Summary: Family is also who you choose, and so are traditions.
Written for day 18 of the 2021 Advent Calendar.
Word Count: 1705
~*~*~ Advent Calendar ~*~*~
* Day 18*
“Where is …?” Adam mumbled, scanning the supplies in their jars, bags, and tins in Hop Sing’s storeroom behind the kitchen. “There should be a big bag of rice flour. I brought it myself along with the fruits and sweets. And it has to be rice flour. It makes the cake sticky on the teeth … as a boy I didn’t like the feeling … but yes, it has to be like that, absolutely.”
Adam rummaged through the bags, then he opened the lids of the jars.
Yes, there it was. Perhaps Hop Sing had been better for a few hours and tidied up his pantry? A tidy house before New Year was an important Chinese tradition. Maybe he did it yesterday when I tried to ride into town?
The snow had blocked the road completely, so Adam had returned without the remedy he had hoped to get from Doc Martin. In the end he was thankful just to reach the ranch house again. Hop Sing had been lying on his bed, coughing, sniffing, and feverish, but with a mug of herb tea from his own recipe that Pa had brewed for him by his bedside and a warm stone that Hoss had heated for him at his feet. When Adam had asked what he needed, Hop Sing said they should stop fussing over him.
His voice had been not just hoarse but faint, Adam remembered, and just then he’d planned out what he was doing now.
Adam lit all the lamps. They were bright enough to illuminate the kitchen even on a dark night in the middle of January.
Rice flour, sugar, honey, water … something else?
No, neither cooking nor baking were among his special talents, he was absolutely aware of it, but he had to make the Niangao. He was in charge of restocking provisions this week. Normally, this meant driving the buckboard into town and buying whatever Hop Sing ordered, and so he had done before the snow prevented anything–even a sleigh–from reaching a mercantile, Chinese or American. So, that was the fact, there was no New Year’s cake. Not a tiny bit. Tomorrow was the last day of the old year in the Chinese calendar.
Hop Sing was too sick to cook, there wasn’t a way to buy the cake, and it was his job to keep all their provisions restocked. So it was that Adam stood here in the night stirring and tasting.
Adam eyed the mixture in its bowl. Maybe I should add some eggs?
After the second egg, the batter was more fluid. Not too bad, Adam tried to convince himself. It tastes sweet at least.
Nevertheless, Adam added another egg, then a handful of raisins and nuts.
Next he looked for the special small molds Hop Sing always used when he simmered the cakes in hot water. His gaze fell on the crate with Christmas decorations that still stood in the kitchen. On top lay the Christmas angel Inger had made. Adam smiled as he always did when he remembered the Christmas eve with Inger, the paper toy theater and his first Lussekatters (Sibylle: The Paper Toy Theater).
They were already a Christmas tradition especially after Hop Sing had found an original Swedish recipe. Three weeks ago he had also stood in the kitchen stirring. Adam smiled again. He would never forget to cook the barn elf his sweet porridge the way Mama Inger had taught him. Even in Boston, in the house of his grandfather, he had made the special bowlful. (DJK: Remembering the Barn Elf). He hadn’t known how his grandfather would feel about something his stepmother had taught him, or briefly if he would tolerate his love for Inger. When Abel did, the anxiety that had always tightened his heart in his grandfather’s house had vanished and he had sung, with a joyful and free heart, the Christmas carols his own mother had loved.
Most of those his father had taught him long ago but there were two he had learned in Boston and they were now his and even Joe’s favorite Christmas songs. Yes, it was possible to have two different strands of traditions! Or even more? Marie’s china and table decorations and the old Bible from the Cartwright family were also part of the Christmas tradition.
Where was the other crate? The one with the Chinese decorations, and other things they would need for the New Year? Here it was!
As Adam searched in the crate for the molds he unpacked the fai chun, red and golden decorations with Chinese characters which stood for “luck”, “long life”, “wealth”, “health” and other good wishes for the New Year.
Adam emptied out the whole crate but still didn’t find the molds, so he decided to cook the cake in a baking pan that he put in a pot with water. While the water was heating he had a closer look at the decorations. They look battered, he thought. Maybe I should freshen them up. So he ran to his room for golden ink, and while the cake was cooking he restored the decorations. He also made some new ones but resisted the urge to throw the old set away, despite their shabbiness and childish inaccuracies. He remembered making those with Hop Sing when Marie was so sick after Little Joe’s birth. Even Hoss’ flowers-drawings became only a new loop—they were also part of the tradition (LissaB, Dragon Dance).
