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My Howell House gingerbread home

February 17, 2023

Cloe Tarlton

In the history of my Moore triple’s traditional Sunday bake day, the only food we cooked but didn’t eat was our grand, seasonally in-demand, gingerbread house. We woke up at 6 a.m. two days in a row and in the freezing cold, lugged ingredients and tools from Howell to Mac House, holing up in the kitchen to design and bake a meticulous replica of Howell House, our affiliate house.

Our project was of the utmost secrecy—no one in Howell residency could know (although some did anyways). With Christmas comes the tradition of building gingerbread houses with loved ones, a symbol for me of family and home. We wanted to surprise the Howell family, who had taken us under their wings, with a surprise, a gift of gratitude. We wanted to thank them all for allowing their home to become our second home, for giving us the opportunity to make so many memories together in their kitchen each Sunday and for welcoming us to Bowdoin.

So it was only fitting that we made Howell the best gingerbread house that the gingerbread house enthusiast community had to offer. We chose the renowned gingerbread recipe of former White House Executive Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, which calls for 12 cups of flour, two bottles of molasses and various aromatic spices. We melted differently colored jolly ranchers into molds for the windows to produce the appearance of stained glass. We crept into 30 College’s creepy basement for tealights to place inside the house so the colorful windows would glow. As we encroached upon the Sunday night deadline, I unwrapped 12 packages of mint gum so fast that my fingers began twitching.

I didn’t know baking could be so exhausting. I never thought that I’d go to bed at 12 a.m. on a Saturday night only to dream about gingerbread. But I also didn’t expect baking to be so exhilarating and rewarding. My heart had never felt so warm before seeing all of Howell gather around the kitchen table where the gingerbread house was on display, pointing out the windows that belonged to their rooms and posting it on their Instagram stories with praise.

During the big reveal, I was briefly reminded of the first day I moved homes. Stepping into my dad’s new office, I found him watching a bittersweet YouTube video on recreated photos from the past. One of the pictures was of three sleeping baby girls with their fingers intertwined, followed by a picture of three adult women, eyes closed, locked hands, taken 15 years later. When I asked my dad why he was watching this video, he said, “It’s sad how people grow old.” Sometimes, when adults say things like this, I am struck by the finite nature of our lives, but how life still seems infinite to me, how I’m unable to picture the end. I looked at the photos and felt sad, imagining how the relationships between those three sisters might have changed over time, how one might love the other more than they were loved back, how they were no longer so close, so pure. I already understood that time could change people and their social circles. But my dad was thinking about a greater truth, a greater fear.

In the late Middle Ages, Europeans baked a version of gingerbread in the form of hard cookies, shaping them into animals or kings and queens. Queen Elizabeth I decorated her cookies with gold leaves, inspiring festivals that came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs. The cookies were called “fairlings” and their shapes would alter with the season—flowers for spring, birds for fall. Nothing stayed the same.

My first year of college has already passed the halfway mark. Reflecting on the intimately dear friendships I’ve made in only six months, it scares me how much life can change in just a narrow strip of time. Things I believed would last forever have faded away before I could even comprehend their absence; I know that the relationships I have built are not so fragile.

Home no longer represents a set location on a map but a mobile trail of loved ones and sources of relaxation and comfort. The Howell gingerbread house symbolizes my suite’s endeavor to find where we belong in a new environment, as well as a thank you to those that supported us in truly making Bowdoin our home.

So for now, as long as I can afford to, I’ll put the worries of change and age behind me. I’ll focus on those that are with me in the present and, just like the enduring tradition of gingerbread, I’ll believe that our love for each other will withstand the passage of time.


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