Made some apple butter bars Saturday and they were pretty good. Last of the apple butter and on to the cranberries and Brie. It’s been a spell since I wrote, I know, and the reasons I have are all over the map. A granddaughter, who claps when I walk into the room and crawls among piles of books and blows raspberries when she doesn’t like what’s going on. She’s yet to articulate herself with clarity in words, but if you look into her eyes you can see pages of prose waiting to take flight in words. And then there are my two part-time jobs tutoring young folks struggling to read and older folks wanting to write, and what can I teach them? No more than what I know, but it’s something, and it’s time, and what better way to spend a few good hours a week than talking about books and words and the stories of human life? A few friends in challenging situations with their partners, such frustration and despair. A tidal wave of letters from people near and far, secretaries and pastors, teachers and actresses, lunch ladies and doctors and painters, whose lives mirror my own in ways, whose stories are simple and true. How might I respond to all of them, express my gratitude and heartfelt appreciation? Oh, Time. There it is again, that word, teasing in its way, without mercy, without pause. Add all the other reasons a girl might not write – bills, fatigue, the doorbell rung by seven people in a day, an ermine in basement, car trouble, cracked fingers, out of milk – and the woman responds, “Write anyway.”
So here I am. Despite all that. All those. Not excuses, no, but rungs in a life of ladders to the sky.
People, I have learned, will ultimately do what they want to do. Take the other night, for example. It might have been the sky, or the evening air, or the pot of beef stew simmering on the stove, or the freshly washed snowmobile suits laid out by the fire. Might have been the Christmas commercials on TV. Might have been nostalgia, or nothing at all, but I wanted to go caroling. I told Mr. S I’d like him to come along, and he reluctantly agreed. “But only for an hour,” he said. His show starts at 9 so an hour it was.
Of course, he thought we were going with a group, and was chagrined to learn it was just the two of us, and stood there a bit at the end of the Petersens’ drive. “You’ve got to be kidding. I can’t even SING,” he lamented, but there was no turning back. We sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” for the Petersens, who both clapped and gave us each a hug. For the Johnsons, it was “Angels We Have Heard On High” and on the “Glo-OOOO-O-OOOO-O-OOOO-O-RIA” part, Mr. S sang as low as he could and sounded something like an angry gorilla. “Please just hold yourself together,” I said. “This is fun.” “Oh, it’s fun, alright,” he grumbled and I gave him a little punch in the arm and he gave me a little punch back and I gave him a harder punch and he laughed and dipped up some snow and tried to give me a face wash but I’m faster and waited for him on the Sandgrens’ porch. They weren’t home, but we sang “Away in a Manger” anyway, and “Jingle Bells” at the Smiths, who don’t celebrate much of anything, and then it was the Clausens, and “Silent Night.” In no time at all, the whole Clausen family, all 9 of them, were standing out there on the ol’ farm porch, singing verse three. Mrs. Clausen was holding a candle, and the little ones were in their flannel jammies, and I felt my heart might burst on out of my chest.
Glanced over at Mr. S, and there he stood, his eyes closed, his head blocking the yard light out near the barn so it looked as if he might have a halo. It’s a stretch, I know, but whatever it is that makes Christmas CHRISTMAS, I felt it pour on over and through me like warm milk. (Whole milk, not that light stuff a person can see through.) I felt it, and feel it still.
And so did Mr. S, who said on our way home, “Well, that wasn’t so bad after all.” And then he thanked me for dragging him along, and when we got home, while I ran the bathtub water, he made two mugs of the best hot chocolate and handed one to me. He raised his. “To Christmas,” he said. “To Christmas,” I replied, and we took big swigs and before I climbed into the hot tub water, I could hear snores coming from the recliner in the living room.
I’m thinking I may give him a gift early this year. The ice skates. They’ve cleared an area out on the lake, and the man was a fine hockey player in his day. And it’s one of the few activities where I can maintain a semblance of grace. For a while, anyway. The best feelings come and go, but my gosh, they’re worth the effort. Especially when you can share ’em.
Used up the last of the apple butter from the neighbor’s orchard apples, and this has to be the easiest new recipe I’ve tried in a while. Good with whipped cream or ice cream, or simply on its own.
Apple Butter Bars
1 ½ cups flour
2 ½ cups quick oatmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ cups sugar
Add to above 1 cup melted butter or ½ cup each butter and shortening. Press half of mixture in 9×13 pan. Spread 1 ½ cup apple butter over and cover with remaining mixture. Can also add some chopped nuts to topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
Gluten free flour mix:
2 parts rice
⅔ parts potato starch flour
1 part tapioca flour