Some of my earliest memories involve the annual Church Bazaar. While my parents would be hard at work, I would be playing hide and seek with my younger brother in the darkened Sanctuary.
When we tired of hide and seek, our favorite place to rest was under the pulpit. The two of us could just fit side by side, snug and cozy. We would read each other books that we had borrowed from the Sunday School. When we tired of reading, we would run down the "secret" back stairs and burst into the bright light of the kitchen.
The steamy warmth from dozens of pots of boiling spaghetti and simmering sauce would warm us up and make our mouths water. The smell of cooking apples, cinnamon, and clove, gingerbread men, and pumpkin pie, would fill the church with the smells of Thanksgiving and the promise of Christmas coming.
My Mom would give us a smile and a hug, wrap an apron around our waists and "put us to work" setting tables, folding napkins, or frosting cupcakes. I loved sitting in that kitchen listening to the women talking about their children, catching up on church news, and sharing all the ordinary things going on in everyone's lives.
The music of their voices and the warmth that went beyond the bubbling pots would wrap around me like the coziest of winter blankets. Best of all, I felt that I had a place and that I was a part of something greater than myself.
To this day, I love "hanging" in the kitchen with the "women folk" after a holiday meal or a church supper. I feel a connection to women through the ages as we share concerns about our kids, swap recipes, and decide where the best bargains can be found.
I have sometimes secretly wondered if Eve, as much as she loved God and Adam, reached for that forbidden fruit out of a restless longing to find and belong to a group of women.
When my kitchen chores were done, I would run outside to cool down and get some fresh air. In search of my Dad, I would enter the temporary forest of Christmas Trees set up on the lawn. I can still remember the rich, tangy smell of pine and snow in the air.
I would eventually find my Dad and receive another big smile and a hug. He would be wearing a sweatshirt - never a dress coat or hat, even in the coldest weather - work gloves; and a big money belt for making change. I would help him by taking the money and counting out the coins.
The men of the church would laugh and tell tall tales while they helped families select and load their Christmas trees into their stations wagons. It wasn't until I was older that I realized not all the families paid for their tree but anyone who came to our church left with one carefully placed into their car by the smiling men of our church.
It was my parents who taught me what the holidays are all about - family, community, helping others, beloved traditions, and above all else - love and gratitude.
So, in November, when the nights are growing longer and the winter bite chills the air, you will find me in a steamy kitchen somewhere, hanging with the women folk, the air filled with the smells of Thanksgiving and the promise of Christmas coming!
Now it's my daughter and son who come bursting into the welcoming steam. I imagine them grown up one day, taking their turn in the kitchen as I give them a smile and a hug, wrap an apron around their waists, and put them to work setting the table, folding napkins, and frosting cupcakes.
I hope the music of those kitchen voices will weave its way into their deepest memories. I hope they feel wrapped in a warmth they can carry with them the rest of their lives. I hope they find a place where they feel part of something greater than themselves. As I look at my children, I feel my parents looking over my shoulder, smiling at us all.
And I hope.