I pick up my mother's tattered and coverless Crisco cookbook, its fragile binding threads hanging loose. Why had I carried it with me on this long-distance move? Time to get rid of it, I think, but first I'll look through it.
I smile at the inscription in her familiar flowing hand, "Ethel A. Chapman, Lake Oscawana, Dec. 1, 1930." Below her name she had pasted fruit punch recipes. One is headed with a large red Christmas font. "Merry C" it says, the remaining letters hidden by another recipe.
My mouth waters as I remember that lemon meringue pie recipe. I'll make sure I have a copy before I discard her book. I'd often made it when I was in high school, and later as a wife and mother. Though I haven't taken a pie to a potluck in years, who knows?
Carefully I leaf through the brittle pages. Like Mother's, my cookbooks have recipes on index cards or scraps of paper tucked between their pages. All bring memories.
I recognize names of Mother's friends. Here's a recipe for a Swedish Tea Ring with "St. Christina's 1910" written in the corner. Then I discover a treasure, a faded clipping. It's not a food recipe at all.
Did Mother cut this poem, "Christmas Thought," by William Henry "Adirondack" Murray from an issue of Farm Journal? I remember as a child that the magazine regularly arrived by mail.
Ah, friends, dear friends, as years go on and heads get gray,
how fast the guests do go! Touch hands,
touch hands, with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak, old hands to young,
around the Christmas board, touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive, for every guest will go
and every fire burn low and cabin empty stand.
Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day
may ever come to host or guest again. Touch hands!
I reach for a tissue and decide the book is a keeper. Gently I place it back on the shelf.
When I moved a second time, I packed Mother's old cookbook tenderly. I've read "Christmas Thought" many times since that first discovery and think I understand why Mother had kept it. Tears doubtless sprang to her eyes, too. Sentimental? Of course, but don't tears often come when a deep truth touches us?
I searched for the author on the Internet. He was called "Adirondack" Murray because he was credited with opening up the Adirondack Mountains to tourism with his first book, "Adventures in the Wilderness, Camp Life in the Adirondacks," published in 1869.
Born in Guilford, Conn., he graduated from Yale and attended seminary, later becoming pastor of the Park Street Church in Boston.
Murray was a great lover of outdoor sports and spent his summers in the Adirondacks. After leaving Park Street Church, he continued to write books and gave lecture tours about his travels throughout the United States. His last book was "Holiday Tales, Christmas in the Adirondacks."
As my 8-year-old grandson snuggles against me as we sit on the couch together, I'm filled with the joy of living. Adirondack Murray was right: "Touch hands, touch hands." It's not just a Christmas thought. It's a thought to treasure all year long.