon broomsticks made Lucy flinch when they stepped into the room. Her mother had snatched them up as soon as the markdown stickers were printed. Two of the brooms were hung up above the small kitchen window above the sink and it was opened just a crack. The cool breeze that settled in mixed and swirled the sharp scent around them both.
“It really reels in the season, doesn’t it?” Her mother had said even when both Lucy and her daddy pinched their noses around them. They were just two big babies when it came to tasteful decor her mother had decided when she noticed the two of them doing this. Lucy and her daddy took this in stride and made whining sounds to better suit the role. The crisp memory made Lucy giggle from time to time. The scent of the broomsticks often drew it out of her no matter what was going on in the kitchen that day.
Gramma Sophie settled down on a barstool by the granite island while Lucy went to the snack drawer, turned the old key, and grabbed a granola bar to munch on before she leaned against her Gramma’s thigh. Wreaths and mistletoe climbed up the cabinets as little Christmas figures decorated the counter tops closing in the open space and creating a small nook out of the place where her gramma baked her famous gingerbread and danced to the ticking of the old oven’s timer.
“Let’s see now.” Gramma Sophie said and she brushed back Lucy’s bangs as she pondered on the right story to tell. Over the years, her thoughts became more and more discombobulated. That big word made Lucy laugh when her mother said it. It seemed so silly coming from her usually articulate lips. However, this morning, there seemed to be some clarity as the inconsistencies dissolved away into a watercolor like scene that appeared before them as her gramma wove her tale.
There, in the kitchen, was her mother and herself tiptoeing around the island, careful not to ruin the rhythm they were in. With gentle hands, her mother kneaded the dough that was powdered in cinnamon and nutmeg. It would be mixed into a bowl of sugar soaked with egg wash, melted butter, and vanilla. Her mother grabbed the jar of cinnamon before she studied the recipe with a sharp eye. It was never clear how much was needed as the instructions changed and evolved with the liberty the chef was willing to take with it. Gramma Sophie used to douse the dough in the spice which led to sneezing fits from Papa and herself. When Lucy was born, she started easing off the amount and fell into a satisfying routine with the amount her intuition told her to add. Though she never got to writing down that exact number as, by the time she thought about it, it slipped her mind as everything was put away and cleaned up. While Lucy’s mother molded the cinnamon in the dough, the old radio sang out Christmas tunes that Gramma Sophie would shrill along to as they baked. Now there seemed to be a subtle silence and a quiet static crackling from the old speakers.
“Lulabean, fetch me the parchment paper please.” Her mother said with a small smile as the little girl scurried to the cabinet, turned the key, and tossed the open box onto the counter where it was easy to grab.
After covering the two baking trays with parchment, she lined them both with balls of dough before placing them on the two racks of the old oven. She let Lucy wind up the timer to forty minutes and it’s ticking filled the kitchen with a comfortable silence. The scene rippled for a moment and then the timer went off. Quickly, her Mama whisked out both trays and set them on top of the stove cool. However, the smell of cinnamon was overpowering and caused the two of them to sneeze. Tears welled in her mother’s eyes, and she covered her mouth while she started to add the misshapenned cookies she made.
“Elle, what’s wrong?” her husband asked, and she sniffled,
“I’ll never be able to make like Mom.” her words trembled as she spoke, “I try so hard to but I can never get it right and I’ve helped her every year so I should be able to and yet… these look nothing like hers.”
“They look like Mama’s.” Lucy soon piped up and her Mama’s eyes widened slightly. “I’m sure they’re just as delicious too.” More tears dribbled down Elle’s cheeks, but she smiled and gave her daughter a big kiss on her head as she pulled her close in her arms.
“I love you, Lulabean.” She managed to whisper before she wiped away her tears. The colors blurred together before the moment bubbled away.
Once more, Lucy was with her gramma as she finished the story with a soft smile. “Even as we change, the traditions we share keep our Christmas alive.”
“I always love baking with you and Mama, even when your cookies are better…” Lucy said, and Gramma Sophie chuckled.
“Your Mama will get better.” She said before she pushed herself up from the barstool and held her hand out to Lucy. “Shall we go to the family room?”
“Yes!” Lucy grinned and took her gramma’s hand, knowing the time to rip open the wrapping of her favorite part of Christmas was coming. The warm smell of pumpkin spice permeated the small hallway they passed through. It brought back a sweet kind of love that filled Lucy’s heart consistently when she was with her Gramma Sophie.
From the archway that led into the living, Lucy could see that the fire still crackled in the hearth. She hurried and plopped herself down in her usual spot on the sofa to soak in the warmth before she grabbed a cookie from the plate that still lay on the armrest. It was cool against her fingers, but the overpowered taste of cinnamon warmed her tastebuds right up. Once her gramma sat down next to her, she let out a soft sigh before pulling Lucy close to her side.
“When I look at this room. I can see all the generations that were and will ever be gathered around in love by the Christmas tree.” Gramma Sophie said as she rubbed Lucy’s arm. Lucy watched as three figures materialized around the Christmas tree. A woman, who looked almost like her mama, sat by the tree with a little girl in her lap while a man held a fresh plate of cookies for them to share. They were familiar strangers, but Lucy couldn’t even begin to guess why. The faces were vague at best and could easily blend into the background if she wasn’t paying attention. However, the bindings of the love shared among the trio squeezed her heart so firmly, she knew that she loved them. “I see you with your own family, telling stories and eating cookies; our famous family recipe of course.” She said as Lucy scrunched up her nose as she watched the scene play out before.
“They don’t look like your cookies.”
“No, because you made them your own.” Gramma Sophie said and tapped her cheek with a cold finger. “Just as your Mama did from me, and I from my own mother.”
“That’s kinda sad.” Lucy mumbled as she looked up at her gramma with a pout, “Yours will always be the best.”
“Maybe for now, but your mama will get there and soon your children will be saying that about hers.” Gramma Sophie said with a certain softness to her voice. The couple before them laughed and broke apart the fresh baked cookies and chowed down. This time, the smell of ginger overpowered the cinnamon as it wafted across the room. “On Christmas day, these cookies bring us closer. It’s an ever-changing tradition that keeps us connected.” Her gramma trailed off with a soft sigh and Lucy took a moment to think about what it meant. Even though there wasn’t much to the story, somehow, deep in her heart, there was a tugging that told Lucy that it would finish itself in due time; in a future that wasn’t so clear yet. “I love you, my Lucy.”
Lucy was about to say the same when she heard the creaking of floorboards and saw her Mama leaning against the archway. She covered her mouth with a hand with tears dotting the corners of her eyes. “I didn’t think you’d like them that much.”
Lucy blinked before she swallowed and said, “Aren’t these the ones you made with Gramma?”
“No, those are the ones I made with you.” She said before she sat down next to Lucy in the spot her gramma had been sitting in just moments ago.
“Oh yea…” Lucy murmured as the memories of the tame calamity that happened the night before floated across her mind. “They taste wonderful Mama.”
At that moment, her mama wrapped her arms around her and pulled Lucy close. “Shall I tell a story like Gramma used to?”
“Yes please.” Lucy whispered before she curled up against her mama’s side and the spirits of the house fell back asleep as a new story unfolded.

Series Navigation<< Quaking at The SightA Christmas to Remember >>
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This publication is part 92 of 93 in the series 12 Days of Christmas