December 12

Gingerbread House Day


One year, as part of holiday preparations, your parents bought you and your brother a Gingerbread House Kit.  The box seemed especially large to your young eyes.   A colorful photo on the lid depicted a professionally completed structure, mounted on a beautiful tabletop snowscape.

It looked like a real house, but better because it was decorated with icing and chocolate and gumdrops.

When you opened the box, the gingerbread sections of the house were all in one large compartment, with other compartments containing various candied decorations, and two large tubes of “snow” icing.  Before you even got started with the kit, your eager brother lifted up the large flat section representing the front of the house, and he accidently snapped the cookie in half.

Your dad came to the rescue, avoiding too much pre-Christmas drama, by suggesting that the snow icing could be used to hold the broken pieces together.  It wasn’t the most cosmetic solution — similar to his makeshift repairs to the family home, painting over flaws rather than fixing structural damage beneath — but at least he kept your brother from crying.

Making the gingerbread house was fun.  Dad kept his distance and you supervised, giving your brother occasional tasks to help him feel included.  Open that package of spearmint rings and spread them out on the table.  Or, Why don’t you put some jelly beans over this line of icing?

The biggest challenge, though, was to keep your brother from eating the candy.  He loved gumdrops and red-hots and peppermint sticks, and he wanted to sample items whenever he opened a plastic-sealed package.

Maybe you can have any bits of candy we don’t use in making the house…

But the kit-makers hadn’t included any extra candy.  You needed every colorful, sugary treat to make your finished gingerbread house look like the one on the box cover – with an extra, jagged line of white icing from the chimney, through an upstairs window, and beside the front door.

For your brother, the exercise provided a good lesson in restraint.  This candy wasn’t supposed to satisfy his greedy sweet tooth.  It served a higher purpose, adding holiday cheer for the whole family to appreciate.

Mom and Dad gave the gingerbread house a featured spot, placing it on a corner table in the dining room.  Sometimes your brother would ask, Can we eat it? And somebody else would reply, No, that’s just for decoration.

The gingerbread house had a slight lean to the left, but all the candy lined up perfectly along the roof-line and around windows.  With the icing tubes, you’d made realistic patches of snow and added icicles along each overhang.  It looked great.  And delicious.

A few nights later, you started thinking about the candy and the cookie pieces.  They were going to get stale, out in the open air like that.  It was for decoration, of course.  Nobody eats a house.  But it was a shame that all that sweet candy would go to waste.

At first it was only going to be one gumdrop.  While your brother and parents slept, you snuck down into the dining room and peeled a green drop from the back of the house, where nobody would notice it went missing.  It was mint-flavored, instead of lime, and it wasn’t as flavorful as the name-brand jelly candies you bought at the Six-Twelve.  You quickly overcame your disappointment, however, and pulled an orange one off the back of the house, popped it in your mouth.

Then a peppermint ball, and a few jelly beans from the roof.  You rearranged the remaining beans to disguise the theft, then slinked quietly back to your bedroom.

Each night, you stole and ate more candy from the gingerbread house.  To help cover your tracks, you mixed your own icing of confectioner’s sugar and water, “touching up” the places where you’d removed a gumball or red hot.  Candy decorations disappeared even from the front of the house, and new “icicles” appeared in their place.

During dinner, clear evidence of your crime confronted you:  that house in the corner, less colorful each day, its decorations fading or falling down as if its imaginary gingerbread owners no longer cared.

Nobody else in your family seemed to notice.

One night, you pressed too hard on a redistributed spearmint ring.  The house broke down the middle, along the previously repaired split.  Your improvised icing wasn’t strong enough to fix the damage, but you did your best, balancing the pieces like a perilous house of cards.  Before you snuck back to bed, you stole one last jelly bean.

The next morning, the house was gone.  You parents never said a word about it.

You’ve thought about that gingerbread house a lot.  Your best explanation is that Mom or Dad brushed against the display, then assumed their own clumsiness caused the structure to crumble. They threw it away, and decided not to upset you with the news.

You’ve thought about that gingerbread house a lot, because your parents are no longer here to ask them about it.  Or your brother, either.  And the actual house, the childhood home that you still live in — the building your dad repaired with paint or duct tape, doing the best he could — the actual house has started to crumble, too, from the violent winds and the lightning and the debris that fell from the sky.

Also, you suspect that looters have visited while you slept, stealing away bricks or breaking off sections of wood paneling.  It feels like the home itself has gone stale, and what remains of the walls seem to crack at random intervals, making a sound like the crunch of a greedy child biting into bits of forbidden candy.