Happy holidays from an old, apron-wearing granny

I never realized how ugly and outdated this apron was until I saw it on an old episode of The Brady Bunch. Housekeeper Alice Nelson was wearing its twin.

I got a rude awakening last night while watching a special ET report on the HGTV show about the makeover of the Brady Bunch house in California. Original cast members reunited to decorate the home for the holidays, in much the same way they did as kids on the hit series. The scenes kept shifting from current day to episodes of the popular sitcom that began airing in 1969. In one of the retro scenes, Housekeeper Alice Nelson was wearing my Christmas apron.

I did a double-take, because that exact same apron is hanging on a hook in the kitchen, next to its twin. I got the fabric for the two aprons on a bolt at Wal-Mart. The ties for the waist and the neck adorned the border of the 45 inch wide fabric. All I had to do was cut the aprons out and hem the sides, then sew the ties onto the apron body.

And that’s when it hit me. I am old and probably a living joke to younger types for all the things I still wear, make and use from the 1970s and 80s . . . Corning Ware, a lighted ceramic Christmas tree, my mother’s sour cream drop cookies and a fudge recipe from a 1981 issue of The Kansas City Star. Time keeps marching away from me and all I do is attempt to adapt. When I make my fudge now, I have to add a few more ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the recipe and subtract about an ounce of marshmallow crème from the concoction to compensate for the trend of food processors to downsize their packages so they can make a bigger profit.

My twin holiday aprons have been with me since the 1980s. The first year I made Christmas cookies with my grandson, I tied one of them around his waist and cinched up the neck so he wouldn’t be wearing sprinkles and frosting. Those aprons are as ingrained a part of my holiday routines as making fudge to a Manheim Steamroller CD. But seeing Alice Nelson wearing one of them in a 1970s flashback was embarrassing. If my grandson was any older than his five years, he’d probably die of embarrassment at having photographic evidence of wearing something so un-cool. Sorta like his dad felt when he had to wear plastic bread sacks on his feet at Grandma’s house when he went out to play in the snow. Sorta like I felt when forced to wear black-on-black saddle oxfords to school. (Pardon me for getting so carried away by the embarrassment thing).

And today, when I sat at the computer to start writing my annual state-of-the-union letter (aka holiday letter) I realized how anachronistic those things are also. The cards that come in the mail these days have slowed to a pathetic trickle, confined largely to ones from our investment broker and insurance agents. Still, there are a few people like me who have this Pavlovian response when the calendar flips over to December. Okay! Time to send the people you communicate with only once a year your “What the Dog Did Today” letter.

We got one of those letters from a friend of my husband’s early in the season. When I saw him put the typed holiday message that came with the card to one side, I raised my eyebrows.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” I asked in surprise. “Later,” he said. Translated: probably never. Wow! How many of the folks at the other end of my holiday letters have had the same response? The possibility that people might be bored reading what our grandkids and our four-legged, furry friends accomplished over the past year had just never occurred to me.

So, in mortification brought on by a pair of anachronistic aprons and the real possibility that a long holiday letter might get a lukewarm reception, this old grandma is herewith retiring. I refuse to be the poster child for OLD. I will still make fudge every December, as long as my arms can stir semi-sweet chocolate chips and marshmallow crème together. I will send out a few Christmas cards to those friends and family who send us one, sans a long, boring letter.

But it’s probably time to retire the threadbare aprons, the exact same pattern that Alice Henderson wore on the Brady Bunch, and resign them to the rag bag.

Wait . . . does anyone still have a rag bag?

Merry Christmas . . . now enjoy this poisonous treat



In the course of a recent holiday luncheon with friends, and right after I had enjoyed my own ramekin of crème brule (sometimes we share our desserts), one of those so-called amigos remarked that sugar kills brain cells. Like a Grinch who had just spoiled my own Christmas, I snuck home in guilty silence to ponder that revelation.

It did not stop me from following a tradition that goes back through generations on both sides of my family tree: making sweet holiday confections to give as gifts. I can see my Grandma Garrett in her kitchen, flour up to her elbows, rolling out a piecrust or slapping bread dough in a pan. She filled that kitchen with good smells and expressed her love of children and grandchildren by her baked goods.

Then in my early childhood and adolescence I watched my mother roll up a slab of dough that had been filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins, form it into a circle, slit it, bake it (filling our own house with incredible smells), drizzle icing over the end result, decorate it with green and red maraschino cherries, put Saran wrap over it and promptly take it out of our sight. She gave those Swedish tea rings to other people for Christmas, even though her German ancestry actually disqualified her from passing it off as some heritage confection.

When I got my own kitchen and was occasionally bereft of Christmas cash for gifts, I started following suit, baking cookies with a recipe stolen from my mother (who stole it from a church cookbook), making fudge and arranging plates of goodies to hand-deliver like some deranged Santa on a sugar high from taste-testing.

Holiday baking and gifting has to be in my DNA. Otherwise, why would I feel compelled every December to drag out the stained recipe cards and repeat this tradition? And who am I really doing it for . . . family and friends or myself? I mean, Christmas would not come unless I put pieces of fudge, iced sour cream drops, homemade peanut brittle and dipped pretzels in some Currier and Ives decorator tins and then in the freezer for later distribution.

I made fudge and cookies yesterday. Then I wondered why I felt so sluggish this morning. Could it have anything to do with licking the spoon and pan after cooking candy? Or was it because I watched a holiday movie while mindlessly munching on sweetened popcorn?

As I got on my treadmill for the first time in months to try to flush the poison out of my system, my friend’s words began to haunt me. How many brain cells had I killed yesterday? How many brain cells of friends and family will I destroy this holiday season?

Perhaps the bane of our modern life is not, as so many suggest, war and a fragile economy. Maybe sugar is to blame for all the ills in the world. Yet I frantically hold onto the words a friend gave me over the phone yesterday while I was multi-tasking (stirring fudge and talking to her). When I suggested that perhaps the universe is trying to tell me in some pretty direct ways that I should stop trying to say Merry Christmas with poison. She assured me that the universe would never want to do away with fudge.

Perhaps instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of sugar as a brain cell murderer, I should instead focus on ways to build new brain cells. I’m sure that will be rich fodder for a separate blog in the New Year.