“Dad stop making those comments! And I have a right to an opinion. I’m twenty-two, I’m in grad school, and I live in a major city. I know a thing—”
“Megan! I need help in the kitchen!” My mother’s cry from the kitchen scatters heated emotions between my Father and me. I look at him, he looks at me. Josh Groban’s voice fills the temporary silence: “I’ll be home for Christmas…”
“Go help, Mom. She’s overworking herself—again.” I slip off the couch. On one thing, we both agree. The influx of travelers lessens each year as vows are said and babies coo. Visitations to in-laws are mandatory. My sister Maria and I are the only original Fitzgerald children home in the ‘Burg this year, but that input hasn’t connected to my mother’s cooking output.
As I step sock-toed into the kitchen, mother notices my gaze glued to the tiled floor. “What’s going on, Megan? Why are you fighting with Dad?”
I snap up. “I wasn’t fighting! He just can’t handle someone not agreeing with FOX news banter. Immigration is clearly something I can’t discuss in this household.”
The marbled counter snows with flour. “Shoot,” Mother says, “Megan, please help me!” I quickly reach for the mixer bowl, locking it in place. The whisk, upright, corrects its occupation: mixing ingredients cohesively. Humdrum beatings echo, rather than metal screeches.
“Thank you,” Mother whispers. Her peppered hair stands up a little less. “Now as that mixes, I need you to add the melted butter. Slowly.”
“Mom, I really just want to relax. I’m done with homework assignments.”
Mother glares her eyes off of the recipe to me. “You have separate meals, you go running—can’t we do any Christmas festivities?”
Noticing the flour has become batter, I drip the butter in. “We already have five types of cookies! How many more do we need? Who’s going to eat them all?!”
“You may be anti-sugar, but I know some people who enjoy them.” Some people implies two people in particular: Father and my brother in-law, Thanassi: men unashamedly dedicated to the pleasure of sweets.
I covertly stare Mother up-and-down. Years of washing dishes has wrinkled her hands, years of carrying babies has impregnated a pouch, and years of hard labor has drilled in her mind, There’s always something to do. While Father relaxes, Mother works. I shirk off my young adult angst and continue to satisfy the recipe.
After the butter has assembled with the batter, nutmeg and vanilla are added. The mixer is then turned off. Mother and I twerk a smile at each other. The smell of Christmas brews. “Okay, can you roll the batter into two-inch fingers?” Mother asks, laying out three silver cookie sheets.
“Sure,” I chime. The taste of what’s to come, nutmeg and buttercream, relax freewill. I throw my hands into the mixing bowl, beginning to mold the Nutmeg Butter Fingers.
“These are my favorite cookies,” I say.
Mother unveils teeth under thin lips. “I know. That’s why we’re making them.”
I’m halfway done filling the second tray when a frown disturbs Mother’s complacency.
“Megan, you should respect what Dad and I like to watch. So, he watches some Tucker Carlson? He could be watching worse things.”
I continue shaping fingers. As the batter flexes under my hands, so does my perspective. “I know. I’m thankful for that. Just please acknowledge my right to an opinion.”
“We do, we—”
“Why is no one watching Ty?!” My older sister Maria shrills in her sudden appearance. Hands plaster to her hips, her brown hair frizzing more than from humidity. I place a finger cookie in its resting place for baking.
“Isn’t he with Thanassi?” I ask.
“No! And he’s not with Dad.” Maria grimaces at the work of our hands. “What the—we already have so many cookies! Why are you making more?”
“He must be outside,” my mother says calmly. “It’s okay, hon, Dad locked the back gate.”
Maria breathes heavily, shoving the mixing bowl halfway between us. She begins the process: take a pinch of dough, roll it like a hotdog, and find it a home. With each cookie created, her breathing returns to homeostasis. Josh Groban’s voice rises above the still sounds of our laboring hands, “Sleep in heavenly peace…”
“Tis an honor making cookies in your presence, Maria,” I lowly whisper, forcing contact. Our eyes interlock, both an oval-shaped, rich brown color, but hers slant. “You’re so weird,” she says. I plop a piece of dough on her face. “Gotchaaa!” Maria’s clay morphs shape; suddenly, a doughball slaps me. Chuckles escape from lungs. We haven’t shared a laugh in years.
I catch my mother’s eyes, sensing disapproval, but something restrains her typically eager tongue. Instead, she resorts her attention to the oven. Whiffs of wonderfully hitched ingredients provide inaudible explanation. “Tray one is ready!” I shout, satisfying the final slot on tray three. The oven door peeks open, as if hesitant to release its Christmas treasure. “Wait,” Maria says, stepping quickly, “I’ll take them out.” She knows that whoever bears the treats, gets the first taste. Lanky arms deliver the silver tray to the counter. A faint golden-brown hue paints the completed project. Unsurprisingly but unexpectedly, my father’s up-turned nose plunges from behind our backs.
“Do I smell cookies ready for gobblers?”
Mother playfully smacks his left shoulder. “You know the rules, Mister.” She nods at Maria, but my sister already has one in hand. The cookie brushes her lips, then crosses the point of no return. Seesaw cheeks highlight the consummation process. After thirty seconds it becomes obvious: the experience hit its resolution. A simple smile, devoid of a target, floods Maria’s face. Success.
My father’s sausage-fingers reach zealously for the tray. I pounce them away—not so playfully. Father frowns. “Megan—I want a cookie! I can have—”
“Let me,” I say. It’s soft upon the touch. Gingerly, to avoid fraying, I lift one from its resting place. “A finger for your finger.”
If I listen keenly enough above the tunes, I can still hear Tucker bantering, oblivious to the Holiday’s plea for unification. But, perhaps communion over a cookie—the Fitzgerald classic—can quiet our acuity to each other’s differences. A Nutmeg Butter Finger locks its joy in each of our mouths. The experience—no, the magic—heals our souls. It has been proven, food is the best medicine.