Our Christmas weekend began at Mike and Patti’s house decorating Gingerbread houses. Kim and Patti had bought one house for each kid. I thought Maggie was decorating hers at our house with the two of us but Kim had thought it would be more fun for her to be part of a group.
We started, as we always seem to start, in the kitchen. The kids were bouncing back and forth between the cookies on the dining room table and making their individual pizzas with the help of their dad.
“Maggie, do you want one?” Mike asked.
“That’s o.k.,” Maggie said.
A couple of rounds later it turned out that, as Mike suspected, she would like one.
“Do you want to make it?” Mike asked.
“You can,” she said.
Jack asked me if I wanted to play chess. “I’m really good,” he warned. “I’ve been playing for three years.” We played while the pizza’s cooked. He is really good for a seven year old. Unfortunately for him, I play on about a nine year old’s level. It won’t take him long to beat me regularly.
“Checkmate,” I said.
Jack studied the board. It took him a while to convince himself that he had lost. Finally, he realized he had no moves available and said, “you can call it checkmate, I prefer to call it a draw.”
I smiled but said, “no it’s checkmate. But thanks for the game. You’re very good.”
The kids ate their pizza and then disappeared from the table. Patti took out the four Gingerbread houses and we started to unwrap them.
“Oh look,” she said, “they’re already assembled.”
That was a good thing. Last year Maggie and Elena had rushed to decorate their houses before the walls had dried in place. I was able to keep Elena’s house together when it started to sag but Kim and Maggie had to keep repairing their structure.
Having pre-built houses meant that the kids could concentrate on decorating the structure with icing and candy.
“One of the candy bags is open,” Patti said. “There’s loose candy at the bottom of this box.”
We put the candy back in the open bag and divided up the houses and candy. Maggie came to the table and sat down and immediately tipped over the only open bag. Patti went to get little bowls and soon each kid’s place had a bare gingerbread house and three bowls of candy. She went back into the kitchen to mix up the first batch of icing to place in kids’ plastic piping bags. The four kids didn’t care. They decided to sample the candy while they waited.
Jack got a knife. “I’m going to make a door,” he told me. He carved a front door in one side of the house. I was sure he was going to break the structure or cut himself. He did neither. He made a nice little door.
Patti brought out icing for Maggie and Jack and told the other girls she’d be back with more. Maggie started decorating the roof of her house with a line of candy. Jack stuck on a couple of pieces of candy on the room and decided he needed to cut in a window.
Sarah and Kate kept sampling the candy while they waited for icing. Even once Patti brought them their icing they ate more than they put on the house. Kim helped Kate and I helped Sarah until Patti was available. Kate discovered that the icing was edible too.
I watched Maggie design a red and green candy wreath for next to her front door. Elena would have loved this. I know that’s easy to say, but she would have. She would have been loud and bossy and had a mouth full of candy.
Maggie put a candy chimney on the roof while Jack carved a chimney hole in the roof of his house. Boys and girls are just different.
“Elena was a Christian, you know,” Jack said.
“Half,” Maggie corrected. “Like me.”
“Well, she believed in Jesus,” he insisted. I don’t know why, but this has always been important to him. Even when Elena was alive.
He looked at me and said, “When Elena died, Sophie was her best friend. Sophie wrote me a letter when Elena died.”
We sat there. Two guys just decorating gingerbread houses talking about a loss they have in common.
Jack saw the look on my face. “What’s wrong,” he asked.
“I’m sad. I miss Elena.”
He looked up at me and said “well I miss my Nanna.” His grandmother had died a week before. That’s a little over a week before Christmas. The family had just returned from the funeral on Sunday.
“I know,” I said, “that must make you very sad.”
He nodded and looked at me very carefully before looking back at his house. He turned it around and picked up the knife again and said, “I’m making a back door.”
“O.K.,” I said, “but then put down the knife and do a little decorating.”
I looked back at Maggie who was working on her house. It looked great. Last year Elena had looked at Maggie’s house and told her, “it looks like crap. Doesn’t it dad?” This year it looked great with it’s wreath and its chimney. It was a perfect little gingerbread house.