National Geographic : 1955 Dec
844 Christmas in Cookie Tree Land Peggy Poodlehead, Sylvester the Ominous Cat, and Rosebud the Elephant Unite an American Family in a Joyful Holiday Tradition BY LOUISE PARKER LA GORCE With Illustrations by National Geographic PhotographerB. Anthony Stewart EVERY year there is a time just before Christmas when my husband comes home and says, "So, you're at it again!" Caught on another cookie-baking spree, I grin at him half apologetically. Fragrant, still-warm Christmas cookies are everywhere -on the dining-room table, under the table, on chairs and chests, on the refrigerator. They have, in fact, taken over the house. For a week I have cut out patterns, pre pared dough, carved figures, made repeated individual bakings. Finally my little people and animals-the Christmas Angel, Sylvester the ominous cat, and Peggy Poodlehead have received their ultimate decorative touches, their brilliantly colored icings, and such last-minute embellishments as strike my fancy. A frantic search through the house unearths barely enough boxes to store the cookies until the tree trimming. Now, at last, my favorite guests have ar rived, sprung to life from the baking pan to preside genially over another Christmas sea son. With good grace my husband bows to the inevitable. He knows that this annual invasion was foreordained a long time ago. For to me, as a child, Christmas was any thing that came out of an oven. My mother is Pennsylvania Dutch, and my memories of our home in Mount Vernon, Ohio, retain the warmth equally of the heart and of the hearth. Christmas Cookies Will Out Mother's sweets and treats more than lived up to the gastronomic tradition she inherited. Being the youngest of six children, I was thoroughly tutored in how to smell out the cakes, cookies, and beautifully decorated can dies that she prepared weeks in advance-and tried to hide from us. These recollections of Christmas I kept to myself long after I had grown up. But five years ago I could stand it no longer. Time was going on a bit, and if my children were ever to have the same things to remember I would have to act. After seven days of feverish experimenting, I emerged from the kitchen with some 150 individually designed, iced, and gaily adorned cookies. To bear them we picked a beautiful, heavily branched balsam fir and placed it on top of our piano in a container weighted with three gallons of water. By the night before Christmas Eve the tree was up, the children and I had decorated it, and our friends and their families had come in to inspect. I was so smart. Here I had all of the next day left to finish odds and ends and attend midnight services. Oh, but I was smart, I said to myself. From Soggy Disaster a Tree of Joy At one a.m. the house was quiet, my family in bed asleep. I was sitting in the living room beside the tree, glancing up now and then to admire Rosebud, the pink elephant, as he waved his trunk gaily. On the lower branches, as a sort of focal symbol, I had placed a Santa Claus cookie. Noticing that his little feet were touching the piano top, I hung him on a higher branch. When I looked again he was lying almost flat. "How can this be?" I asked myself. Before I could move, the whole tree came swishing down! Over the shattered mess of iced cookies poured the three gallons of water from the stand. No tree has ever looked so flat on a rug, or so wet. At my scream the family tumbled down the stairs. But there was no comforting me. I sobbed for two hours. My husband and daughter finally went back to bed after dragging the soggy tree to the side porch. Our son, John, sat quietly near by, watching me. "My tree, John! My beautiful tree! I wanted you kids to have this tree from me." "You can do it again, Mother." "I can't. There isn't time." "Yes, you can." And our philosophical 14 year-old went quietly to bed.