Although this post is a departure from my usual, I have been wanting to share this very personal holiday story for awhile now. It’s about a woman named Gail Cronin and her holiday cranberry squares. This story actually began over thirty years ago, when I was a newlywed. My husband and I, for a reason I no longer remember, decided to give up our cute but very noisy apartment in Harvard Square and move to an idyllic little coastal town North of Boston called Ipswich.
On one of our very first weekends there we happened to drop by a Christmas fair that was being held at the First Church of Ipswich. While looking over the offerings at the bake table we decided on some yummy looking cranberry squares. They were the best cranberry squares I had ever eaten (actually they were the first cranberry squares I had ever eaten). I asked the woman at the bake table if she knew who had made them and if it was possible to get the recipe. She took my number and said she would inquire. I really didn’t expect to ever hear anything back, but the very next day I received a call from a very sweet elderly lady named Gail Cronin. She not only said she would love to share the recipe but would like it even more if I would come for a visit and have some tea.
The following weekend I paid a visit to Gail. She was the nicest, kindest, woman imaginable. She was well into her eighties and what she told me I have never forgotten. She explained that she was an only child who never married. She had no family whatsoever and most of her friends had either passed on or were very ill and in nursing homes. She told me she was an “unremarkable woman” who had an “unremarkable life”. Her final words struck me profoundly when she said, “when I die, it will be like I never even existed”.
I just couldn’t shake off how sad I felt for her and how very alone she was. I promised to pay her another visit right after the holidays. Well not surprisingly my busy life at the time got in the way. The holidays came and went and I never did contact Gail. Months later, when I did finally reach out to her I learned she had passed away just a few weeks earlier. I barely knew this woman but in some weird way I felt like I had failed her since I broke my promise to visit her right after the holidays. Her final words of “when I die it will be like I never even existed” haunted me. I made a vow that I would never forget her and that I would keep her name and my memory of her alive. I can honestly say, I have done just that. For over thirty years I have been making her cranberry squares every Christmas. Originally my family thought it somewhat strange that I pay tribute to basically a stranger but they know it wouldn’t be Christmas without Gail’s Cronin’s cranberry squares.
Here is the original recipe card she gave me if you too would like to try them. It’s time worn and stained but it is in her handwriting which somehow makes me feel more connected to her.
Within months of our move to Ipswich the novelty of living in a cute little town had worn off. The reality of a 3-4 hour daily commute most likely had something to do with it and we moved back closer to Boston. Now I am not a religious person at all but I am somewhat spiritual. In looking back, I don’t know why we ended up living in Ipswich for only a matter of months but I do know something, or someone guided me to Gail Cronin. I spent less than an hour with her over 30 years ago but she has been a part of our holiday ever since.
I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year and if you have any inclination, please say a little toast to the memory of “an unremarkable woman” who had an “unremarkable life” named Gail Cronin. I have never forgotten her, and I never will.