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Malo’s hands
Malo spends Christmas with her grandkids, circa 1993. From left: Josh, Ginger, Trey and Malo. - photo by For the Dawson County News

In the Demarest household, Christmas is a time for family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children and pets have historically descended on my parents’ house in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Christmas day.

It has always been a day where the entire family comes together from however spread out across the country (and recently, globe) we’ve gotten. One Christmas, we had to video chat my cousin in from Afghanistan.

So it was with a genuinely heavy heart that my wife and I decided to do Christmas away from the family this year. It has been a hectic, stressful year full of changing jobs, health issues, shifting timetables, and a heavy helping of both personal triumphs and defeats. And so, Bethany and I chose to take a holiday in New Orleans that allowed us to disconnect from the world and reconnect as a family unit.

Unfortunately, that also meant missing one of the family traditions I hold most sacred.

And that’s gotten me thinking a lot about the traditions and we have in our family. This week, my cousins Ginger and Trey will likely get too competitive over board games. My mom will light up in a way she only does when everyone is together and happy. One rambunctious toddler will be laughing and running around. The little silver bell that my parents got the first Christmas they were married hangs, as it has since 1979, on the highest branch of the Christmas tree.

And oh, the food. Some of the same recipes that have been handed down over a century will make their way onto the table, and then my favorite family tradition of all will happen: the whole family will reminisce about Malo’s hands.

It’s usually Ginger who tells the story, while my mom and Aunt Anne supplement the details from decades of watching their mom perform.

First, a little clarification. Malo is the name we affectionately called my maternal grandmother. My father coined the term. It’s a combination of Ma and Lois. Malo was the greatest cook I’ve ever known, with the down-home Southern cooking that calls to mind Sundays after church and long summer afternoons.

Malo could cook anything, but nothing topped her biscuits. They were from scratch, of course, and she always made them the same way. Even though I was barely 11 when she passed, I can still see her in the kitchen performing the ritual. After she mixed the dough — by hand, no KitchenAid for her — she would flour the counters and roll it out.

Then the magic would start.

Her hands would flutter under the dough in a circle, turning it over on itself and then rolling it back out. Time and time again, painstakingly creating layer upon flaky layer. Then, she’d cut the biscuits out of the dough using the top of a water glass. She had biscuit cutters, of course. But her mother had used a water glass, and I suppose her mother before her.

Family traditions are funny like that.

So during this special season, keep your family, friends and loved ones close. Even if you can’t be in the same room for whatever reason, be free with your love, your forgiveness, your compassion, and your laughter. Call the people you love and remind them why they’re special to you. And tell a story about those who are no longer with you.

And to my family, remember Malo’s hands and that I love you.


Joshua Demarest is the editor of Dawson County News. His editorials will appear periodically.