I shared my plans for the weekend celebration of Sinterklaas, over the phone, with Rob, my brother in England.
"Was that when our bears came?" he asked.
"Yes, it must have been!" I said, remembering an early December, 52 years ago, when he was 5 and I was 8.
A parcel the size of a shoebox arrived from Holland, sent by one of our Dutch aunts. Mum opened the precious parcel from her homeland, while Rob and I looked on in excitement. There were treasures lovingly tucked into every corner of the box, including two small teddy bears; one golden and one black.
The golden one became mine and I named him Rupert, because he looked just like Rupert the bear, whose adventures I loved to read about in the picture annuals that are still read by children in Britain. Rob's black bear had a hump on it's back, although I'm not sure why!
I still have Rupert. Along the way his golden fur wore off, and his eyes fell out. Being loved will do that to you, I guess, for he was well loved, and not just by me. He traveled across the ocean with us when we came to seek our fortune in Canada, and when a new generation of children were born into our family, he took on the role of special comforter when a child was sick in bed.
He still has that unique, strawy, old teddy bear smell and our children have told us that when we die they will probably fight over who gets Rupert.
The box that held the bears was fragrant with the mixture of spices unique to Dutch cookies. I tasted one that was so delicious and different to anything I had experienced that it imprinted itself on my young taste memory intensely. For years as an adult I tried recipe after recipe trying to recapture the flavour, without ever quite getting it right. Eventually in a Dutch store I found myself standing in front of a shelf of large cookies baked into the shape of dolls. They were golden and spongy, and fragrant. The scent of ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, took me back to my childhood ecstacy--this was it! Tai tai! The words actually mean "tough tough," because the cookies are not crisp but chewy. At last I had found it.
I introduced it into our Sinterklaas celebrations over the years but each year I try something different from the Dutch store. This year, I didn't buy Tai Tai what with getting 109 chocolate letters and many pink foil wrapped bars of Fry's Turkish delight in deference to our English heritage too. With all that we had to eat, including chocolate letters and the heavily marzipanned Christmas cake my dear gluten intolerant daughter Brenda just wanted to know, "Where's the Tai Tai? You didn't get Tai Tai?!"
The contents of that little shoe box had an effect that continues to ripple down the generations of our family.