Friday, November 18, 2011

My Martha

Everything was painted with gold paint; pinecones, leaves, fruits, wreaths, nuts. There were gingerbread mansions with shining sugar window panes, forced flowering branches, wire edged ribbons and a towering impossible croquembouche. Ingredients that were not available within miles of my home. And recipes for things I didn’t even know could be homemade. Well-styled Christmas trees galore, without a tattered sentimental ornament in sight. And cookie morphology that was completely new to me. It was a cornucopia of the unknown.

This was back when Martha’s ideas were out of many peoples league. Fresh hen eggs, copper cooking pots that would not fit in most kitchens, boxwood lined New England walkways twinkling with white lights. It was a level of over-the-top home-maker perfection that disgusted many ordinary people. But not me. I was in 8th grade and I was downright dazzled. I took Martha Stewart’s Christmas book to bed with me night after night. The photography was glorious and it made me want to make everything.

I carried my brother’s black and serious-looking glue gun up to our attic and turned the space into a freezing cold workshop with one very dedicated and irrational elf. I bought styrofoam spheres, collected tiny pinecones from our hemlock tree, shamelessly stole from dishes of mixed nuts. And I gilded and glued until my fingers burned a million times over. I hung flowers to dry from every rafter. The silica gel eluded me. I only knew it from the small forbidden desiccant packets in new shoe boxes. Where could I get cups of it? This was supposed to be used to dry flowers without having to hang them so they kept their shape. All my hydrangeas and lilacs would dry hanging on the rafters and when you flipped them over they were no longer an orb, but more of a frozen upward wilt.

I tried to make the croquembouche, which is essentially a tower of creme puffs all held together by the magic of spun sugar. To do this, you were supposed to quickly drip molten sugar between two broom handles and when it hardened, swaddle the pastry in this airy nest. piece. of. cake. I made a complete mess trying this and the tower ended up as a pile, but it tasted gooey and sweet. My gingerbread mansion was more of a modest starter gingerbread home, I never did get enough poppy seeds for the poppy seed roll (although I wondered about asking the guys at the bagel shop). I did, however make very successful popcorn balls and homemade marshmallows and I twisted branches into several wreaths. So, in pursuit of glittering excellence I gave out many half-baked sentimental kid-versions of Martha’s crafts and cookies for Christmas that year. Once my penny wrapping business (called Pennies from Heaven) went under I had to keep busy somehow and this was the dawn of a new crafty industriousness.

Which brings me to my adult point. Last week my husband took me to see the Martha Stewart Show for my Birthday. And I found myself feeling ashamed that I like all of these things. I couldn’t tell my serious professional colleagues that I like Martha Stewart or that sometimes I walk the asiles of Michael’s crafts just to relax. A liberated woman does not bake barrels of cookies or take pleasure in arranging flowers. Or does she? Martha brought the average quotidien life a new kind of order and quality and beauty. Now she has lines of dishware, craft materials and tools. She is no different than an industrial designer or a chef or a horticulturist, its just that she is all of these things. And some people don’t like that. But I do.

It reminds me of this quote {When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.} ~Chinese Proverb

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