my grandma, the maniac
October 11, 2009
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.