She was all ready to get started. She’d cast off her coat, hat and gloves and was eager to take a seat next to one of the fragrant gingerbread boxes dotting the centers of tables set up throughout the bakery.
“Which one is ours, mama?”
“Have patience, little might. They will tell us.”
It had been a long week of questions and concerns since some friends had signed us up to attend one of Zachary’s Pastry Shoppe’s gingerbread house workshop.
“When are we going to build the gingerbread house?
“Is it going to be just you and me?
“Can we invite more people?
“Can daddy come, too?”
“Are we really going to be able to take it home?
“Can we eat it?”
“How are we going to build it?”
I just shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea.
Though we’ve lived in various states of housing renewal during the past five years, none of us had any inkling of how to manufacture a confectionary cottage. And since I generally view consistency as the hobgoblin of baking, I felt it was probably best to go where the professionals can be on hand should a roof collapse or a wall cave in.
After all, weekend warriors such as myself, should never attempt heavy lifting –- even of the gingerbread variety -- without a spotter; safety first.
You can imagine my relief when I saw the houses had already been constructed, their sugared masonry perfectly cured, awaiting only finishing touches.
When I saw the bag of candy and the area of space needing to be spackled and shingled and decorated, however, I began to doubt all over again.
“We’ll be here all day,” I thought as my husband leaned back and cracked his knuckles, heaving a deep sigh of contentment. “This is what I’m talking about,” he says with confident bravado, no doubt assuming his years of home improvement with stand him in good stead.
I wasn’t convinced. I’ve lived in a renovation zone for nearly a decade without taping or trim.
When our friends arrived we were shown to our seats, at which point Ittybit started to sob inconsolably.
Turns out, no one answered her question about which house was “ours,” and when her friends sat down – one in front of each kit -- she assumed the answer was neither.
In moments that seemed like hours I was able to clarify the situation. Soon we were sitting, puffy-eyed but happy, next to one of the houses and a sweet little gingerbread girl, who’d quietly appeared next to Ittybit’s chair during the turmoil.
She opened the bag of building supplies and started looking through its contents as the bakers brought parchment-paper funnels of icing glue and specialty candy accouterments to our table. Carefully, she lined up all of her materials and asked if I might please spread some icing so she could get started.
Soon she was lost in her work, occasionally looking up at me with a polite request for more mastic.
She says please and thank-you a lot these days, keenly aware that Santa is watching.
She didn’t even mind that much when her father built a picture window out of pretzels on his wall, throwing off the symmetry she’d constructed on her side.
She never complained when her baby brother stuck a soggy gumdrop to the roof. She just handed him something he could unwrap and kept her nose to the grindstone.
She selected chocolate buttons for a chimney stack, and peppermint sticks for door jams. She’d carefully shingled the roof with Smarties and licorice whips.
She planted Marshmallow Christmas trees next to the doors as a landscaping feature, and affixed flower boxes made of chocolate truffles under the windows. She crushed up pink ribbon candy and sprinkled it on the roof … presumably ice that had formed from lack of proper insulation. She even cemented together a pile of pretzel sticks, presumably to feed the woodstove that she imagined to be inside.
She turned to look at the bakers’ example after she was a few candy pieces from finished, having barely tasted any of her building supplies.
“Oh, wow. Look at THAT chimney, daddy.”
“Yes. … but our house doesn’t have a fireplace inside … only a furnace. We don’t really need such an ornate chimney as that,” her father answered defensively.
“Well, after Christmas we should eat this house, move into a house WITH a fireplace, and then next year we can build another house that has a chimney like THAT one.”
“Let’s just finish this house for now,” her father tells her, licking a smear of frosting from his knuckles and eyeing the chocolate chimney, perhaps wondering if anyone would notice if it was one or two Kisses shorter.
From the smile on his face I know we’ll be back next year, probably armed with blueprints and an extra bag of chocolate, (for energy).
As holiday traditions go, I suppose eating the cost of a gingerbread house really isn’t that hard to swallow.