Memories — Both Fleeting and Poignant — at the Holidays

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SWEETS BY MRS. C IN MONONGAHELA | PHOTO BY KRISTY LOCKLIN

Years ago, I spent an afternoon baking holiday cookies with my three children in an attempt to make a lasting Christmas memory.

I had these wonderful recollections baking with my grandmother in her small kitchen in Lynchburg, Va., standing on her checkered, pink-and-white linoleum floor. I can still smell the almond cut-out cookies as they came out of the oven. I wanted my school-aged kids to have memories like that, too.

We planned to make the beautiful star-shaped cookie that caught my eye on the cover of a food magazine. We all gathered in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon and followed the recipe to a T, with one kid assigned to stirring, another cutting the dough and another decorating the cookies with silver balls and colored sugar.

Except the batter didn’t have the right consistency and was impossible to roll out. What did we do wrong? We started all over. And again, the batter didn’t work. At this point I was yelling and throwing things and the kids had lost interest and scattered. What a disaster!

When the next month’s food magazine arrived, it contained a prominent editor’s note — “Correction: A recipe for a star cookie included in the December edition omitted a key ingredient …”

The clincher: I recently asked my kids (all grown now) what they remembered from that afternoon. None could recall anything. Nothing. But they all said they had sweet memories of us making Christmas cookies together when they were younger.

Of course, the holidays evoke all sorts of memories. There’s a wistful atmosphere at Sweets by Mrs. C, a year-round Christmas-themed ice cream and candy store in Monongahela that Kristy Locklin describes in her monthly PGHEats column. She says the store is like something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The nostalgic decorations and scents recall the old-time holidays from a time that not all of us experienced but certainly can appreciate.

The holidays are a time many of us feel nostalgic, and according to scientists, that’s a good thing for us. It can improve our moods and possibly our mental health — “It doesn’t cement us in the past, but actually raises our spirit and vitality,” according to a 2015 British study explained in a Scientific American article. The research, conducted on American, British and Chinese participants, found that nostalgia boosted self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connectedness. “Sentimental recollections often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social web that extends across people — and across time,” the article notes. Virginiathumb

I’ve never been able to replicate the almond cut-out cookies my grandmother baked. I’ve tried, but I just don’t get the same look or aroma. Maybe what I’m really missing is her cozy kitchen and her warm embrace. The way the tiles squeaked under our feet as we moved from table to oven. How the cookies seemed to melt in our mouths right out of the oven. Comforting thoughts. Nostalgia.

Here’s wishing you good memories and good health.

Virginia Linn can be reached at vlinn@pittsburghmagazine.com.

Categories: Editor