Christmas this year required a drive to Memphis, a flight to LaGuardia and a taxi ride to reach my family. And there, admiring the Christmas tree high above the city streets, I noticed the cookie tray. Laid out in a neat row was a touch of Water Valley.
My older daughter, Jessica, had come South for the first time in October. She admired the landscape with its open fields and my new house with its red walls and tall windows. Linda Shuffield gave her a tour of the courthouse and she met Binnie Turnage over ice cream at the drugstore.
But the highlight of her trip? The Dollar General Store.
Here on a low shelf she spied colored miniature marshmallows. We are a family of good cooks and tucked away among old, spattered recipe cards is her great-aunt’s directions for Church Window Cookies. But alas, the main ingredient never could be found in New York.
Jessica happily gathered up a bag and as we walked back to Lafayette Street, she talked of the wonder of finding the long-coveted marshmallows. The next day during a stop at the B.T.C., Alexe van Beuren asked her how she liked Water Valley. The Dollar General Store topped my girl’s list of the town’s many charms.
Now it was Christmas and here, more than a thousand miles away, waited the Church Window Cookies, full of Water Valley marshmallows rimmed in New York chocolate.
Of course, no family can live on cookies alone. I was the cook for Christmas dinner. Sage and thyme scented the pork, the sweetness of dried cranberries and apricots colored the wild rice. But dinner this year was also flavored by my short time in the South.
A platter of fresh string beans, while still cooked with the slight northern crunch, arrived at the table studded with crisp bacon. The yellow goodness of cornbread came without sugar and baked in a cast-iron skillet. The power of good food blends all regions, all accents.
My holiday in New York was filled with the lure of the big town too. We ate Christmas Eve dinner at my favorite restaurant on East 44th Street. I watched dancers fly across the stage at City Center. I dashed into Bloomingdale’s for a bit of this and that. And I stopped at Rockefeller Center for a glimpse of its skaters and towering tree.
For all the lightness, my family also reflected the harshness of today’s experience. My grandson, a student at Ohio State University, told of the terror of the recent campus violence directed at classmates. A granddaughter described an episode of harassment through the far-reaching mischief of social media. Even Christmas dinner cannot escape the seriousness of our rapidly changing world.
Now I’m back in Water Valley and it’s time to settle into winter, come to rest under its gray sky.