Warm Memories of Mayberry and Cookies with Santa©
This time of year is very nostalgic not just for me, but I'm willing to guess it is for a lot of others as well. We recall the Christmases, Hanukkahs or other celebrated holidays of this time of year from years past, and especially friends and family members with whom we celebrated, whether or not they are still with us today. I don't want to dampen the spirit of my article, but one of the reasons that prompted me to write this post is that this morning I read the obituary of Dottie, a dear friend of mine from my days at Mayberry Village.
Located at the extreme northern and western edges of Lucas County in Northwest Ohio, Mayberry is a small community, almost idealistic, named after you-guessed-it, Mayberry, the fictional location of Andy Griffith fame. This community however, is as real as it gets, It is actually a neighborhood within the Toledo suburb of Sylvania, Ohio that is reminiscent of the nostalgic feeling of yesteryear. Mayberry consists of residences, a variety retail stores and services, restaurants, police station, and professional offices. Above the stores and offices are luxury one and two floor apartments. The stores and apartments are situated in Mayberry Square, a three-square-block area that includes Floyd's Barbershop, Mayberry Diner, Andy & Barney's Sports Bar, and other appropriately named businesses. Driving around and behind the commercial area you will find Mayberry Crossing, a conglomeration of single family residences, villas, condominiums or duplexes, and Mayberry Village, the 55-plus active independent adult residence where my father and I lived. Mayberry Village houses approximately 90 one and two bedroom apartments under one roof. The facility is shaped like a wagon wheel with a common area in the center and seven spokes or halls that house the apartments. Included in the common area, or "Village Club" is a café that looks like a small diner with a bar area, tables and equipped kitchen, a laundry, fitness center, library complete with quiet reading room, mail room, banquet room, arts and crafts room, and large game room. The game room contained card and game tables, a puzzle table, hockey table and pool table and is stocked with everything needed to engage in any of these activities.
I met Dottie in 2008 when she and her husband moved into Mayberry Village where I was living with my stroke-disabled father. My father and I chose that particular residence because, prior to that, he had been living in an assisted living facility and he hated it. As a stroke victim, he had been experiencing some depression associated with the stroke and I knew that living alone, albeit in a facility with other disabled persons, was not mentally healthy for him. On several occasions after he was moved into the assisted living home by my sisters, he told me that if he had to stay there he would kill himself. He and I made a decision that we would live together. That way, I would take care of him so that he would not have to live in assisted living or a nursing home unless I could no longer take care of him, with or without outside help. Fortunately, it was not necessary and he lived with me at Mayberry until he was moved to hospice three years later. But this story is not just about my father. It is about the wonderful people that we met and the wonderful friends I made while living at Mayberry Village.
We chose Mayberry Village so that my father could be around persons of his own age and so that he could be in an environment where he could still stay active in spite of his disabilities. I recall the actual deciding factor for him being the pool table and the card tables, two of his very favorite hobbies. In discussing the average age of the residents with the property manager, I learned that it was somewhere in the mid-80s which was just a year or two younger than my father. For me, however, I barely fit the 55+ stipulation. I was a little leery for this reason, but because I could finally see a spark of excitement in his eyes as the property manager showed us around, I knew that we had found what would probably be my father's final home. I could live anywhere and find happiness within myself, but he was no longer capable of doing that and that was the reason for finding a new residence for him in the first place. We signed the lease on the initial visit and planned to move within a two-week period.
In a matter of days after the move, I learned that misgivings about my considerable age difference were unfounded. I learned probably the greatest lesson of all: that friendship knows no age barriers. It is never too late to make new friends and there is no rule that late developing friendships cannot be just as close as those formed in our youth. Sure, we don't have the years of history together, but everyone has a history. At some point those histories cross, and it was remarkable to me to learn how many of the residents were parents of classmates of mine from high school! Not only had I known their children growing up, I got to know the parents better than I knew them!
I also learned that the body is just a shell. The person is what is contained inside the heart and soul or spirit of the person. Some of the closest friends I made at Mayberry were just as crazy and mischievous and fun-loving as I am, and loved to stir the kettle just like me, regardless of their age. I learned that no matter how old one's physical age, wanting to still have fun is timeless. I learned that we are never too old to learn new things, take chances on love or other risks, and that within almost everyone is a willingness to help thy neighbor, regardless of our individual pasts and life experiences. I learned that a 93-year old woman could teach me to play bridge, and that she could still play as well or better than many of the other players. I learned that women are jealous of other woman when men pay them attention, whether they are 18, 38, 58, 78 or 88. I learned that just because there is "snow" on the roof, doesn't mean that there isn't fire in the furnace. I learned that we all have limitations or disabilities, even though they may not be visible to the naked eye. I learned that love can happen after the age of 80 and I watched residents meet and marry while under the Mayberry Village rooves.
