This is a vintage handkerchief that I purchased on ebay. My daughter loves these old hankies, especially the ones with fancy borders, like the scalloped poinsettia border on this one, and I snap them up at estate sales whenever I see them. It’s so much nicer to dab away tears with one of these frilly hankies, instead of having to carry around a ball of wadded up soggy tissue.
Also known as the Christmas Flower, poinsettias are native to Mexico. They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist, who imported them from Mexico in the early 1800s. According to Mexican legend, a poor child wanted to bring a gift to the Virgin Mary/Holy Child/church altar, but had no money to buy one. He picked some weeds along the roadside on the way to church to leave as a gift. By way of a Christmas miracle, the weeds turned into gorgeous bright red star-shaped flowers.
At the grocery store yesterday I saw poinsettias that had been dyed blue. Maybe some grower somewhere is hoping they’ll become known as Hanukkah Poinsettias, but I doubt that will ever happen–the plants were hideously ugly.
Poinsettias have a special meaning for me. Two days before Thanksgiving 2010, my dog died. Dexter, a wiry little shar pei who loved me madly, was “my boy.” We had learned a few weeks earlier that he had a large abdominal tumor, and there really wasn’t much we could do to stop the progression of the disease. Our family agreed that as long as he did not appear to be in pain we would keep him at home. And so we provided Dexter the best hospice care we could, and he passed quietly, surrounded by his heartbroken family that adored him.
Dexter in a pensive mood.
If you have ever experienced the death of a beloved pet, you’ll understand that Dexter dying just about killed me. We cancelled our Thanksgiving plans with the family and the four of us stayed home, flattened by grief. It was the saddest Thanksgiving I ever experienced. That Sunday at church, we bought a poinsettia in his memory, which would be among hundreds decorating the sanctuary for Christmas.
It is our family’s tradition to usher at the Christmas Eve service at our church.
That year, the sea of poinsettias in the packed sanctuary were as stunning as ever. As we stood there lined up with our collection plates, I happened to look down at the program in my hand, and saw an insert listing all the names that poinsettias had been donated in honor or in memory of.
Dexter’s name practically jumped off the page at me:
And with that, I started crying. Rivers of tears streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them, either. The kids were staring at me, half embarassed, half scared — they had no idea what was wrong with me. I was mortified. After a while, the usher behind me tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned my red eyes to him to see what he wanted, he whispered in my ear, “You have toilet paper on your shoe.” I looked down, but there wasn’t any toilet paper on either of my shoes. As I realized what he had done, I burst out laughing and thanked him for distracting me. It was perfect.
Last year, as we sat through a service in December, I noticed all the poinsettias and started tearing up again. My son poked me and made an inquisitive face, and I mouthed, “Dexter.” He, in turn, poked my daughter, and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter,” who in turn poked my husband and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter.” Discreet, they are not. I am hoping that this week when we go to church and see the sanctuary filled with poinsettias that I can keep my composure. Fat chance. But I’ll be prepared with my poinsettia hankie.
I baked a lot the Christmas after Dexter died, trying to spread Christmas cheer to everyone including myself. I made hundreds of my favorite ginger cookies and shared them with friends and neighbors. Carolers came by just as I was pulling a batch out of the oven, and they loved the surprise treat. I even brought a batch of dough to my son’s boy scout troop meeting and, using the church’s oven, was able to serve the boys freshly-baked warm ginger cookies with made-from-scratch hot cocoa.
Inspired by the poinsettia hankie, and memories of my beloved Dexter, I baked a batch of my favorite ginger cookies to bring to my son’s school today for a holiday party, as they wrapped gifts for a family with a child with cancer. I’m sure I’ll be baking many more batches before the year is over.
|FAVORITE GINGER COOKIES||
- ¾ cup butter, softened (no substitutions)
- 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided use
- 1 egg
- ½ cup Steen’s Cane Syrup (no substitutions)
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place butter and 1 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy using an electric mixer. Add egg and beat well. Add cane syrup and beat until smooth.
- In a medium bowl, combined flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add to butter mixture in 2 additions, stirring well after each addition until thoroughly combined.
- Place remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar until coated. Place approximately 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake approximately 10 minutes until just firm. Remove from oven and let stand on cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.
Hot from the oven. Where’s those boy scouts and carolers?
A heaping plate of holiday cheer
In loving memory of my boy Dexter