Every year, for the past thirty-three, my wife and I have hosted a dessert party the evening before Thanksgiving. The gathering is warm and friendly and the guest list has evolved considerably over those three-plus decades. The only people who have been in attendance at every one are Mrs. Pincus and yours truly.
In preparation for the annual event, Mrs. Pincus bakes everything that is served to our guests. Everything. By herself. Occasionally, I have been asked to retrieve a canister of flour from a high cabinet or to run down to the basement freezer for another bag of chocolate chips. Otherwise, I am a spectator in the kitchen. Mrs. Pincus is like a fine artist and a warm oven, a Kitchen-Aid mixer and a counter full of ingredients make up her palette. She spends an entire day (and sometimes a few hours the morning of the party) whipping up a vast array of the most tempting baked goods this side of Sara Lee.
Among the pies and tarts and brownies (two kinds), Mrs. Pincus will include her old stand-by and perennial favorite – gingerbread men. Except Mrs. P makes 'em in the shape of bears instead of humans. However, she doesn't use a cookie cutter. She uses a cardboard template that actually predates our holiday parties by a few years. Mrs. P rolls out the homemade dough, lays the thin cardboard bear on top and, with the point of a sharp paring knife, follows the perimeter of the guide until she meets the point at which she started. She removes the stencil and places the bear-shaped dough on a cookie sheet alongside his previously-cut dough pals. (This year, I got to decorate the pre-baked treats with chocolate chip eyes, noses and buttons.) Then, they get popped into the oven for a secret amount of time and come out as deliciously-whimsical tawny cookies.
In the down time, while several pies are in the oven, Mrs. Pincus and I adorn our house in a overlay of Thanksgiving embellishment. We have a big plastic bin filled with earth-toned table runners and mantle scarves and little themed knick-knacks depicting pilgrims and Native Americans. There are twinkly light sets and rustic plaques and every year we place them in the same spots around the first floor of our home. At the risk of tooting my own horn (of plenty), our house looks very attractive and inviting in late autumn, especially when enhanced by our collection of holiday tsochkies. A house full of people have let us know how much they enjoy this yearly soiree – at least that's what we think they have told us. It's hard to understand some folk when their mouths are stuffed with two kinds of homemade pumpkin pie.
After the last guest has left, we begin the tedious task of cleaning up. We have thankfully received help from some friends who hang around later, but the wrapping of breakables and gathering of the tiny novelties is reserved for Thanksgiving morning, when Mrs. Pincus and I have the house to ourselves. This year, I picked each and every little figurine from the fireplace mantle, along with fistfuls of felt oak leaves and stashed them in the dedicated bin with the coiled light sets and die-cut place mats. At the end of my collecting, I had a wad of tissue and an empty box lacking one Hallmark Donald Duck dressed in a black frock and a silver-buckled Puritan hat. I looked every where... and I mean everywhere.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Mrs. Pincus was rifling through her recipe box for her trusty bear template. And it was nowhere to be found. She scoured the shelf in our kitchen coat closet where the recipe box resides when its not being employed to dispense the secrets of pecan pie or Bubbie Elka's pinwheel cookies. Mrs. P frowned – not unlike the missing bear's expression – and said, with a great deal of disappointment "Someone stole my bear!"
"Oh, come on," I reassured, "who would want to take that?"
Realizing that she was accusing one of her guests of the theft of something they probably didn't know existed, Mrs. Pincus continued her futile search. After too long, we abandoned the hunt. In the days and weeks following Thanksgiving, however, my wife still casually opened drawers and looked behind things that she had looked behind a million times. Nothing. No bear.
November turned into December and the weather has become increasingly colder. This morning, I decided to finally forsake my denim jacket-and-hoodie ensemble in favor of my heavy pea coat and knit gloves. I opened the coat closet in the kitchen and began scanning the various specimens of outerwear stored within. I passed a few coats I still wonder why I am hanging on to until I came across the navy blue woolen ulster that I hadn't seen in nearly a year. I put the coat on and closed the closet door.
It wouldn't close snugly.
I opened the door again and assessed how I had disrupted the arrangement of hangers. I adjusted and readjusted them and tried the door again. It still wouldn't close correctly. A little more rearranging was necessary and maybe I had to kick my winter boots to the rear of the closet floor. I looked down at the errant boots. Suddenly, against the side wall of the closet interior, I spotted the AWOL bear, its forlorn face staring at me in silent relief. I crouched down and picked the bear off the closet wall. I placed it on the kitchen counter where Mrs. Pincus would surely see it later when she came downstairs.
Now that one mystery in the Pincus house is solved, I will move on to the next one.
If you were at my house the night before Thanksgiving this year... and you took my Donald Duck, please bring it with you next year. No questions asked. There may even be some pie in it for you.
Or a gingerbread bear.
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