I’m going to go back to the beginning here, and share the very first essay I ever blogged at the tail end of 2006, just as it turned over to 2007. The end of the year seemed like the perfect time to launch something new, and that “something” was my first blog, “Running with Stilettos,” which friends had pushed and pushed me to do as a way to get back to creative writing after I’d switched careers turned into a lawyer. A prosecuting attorney, no less! Not a job exactly brimming with humor and creativity, though you’d be surprised.
I think there are several good lessons to be drawn from it, including (1) listen to your friends as they encourage you to do new stuff (except breaking and entering, that’s always a bad idea!); (2) you’re never too old to try something new; (3) who knows where that “something new” will take you; and (4) your kids will never stop surprising you.
In this case, I’d been casting around for an idea of what to write about to launch this new thing with. Essays had never been my forte. But then my kids came home for Christmas, one of those divorced-family holidays, and I handed them the rolling pin to make cookies and then couldn’t stop laughing afterward! Santa had a bloody axe…and it went on from there…
I got a lot of mileage from this first, inaugural essay. Not only did it give me a starting point for the blog, it was later reprinted as an offbeat Christmas story in the Milwaukee paper, it’s made it into a couple of my books, and it’s even out there on YouTube because I did a long-distance performance for a reading series in Illinois a couple of years ago.
So without further fanfare, here it is!! Merry Christmas to all, and may the New Year bring us good health and good luck.
The Tale of the Christmas Axes
Martha Stewart, stop reading right now. I can’t be held responsible for the stroke sure to follow if you find out about Christmas at my house or my friend Barb’s house this year. It’s all about what happens when you finally turn over the reins of control. In the end, you laugh a lot harder.
Barb and I could be templates for that tired stereotype, “women who do too much.” Not because we’re perfect, but because we’re both coming from behind. Barb’s still got some recuperation issues from back and neck surgery that slow her down from time to time. And after a riding accident eleven years ago, I still run out of steam—and the ability to just keep standing—on a long day earlier than I used to. Which doesn’t keep either of us from pulling out all the stops at the holidays. I hadn’t been over to Barb’s for a few weeks before Christmas, but I know her usual standard—warm and inviting and really pretty.
This year, I had three of my four kids coming home from college or beyond right before Christmas, and I wanted the short time they could all spend together to be as cozy as a Norman Rockwell picture turned into a Hallmark television movie. There was a wreath on the door, and a nine foot Christmas tree with dozens of glass-blown and hand-embroidered ornaments, strung with strings of red wooden “cranberries,” festooned with ceramic birds and various cute critters. Homemade pumpkin pie, homemade banana muffins, homemade Christmas cookies in four varieties. Needlepoint stockings hung by the chimney with care. So what if I couldn’t find the crèche for the second year running, I found the stuffed moose that sings “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and put fresh batteries in it before they got home. Somebody sat on it as if on cue. Sixty pounds of fresh firewood in the wrought iron stand next to the fireplace, along with a basket of “fatwood” to start the fire in a hurry. Coffee in the pot, and whipped cream to go on the hot chocolate.
But the high point for fun has always been rolling out and decorating the butter cookies. And this year was no exception. They set to the task almost as soon as Michael, the freshman, walked in the door and dumped his gear. By this time it was late afternoon, and I was done in after days of shopping and wrapping and baking. And two days spent on a last-minute felony drug trial. I poured myself a glass of wine, pulled down the bowl of cookie cutters from the top shelf, and handed off the rolling pin to the younger generation. “Knock yourselves out,” I said, and sat down on the sofa to read the paper as the flames danced in the hearth.
The kitchen was like a beehive, and I enjoyed the energy from a distance. As soon as the last batch of cookies was finished and cooling, we had dinner and ripped into the present exchange. Then the kids left to go open presents at their dad’s house, and I finally started to take inventory of what they’d left behind.
It looked like a holiday bomb had gone off. Every open surface was covered with flour, or gingerbread crumbs, or frosting. Red sugar crystals. Green sugar crystals. Candy hearts, candy sprinkles, candy flowers. Discarded coffee cups and wine glasses were everywhere. Cookies were everywhere, too, and as I started to pick them up to store them, I laughed out loud. My late mother in law had given me the cookie cutters two decades ago, and every year I’d pulled out the most obvious holiday ones: there was Santa, and an angel, a reindeer, a fir tree, a bell, a star, a heart, a flower. And every year, for some reason, the censor in me had missed pulling out the cutter clearly shaped like an axe. Why Santa might need an axe on his journeys, I can only guess. But the kids found the axe-shaped cookie cutter in the bottom of the bowl I’d handed them, and had taken it to town.
There were lots and lots of Christmas axes in this cookie collection. Bloody axes, in fact, as they’d decorated the edges of the blades with red sugar crystals. Keeping the theme going, they’d brought the angels into the act as well, with bloody little angel hands to go with the little bloody axes. I was surprised they left Santa with his head on his shoulders. The extra dreadlocks they added to Rudolph’s antlers and colored red, making him the “Sideshow Bob” of the reindeer team, seemed almost like an afterthought. I packed cookies and laughed. Then I packed some more cookies, and laughed some more.
The next day I called Barb to tell her about the new Christmas tradition. She had one of her own to match. Seems she ran out of holiday steam a bit early too, and turned the task of decorating the gingerbread men at her house over to a twelve year old niece. Henceforth, gingerbread men at her house will now have three eyes instead of the standard two. It’s always nice to have tradition to look forward to. Next year, if the kids want to do bloody axes and murderous angels again, I’ll make sure they’ve got red frosting.