my grandma, the maniac

October 11, 2009

Christmas Memories by Susan Wiggs, author of Lakeshore Christmas
Lakeshore Christmas is my first full-length novel set during the holidays, so I relied on my deepest and most cherished personal memories for inspiration.
First, there’s the weather. I’m originally from a tiny town in the wilds of New York State, and to a child, the winters there are a time of enchantment. The snow is so deep and thick that the streets become virtual tunnels, and everything looks beautiful. My very favorite sports–skiing, sledding, and curling up with a good book while sipping hot chocolate top the list.
Next, there are the cookies. Are you kidding me? Between my mother, two grandmothers, various aunts and other women in my life, the holiday was one giant cookie. My Grandma Anna was the inspiration for Helen Majesky, who founded Avalon’s Sky River Bakery, and she was a maniac in the kitchen. The smells alone conjure up warm afternoons with my mother–cinnamon and cardamom and ginger, butter and marzipan and chocolate–and evoke vivid memories of standing on a step stool to help with the frosting and sprinkles.
One of the reasons I included a playlist in the Cookie Exchange Cookbook (a special end-of-book feature of the novel) is that there is no way I can separate the memories of making cookies from the background music. I had a very musical childhood, and our Christmas record selection was vast, from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” to Handel’s Messiah. Our selections were extremely secular, I have to admit. We were as likely to be found making gingerbread men to the tune of the William Tell Overture as we were to Herb Alpert’s “Tijuana Taxi.”
Readers of Lakeshore Christmas will find a tribute to the most treasured resource of any community–the public library. The library of my small-town girlhood loomed large in my imagination. Like the library in the book, it was an imposing, Gothic-revival-style building filled with all the wonders of the world. At the holidays, a tall fresh tree would grace the atrium of the building, and each year I would fashion a special ornament to hang on it. One year when I was about eight years old, I wrote a Christmas story on tiny pieces of paper, made it into a book and hung it on the tree. I don’t know what ever became of that story, but you can bet it had a happy ending.
And finally, there is inspiration in the magic of Christmas itself. I was a true believer long after most of my friends moved on to reality. And I still am. When I see a glow of happiness in a child’s eyes, or observe a stranger’s act of kindness, or hear a song I’ve known all my life, I know the Christmas spirit is present.
This is the Christmas story I’ve always wanted to write, and to be able to tell it in the context of the Lakeshore Chronicles is just perfect. I’m excited to share it with the world.

Lakeshore Christmas is my first full-length novel set during the holidays, so I relied on my deepest and most cherished personal memories for inspiration.

First, there’s the weather. I’m originally from a tiny town in the wilds of New York State, and to a child, the winters there are a time of enchantment. The snow is so deep and thick that the streets become virtual tunnels, and everything looks beautiful. My very favorite sports–skiing, sledding, and curling up with a good book while sipping hot chocolate top the list.

Next, there are the cookies. Are you kidding me? Between my mother, two grandmothers, various aunts and other women in my life, the holiday was one giant cookie. My Grandma Anna was the inspiration for Helen Majesky, who founded Avalon’s Sky River Bakery, and she was a maniac in the kitchen. The smells alone conjure up warm afternoons with my mother–cinnamon and cardamom and ginger, butter and marzipan and chocolate–and evoke vivid memories of standing on a step stool to help with the frosting and sprinkles.

[above: sfogliatelle. An Italian pastry that will change your life.]

One of the reasons I included a playlist in the Cookie Exchange Cookbook (a special end-of-book feature of the novel) is that there is no way I can separate the memories of making cookies from the background music. I had a very musical childhood, and our Christmas record selection was vast, from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” to Handel’s Messiah. Our selections were extremely secular, I have to admit. We were as likely to be found making gingerbread men to the tune of the William Tell Overture as we were to Herb Alpert’s “Tijuana Taxi.” To sample Maureen’s playlist, click here. To see Eddie’s, click here.

Readers of Lakeshore Christmas will find a tribute to the most treasured resource of any community–the public library. The library of my small-town girlhood loomed large in my imagination. Like the library in the book, it was an imposing, Gothic-revival-style building filled with all the wonders of the world. At the holidays, a tall fresh tree would grace the atrium of the building, and each year I would fashion a special ornament to hang on it. One year when I was about eight years old, I wrote a Christmas story on tiny pieces of paper, made it into a book and hung it on the tree. I don’t know what ever became of that story, but you can bet it had a happy ending.

And finally, there is inspiration in the magic of Christmas itself. I was a true believer long after most of my friends moved on to reality. And I still am. When I see a glow of happiness in a child’s eyes, or observe a stranger’s act of kindness, or hear a song I’ve known all my life, I know the Christmas spirit is present.

This is the Christmas story I’ve always wanted to write, and to be able to tell it in the context of the Lakeshore Chronicles is just perfect. I’m excited to share it with the world.

How about you? List some of your most vivid Christmas memories below.

| 4 Comments
  • Christmas in Australia is bang in the middle of the long summer vacation, so it’s a totally different experience. We tend to eat cold seafood and salads and to make frozen ice cream Christmas puddings (still rich with spices and fruit dredged with brandy). Many Australian families spend Christmas at the beach. But Santa still dresses in the red suit and beard (poor fellow) and the spirit is still there – the excited children, the acts of generosity… and the music! And in our family we have traditional turkey on Christmas Eve (it’s a little cooler in the evenings). But I love to read about northern hemisphere Christmases, am still dying to see snow and I adore libraries. I always feel a sense of perfect peace walking into a library. I am so looking forward to reading your book, Susan. Christmas, libraries and Lakeshore characters, plus your magic touch – that’s a winning combination – like catnip for me.

  • As a twin, my sister and I took turns snuffing out the candle in the middle of my mom’s homemade fresh coconut cake(Jesus’ birthday cake) which was always the Christmas dinner centerpiece, surounded by fresh holly . And we loved to lie on the floor and watch DADDY”S!!!! train go round and round under the Christmas tree with the smokestack puffing smoke and its headlight on. Who was Christmas for anyway???but especially for Daddy!!!!! And Santa always spilled a bag of candy at the front door because he was too fat to go up and down the chimney.And we always took Christmas gifts to a needy family in the city.Oh! yes! and mother always baked the cut out butter cookies with the old heirloom cookie cutters, but it was Daddy and my twin and me who had the joy of decorating them..sprinkles and colored butter icing and all! My Dad was a salesman who often was out of town which made all of the holiday time with him extra special.

  • Every year my sister and I would take off two days of work and spend a long weekend making dozens and dozens of different Christmas cookies. We would talk and listen to Christmas music while we baked. On Sunday night, we would spread everything out in the dining room and make up cans of cookies to give to friends and relatives as presents. Ahh, the memories. Those were some of the best years of my life.

  • My mother’s shortbread. It is to DIE for! Melt in your mouth.

    Mom made batches of the stuff (she is eldest of 5, aunts, uncles, a “whack load” of cousins, & sibs all came for a visit every Christmas), then she would store it in a crock to keep until Christmas day. Of course, we knew all mom’s hiding places. We would sneak into the closet or the hidden cupboard, (yes, we had a hidden cupboard), and take at least 2 pieces. Hmmmm. It was ‘so-oh’ very good.

    The other favourite memory is making a giant snowman with my dad.

    I have to find some of the Italian pastry — it looks fab.

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