I learned that inside everyone is a teacher of life. Some are better at it than others, and some have their abilities clouded by childhood events that they have never "outgrown," or outlived. As a result, their entire outlook on life is overshadowed by a pain or sorrow from the past. It doesn't mean that they don't teach a life lesson by their behavior, just the same. I learned that I had more patience than I had ever realized, and that once a certain age is reached, the playing field is leveled. It didn't matter whether in the past you were a Colonel in the Air Force, a convicted felon, the CFO of a Fortune 500 Corporation, or a retired farmer who owned half the property in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan and was now happy just to tend to their small garden of tomato and pepper plants on their patio. We all left those lives behind us when we moved into Mayberry, and became one community. I also learned that no matter how old I became, I was never too old to continue learning from my elders.
Making Every Day Count
After living at MayberryVillage for about six months, I was asked to become the Activities Director when the former director retired. This was probably the best decision I could have made at the time. It enabled me to meet and really get to know everyone on a personal level instead of just in passing. It also meant that I got to plan the activities for the residents. It made sense, since I was one of the three youngest residents living there at the time, and I had the energy to do the planning. The other residents, at 80 and above, had done that in their younger years. It was time someone did it for them. As part of my duties, I became responsible for planning and preparing a community "supper" every Wednesday night, planning games, calling Bingo on Friday afternoons, coordinating the weekly lottery pool, taking groups to Detroit and Windsor to the casinos, organizing trips to the Toledo Mudhens' baseball games, planning monthly Mystery Lunches (where the location, not the food was the mystery), writing scripts for the skits presented at the weekly suppers by the Mayberry "Way (Way, Way) Past-Their-Prime-Time Players," hosting a monthly Saturday evening game night, organizing a hobo dinner and hayride in the fall, picnics in the summer, and going dancing to live big band music at the premier outdoor amphitheatre in the area. The ampitheatre just happened to be located across the street from Mayberry Square. It used to have the largest outdoor marble dance floor in the country until it was remodeled several years ago. Because the majority of the residents were teens and young adults in the 1930s and 40s, this was an incredibly nostalgic outing that we tried to frequent as often as possible, and always on the evenings when the admission price for veterans was reduced to next to nothing. At the time we lived there, most of the men and some of the women were World War II or Korean War veterans.
I truly loved living at MayberryVillage. I had never before felt so much a part of a family, and for that reason, I continued living there for a year and a half after my father passed away. It was very difficult for me to leave and I had a lot of mixed feelings in making that decision. But I knew I needed to be closer to my granddaughters and rejoice in their young lives, just as I had rejoiced in the wonderful times I had spent with my "old" friends. After living there for five years, I was starting to see my Mayberry friends fail and leave us, whether for assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice, or their final resting places. In a period of three months, we lost four of the twelve members of our gin rummy group. That was difficult. I knew I had to leave in order not to age more quickly than I already was.
Cookies with Santa
Another one of the activities during my first year that received overwhelming resident participation was "Cookies with Santa." This was a Saturday morning where the residents were encouraged to invite their families, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all ages. to attend and enjoy a holiday party and cookie decorating with Santa. Several of the ladies (who I might note were in their mid-90s at the time) and I baked sugar cookies in the days leading up to the event. We then provided the baked cookies, icing, sprinkles, and colored sugars for the children to decorate the cookies in any way the they wanted. Other entertainment included having their pictures taken with Santa, movies and holiday music. Approximately 40 youngsters attended and each left with a picture of him or herself with two of our residents, Santa Don and Elf, Charlie. They decorated and ate cookies while watching Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They sang and danced to Christmas music and waited sometimes not-so-patiently in line to see Santa and receive their little bag of gifts. It was a wonderful party and ended precisely at the time when the sugar high kicked in and it was time for Grandma and Grandpa to say goodbye. I think everyone had an enjoyable time, as can oftentimes be measured by the length of time it is talked about in the months afterward.
I have many, many Mayberry stories that I will share in future articles. Today, I'm dedicating this article to all my friends and neighbors at Mayberry, both the Village and the Crossing. I miss you more than you can ever know. The memories I have of those who are still living there, and those who have gone on to their current residences, whether in this life or the next, will comfort me for the rest of my life. One of the things I miss the most is our coffee group. Each morning, a "regular-and-then-some" group of us gathered daily for our "coffee hour" beginning at about 7:30 a.m. You didn't have to be a coffee drinker to join us, and there were no membership rules—it was always open, as were all the activities, to all residents. The morning coffee group, the Wednesday night suppers, and the nightly game tables were where all Mayberry-related information never gossip!) exchanged lips. We read the newspaper together or watched the morning news, discussed current events, read each other's daily horoscopes, jointly did the daily crossword puzzle, and unofficially presided over all the happenings of the Mayberry community. The only two topics we mutually agreed not to discuss were politics and religion! We all did live under virtually one roof 24/7, afer all! There was many a day that we ended the "coffee hour" by heading up to the Mayberry Diner in the Square for breakfast before dispersing. And there were many more days when we didn't move on to the rest of the day's activities until between 11 o'clock and noon.