After about another hour, once he was satisfied with the status of the decorations, he decided the cake had boiled long enough, cleaned up the kitchen, and finally went to bed.
Hop Sing opened his eyes. The headache was gone. He felt weak, but he would stand up and go to work. There is so much to do on the last day in the year, cleaning, baking, cooking, decorating. So much—maybe too much.
Hop Sing didn’t open his eyes fully but shuffled into his kitchen. First, he would make the cake. He went into the store room but couldn’t find the rice flour. And where were the molds and the decorations? Was nothing in its place? Would nobody respect his feelings? When he were healthier he would shout and be irate. Maybe leave this ignorant family. Now only a small cry came from his lips as he dropped into a chair at the kitchen table. And the Cartwrights are sitting in the table in the big room eating breakfast without any thoughts about me and the New Year. Hop Sing covered his face with his hands.
Just then Hoss entered the kitchen. “Hop Sing, you are up! Do you feel better?” But after a second glance he added quickly, “What’s wrong?”
The other three Cartwrights now came in, surrounding him, asking their questions in unison.
“Are you all right?”
“Would you like to go to bed again?”
“Should I bring you something to eat?”
Hop Sing only shook his head and croaked, “Has somebody seen the lice flour and my molds and …”
Four voices answered “yes!, four Cartwrights ran out of the kitchen in the store room, trying to shove past each other.
“No, they not inside, Hop Sing alleady looked for it,” Hop Sing said tonelessly. “Not on place.”
In that moment all four came back with his molds, forms, and pans in their hands. They put all the items before him on the kitchen table.
“What’s that?” But at the moment he asked, Hop Sing knew what it was: four totally different, miserable, unprofessional but real New Year’s cakes.
Incredulous, he looked up, and became aware that Joe’s hair was cut, that he and Hoss had brooms in their hands, that the fai chun hanging in the big room seemed shinier than ever, yes, and there were even red envelopes on his employer’s desk. Cleaning the house to sweep the bad luck away; not cutting the hair in the first days of the New Year so as not to cut the good luck–all was being observed. (Joe had needed a haircut even before Christmas!) And the usual gifts were surely waiting in the red envelopes.
“You, you did all what’s important for me, for the New Year … thank you …” Hop Sing stammered.
“No,” Adam said loudly.
Hop Sing looked up at him, startled.
“We Cartwrights have a lot of traditions from a lot of different cultures. I thought about it last night. It’s not only blood that binds a family together, but also having the same traditions and rituals. You taught us when we were boys to celebrate the New Year the right way, so that we will have luck and happiness in the following year. And to celebrate the New Year in this way is a Cartwright family tradition that not one of us will ever forget!
“So, Hoss and Joe, go on with the cleaning, so that all the bad luck can be swept out! Pa and I will finish hanging the decorations; and you, Hop Sing, can sleep, so we can sit together tonight as long as possible, so we all—and especially the older generation of the family—” here he winked at Hop Sing—“will have a long life.”
“Family,” thought Hop Sing, as he walked back to his bed, with a good warm feeling in his heart. And we will eat the cakes to the last crumb, even if they taste as awful as they look. At least I will.
I think we all have – especially with the prequels and sequels- our own universe with things that “happened” for us from stories we wrote ourselves or from other authors’ work. In my case there are two other stories that mine refers to. I highly recommend them both: DJK’s Remembering the Barn Elf (Advent Calendar 2016) and LissaB’s Dragon Dance, my favorite Hop Sing story ever. Thanks for those brilliant stories and I hope it’s ok that my Cartwrights are remembering what you have written. It is their past.
I have to say thank for their help also to Sandspur and Sklamb. THANK YOU!
Activity: restocking provisions
Link to Day 19 of the Bonanza Brand 2021 Advent Calendar: Christmas Angel by wx4rmk
Other Stories by this Author
- A Cartwright Advent (by Sibylle)
- Christmas Decorations (by Sibylle)
- Home Alone (by Sibylle)
- The Paper Toy-Theater (by Sibylle)
- Christmas Presents (by Sibylle)