Wisdom and learning sometimes have a funny way of finding us.

It had been one of those days where every errand on the list cost more than I wanted to spend. The packages were heavy, and there was too much to do and not enough time to do it. It always seems to me that, while this is called the Holiday Season, it could just as easily be called the Frantic Season.

I was getting ready to start baking when the doorbell rang.

It rang in just the right way to make me believe it was my neighbor, an amazing woman who was only a few days away from turning 101. I was right – there she was, standing at the door looking more frazzled than I felt. She asked me to come over because she was worried that something was not quite right but she didn’t say what it was. Since she has a habit of leaving things on the stove and walking away from it, I was more than happy to head over there to check things out!

I walked in the door to find her standing next to a bowl of cookie dough.

She was worried it didn’t taste right, and even more worried that she had used too many chocolate chips. I reassured her about the dough, using the ‘take a taste’ method that I am so fond of but which my doctor tells me is risky (yeah, yeah, I know, but old habits die hard). It seemed just fine to me.

When I slowed down to really look, however, I could tell she was truly upset.

This is something I don’t often see in her, so I asked what was wrong. It turned out that she had offered to make three different kinds of cookies for her granddaughter’s holiday dinner. And now that she was spoon-deep in the middle of it, she was stressed and feeling like she had taken on too much.

Now, I like to bake. I mean, I really like to bake.

I do it to share with others, to start my day off with my own bread, and because it is an excellent way to show someone you’re thinking of them even if you’re not with them. Baking is something which comes easily to me, requiring very little effort. But here was my neighbor, visibly shaken, telling me she didn’t remember how to turn on the oven because it had been so long since she’d last used it.

I did what anyone would do in this situation.

I took the bowl back to my place and made the cookies: baked, cooled, and put them on paper trays for her to take to her granddaughter. But it turns out that having a chance to help by doing something I loved wasn’t my holiday gift… even though I thought it was. No, my real gift came a few hours later when I brought the cookies back to my neighbor’s house. She had started in on the second batch and asked, “Do you have one square of chocolate I could use?” What followed was 45 minutes of pure enjoyment for me.

Both of my grandmothers died when I was about twelve, and neither was a baker.

When I was in college, my best friend’s grandma took me under her wing and gave me some of my fondest memories: baking with my “grandmother.” We would talk about recipes, and how it was my habit to tweak hers (some of which dated back over 100 years) much to both her horror and delight. In a way, recipes and baking can connect us to our past – a past we have very few windows into.

Now here I was, standing in my neighbor’s kitchen and reviewing her sister’s recipe card.

She said, “Oh, that handwriting is horrible… but I can still read it!” And we chuckled about the old brand of flour recommended as it brought back such wonderful memories. When the dough was beaten and the beaters as clean as a spatula could make them, my neighbor gleefully reached over to do the honors of licking away the last remnants. Her smile was huge, her mouth covered in chocolate, and the twinkle had returned to her eyes.

THAT was my gift that day.

Seeing the transformation in my neighbor’s face.
Watching her shift from overwhelmed and worried to overjoyed and vibrant.
Revisiting old memories and baking new ones.
Steeping in the true spirit of the Holiday Season.

It was a powerful reminder that you don’t need to be in a classroom to get an education.

Wisdom and learning found me, anyway.

The classroom was a kitchen.
The teacher was a grandmother.
And our textbook was an old recipe card.