Monica showed up in the frozen foods, with a big purple-y box under her arm when she was supposed to be bringing me a loaf of Live Long Life 52-grain bread or whatever. My daughter was with her, skipping around at her heels.
They were smiling. In the supermarket.
Hmph, I thought.
Something was up, something weird/something big.
I was hunting down the frozen flapjacks, Henry in the cart seat right in front of me, gnawing on a tub of fake butter, when I spotted the two of them turn into my aisle up near the 45 pound sacks of petrified mozzarella sticks.
“Where’s the bread?” I hollered, panicked. There is a system to these trips, you see. You don’t go hunting down one thing and then get all sidetracked with another. If you do, you run the real risk of the whole expedition coming un-frickin-hinged, man, when one of the kids suddenly has a meltdown three aisles away from fruit and vegetables and you have to talk them down out of a redwood tree and the next thing you know…
Ta-Dah! You forgot to pick up the bread. Which means that later on in the week you have to make a super-special trip back to the damn Kingdom of 2,000 Check Out Lines With One Register Open just to buy a loaf of dumb-ass wholegrain tasteless super crap.
It’s better to just stick to the plan, you see.
It’s best not to miss stuff the first time around.
So, no. I wasn’t all that thrilled to see Monica and Violet show back up from their re-con journey with a pre-fab gingerbread haunted house complete with a various icings kit and gumdrop roofing shingles.
“Where’s the bread?” I asked her again, with an extra splash of perturbed.
Monica smiled her pretty smile.
“Bread shmead,” she sighed.
I gazed at her and tried to be angry. But she was smiling down at Violet and showing the gingerbread thing in a box to Henry an at that exact moment I found myself checking out her lean streamlined arms and her sweet butt and like a damn raging idiot I got all carried away with the very same stuff that got me into this whole mess in the first place.
Then we checked out with a $10 cookie in a box and no bread.
I snarled to myself back at the house when it all hit me, too. This was hard livin’ pipe hittin’ 2012, dude, not Little House On The Prairie.
Kids didn’t want to play with gingerbread. They wanted to Skype with outlaws.
Monica was way off-base, I promised myself.
As you get older, you start to think that you retain all of the wisdom, all the knowledge, all of the other people’s smarts that you have to rub up against; you tend to believe that you will hear intelligence out in the world and that that stuff will just stick to you like tiny lint specks on your North Face fleece-y thing.
You think you’re going to end up standing there in your kitchen, at 35 or 41 or 57 or whatever, with a nice little collection of practical gems floating around in your noodle, but really, the sad truth of the matter is that you forget almost everything worth knowing within about ten to fifteen minutes of first hearing it it. I know that I do.
Like, somewhere along the way, once upon a time, I probably had been told something like,” Hey Serge, did you know that young kids, when jammed together in a house on a cold rainy autumn afternoon just before Halloween, they absolutely go bananas for gingerbread crafts and construction.”
But me being me, I just ignored it.
Gingerbread, I hmph’d to myself now. What kind of a self-respecting kid plays with gingerbread?
So the other day, when we had some friends over for the night and their three kids were playing with our two, and when Monica announced to the gang that it was time to make the Ginger Bread House! as if that was a thing, I just smirked down across the vast plains of the eggplant parm I was making and muttered, “Good luck with that,” under my garlic breath.
Kids will surprise you with their electrical simplicity. They are plugged into the universe at large, you see, and because of that they tend to not give a caramel-dipped booger about what might be deemed cool or hip or trendy.
I guess I had forgotten that little nugget myself. But it really is a beautiful thing and worth remembering above all the other static going down in my View-Master.
My failure to realize that gingerbread, in and of itself, is probably a ten million year-old recipe that was first concocted by a yetti in a cave and baked up on like the third or fourth fire ever built on Earth, and that it’s weirdo spicy tang has probably sent more young palettes into tizzies of joy than any other flavors since the dawn of man, with the possible exception of chocolate and Gummi worm… I need to own that here, people.
I need to own that here and now on the internet.
Because, in case you are like me, and have at one time or another, doubted to the point of near arrogance the fact that one of those holiday-oriented store-bought gingerbread house decorating kits could ever entertain even one child, let alone five, for more than a minute or so, let me just tell you this.
Monica pulled things out of the box.
The kids began to cheer. They began to simmer; I saw bubbles bubbling up out of their scalps.
Icing started getting mixed. Passions flared.
On a small red picnic table set up in my dining room just for gingerbread living, I watched a young man rise up on his bench seat and stare down at the undecorated rooftop of the squat cookie house as if he was God himself peering down out of the black North wind into the last lantern-lit window on a post-apocalyptic planet.
Those who knew language, who could speak words, they spoke many. All at once.
Those who could not make words made noises, nonetheless, and their points were driven home on the edge of a razor’d shriek last heard at Little Round Top.
It was primal, I’m telling you. It was magic.
And for an hour solid, maybe a little more, every doubt I had ever had about gingerbread and history and pioneer games and the sheer living will of kids to congregate around a table and dig their mini-fingernails into the sugariest icing in the galaxy was jammed back into my eyeball over and over and over again until I actually came to dig the neon lit fact that I had been so wrong, for so long.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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