Because I was usually up very early to start the coffee pots brewing, and because I love planning surprises for others, often I would set up my cooking station early in the morning down in the café. There, I would fry both cake and yeast doughnuts, or in the fall, make apple sugar plumps. I wanted them to be hot and ready when the residents began arriving for their first coffee of the day. Sometimes I would throw together a French toast casserole the night before, or make blueberry muffins when I got up so that I could take them down for all to enjoy while they were still warm. And if it was someone's birthday, a holiday, or a special occasion, I made Caramel Pecan Rolls. The night before such an event, we'd declare a "pajama party" for the following morning, telling everyone interested to come on down and join us. You cannot imagine how many people actually came down in their pajamas for pecan rolls the following morning. There was also many an early morning when the residents received "come as you are" telephone calls or knocks on their doors inviting them to meet in the café for some of the baked good one of us made and brought to share. One year on Valentine's Day, the residents arrived for coffee and found me making heart-shaped doughnuts for them. In his own way of celebrating the day, one of the 90-year-old-plus residents proudly showed us his underwear that was covered with hearts and cupids that he always wore on that day! We all loved it! In many ways, we were like a large family. We shared with one another, we helped one another, and we succeeded in living side-by-side in a congenial atmosphere. We all felt that feeling of belonging.
Last year I shared the sugar cookie recipe from the "Cookies with Santa" party that I referred to above.1 I'm going to share two others today in honor of two of my friends at Mayberry that we lost this year. Both of them were very loving and sharing individuals. One was my friend Dottie. She was just a bit of a thing, but was very large in spirit. On many a late night, she would come down to my apartment for some "girl talk." We provided emotional support for each other as caretakers--her for her husband, and me for my father. I'm sharing her recipe for Sand Tarts, which remind me of the sand dollars we find on the beach here in Southwest Florida.. The other recipe was given to me by my friend, Marge. Marge was also a remarkable woman. I first met Marge shortly before her 90th birthday. In looking at her, you would not have guessed she was a day over 70. She was also a very caring, sharing person and a joy to be around. Every year, she invited me to the handbell choir concert at her church, truly one of the best ways to feel the holiday spirit. Marge's daughter was in the handbell choir, and every year I anticipated that concert and Marge's invitaiton. Dottie, Marge and I loved to cook and we were always comparing notes, trading samples and swapping recipes. Marge was a superb baker and always provided the most wonderful treats at our monthly potlucks. Dottie loved trading recipes and ingredients and frequently shared with many of the residents a little bit of a lot of the dishes she made for her and her husband. I will never make either of the recipes I'm sharing with you today without thinking of these two ladies and the good times we had together at Mayberry, not just during the holidays, but all year round. If there is a heaven, I know that they are both up there holding a seat for me at the coffee table, and wondering what goodie we will share on our next meeting. I miss you ladies, and all my Mayberry friends! Happy Holidays to all of you!
©2013 by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
Dottie's Sand Tarts
3 cups all-purpose Fflour
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, softened
1-1/4 cups Granulated Sugar*, sifted
1 large Egg and
1 large Egg, separated into white and yolk
1 tsp. pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Lemon Zest, freshly grated
Granulated Sugar for sprinkling on top
½ c. Almonds, blanched
1. Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until it is creamy.
3. Gradually add in the sugar beating until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in the whole egg and one egg yolk, the vanilla and the lemon zest.
5. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until well blended, kneading by hand if necessary.
6. Divide dough into thirds or quarters and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight.
7. Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
8. Working with only one portion of the dough at a time, roll the dough very thin, approximately ¼ in. thick.
9. Using a fluted or round cutter, cut into 1-1/2 inch circles.
10. Arrange approximately 1-1/2 inches apart on the greased or the parchment-lined cookie sheets.
11. Brush the tops with the remaining beaten egg white and sprinkle with lots of sugar and blanched almonds, sliced or halved.
12. Bake one sheet at a time for about 6-7 minutes or until golden brown on top.
13. Immediately remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely. If you let them cool on the cookie sheets, they will harden and be more difficult to remove.
*Note: You may substitute 1-1/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar for the granulated sugar.
White Chocolate Dipped Holiday Biscotti
2 cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted Butter at room temperature
1 tsp. Lemon Zest, freshly grated
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 large Eggs
3/4 cup Pistachios, shelled and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup Dried Cranberries
12 ozs. good-quality White Chocolate, chopped
Red and green sugar crystals, for garnish if desired
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder to blend.
4. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to until creamy.
5. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time.
6. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended.
7. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.
8. Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet.
9. Bake in the preheated oven until light golden, about 40 minutes.
10. Remove the log from the baking sheet and cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
11. Place the log on the cutting board and using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices.
12. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet and bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes.
13. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.
14. Meanwhile, stir the chocolate in a double boiler or a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts.
15. When the biscotti are completely cooled, dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate.
16. Gently shake off the excess chocolate.
17. Place the biscotti back onto on the baking sheet for the chocolate to set.
18. Sprinkle with the colored sugar crystals if desired.
19. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.
20. The biscotti can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Or wrap them in foil and freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.