Old Familiar Carols

Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday a distant memory. Christmas lights twinkle along the block. Holiday season is here.

You have a week of respite before returning to Alzheimer’s World, the world that needs no advent calendar to mark the season’s frenzied restlessness, the world where family Christmas traditions have long been forgotten.

You’ll be home for the holidays with your mother. You have high hopes. Your mind is a flurry of ideas: decorations and cookies, carols and cards.

You’ll decorate the tree. The spruce once cut from the woods is now artificial; she doesn’t notice. You’ll bake the popovers she made every Christmas morning; she loves this “new” recipe.

You’ll fill stockings. Help wrap gifts because last year, Scotch tape induced panic attacks. You’ll be home for the holidays, on a one-way ticket. You’ll be home because she’s your mother.

The Recipe

For thirty-two years, my mother wrote a cooking newsletter. Filled with homespun tales and hand-drawn illustrations, its readership spanned the globe.

A graphic artist by trade, her talents weren’t confined to canvas. She was a gourmet cook, too, lovingly testing each recipe in the kitchen of our 175-year-old farmhouse.

I learned to cook there. At nine, I made my first pie: peach, with lattice crust. Two years later, when my separated parents were trying to make another go of it, I baked a cassoulet, my father’s favorite. My hopes for a reunion were high. The meal was perfect.

The marriage was not.

Mom remarried; I moved away. Over the years, the newsletter yielded a book deal and blog.

And now, in that tiny kitchen where masterpieces were once made, her apron gathers dust. Together, we’ll bake cookies and fudge this holiday season, recipes from a hazy long ago as fleeting as the memories we create.




Half of Maine has been without power for three days now. The outage may last for a week.

My parents, long divorced, both live alone in Maine. And I’m 3,000 miles away.

Should I worry?

Both have backup generators, essential in a state with October snowstorms and powerlines as ancient as Thomas Edison. Dad’s power was restored yesterday. But phonelines and electricity are still down at mom’s and I can’t reach her.

Do I worry?

Of course. After my most recent caregiving tour of duty, it took three weeks to let go of the gnawing guilt over leaving. This week, worry returned in three minutes, even after learning that mom’s okay and our respite caregiver — also largely incommunicado — is with her.

The first step in recovery is admitting powerlessness. Since my own recovery twenty years ago, I’ve found this extends beyond alcohol to people, places and things, a fact I often forget. This jolt from the Universe is the ultimate ironic reminder.