Molasses, memories mix in holiday tradition
CHARLTON Katie Valley believes angels’ favorite holiday food is not light, spongy white cake.
By now, gingerbread must be the preferred Christmas dessert among the celestials — all thanks to Kathy.
Valley’s sister, Kathy Kelly Anderson, used to love making gingerbread houses for her family during the yuletide season. Children in her family loved decorating the houses with candy.
Anderson, a Guilderland resident and longtime nurse in the Capital Region, died of the bone disease multiple myeloma in 2000. She was 40 years old.
Valley has continued Anderson’s tradition, always on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas. This past Sunday, more than 30 kids — toddlers to teens — decorated gingerbread houses inside Valley’s Charlton residence. It was a party for Christmas, with family and neighbors invited. And it was a way to keep Anderson’s memory alive.
“It’s my tribute to her,” said Valley, 47, who baked and constructed 50 deep brown gingerbread buildings for the gathering. “As I make the houses, I talk to her constantly. Making children happy is what she did.”
Anderson conducted her first gingerbread session in 1990 for the seven children in her extended family.
“That was my sister; it was all about the kids,” Valley said. “She loved her kids; she did everything with her kids. Her family was her life.”
Valley remembers Anderson’s sense of humor in the face of adversity, even when her time was winding down.
“I was undergoing fertility treatments,” Valley said. “I said, ‘Look, when you get to heaven, will you get me pregnant?’ She said, ‘Sure!’ ”
Anderson passed away shortly after the request. “About a week later, I was pregnant,” Valley said.
Son Hunter Valley, who will turn 13 in February, was one of the kids on decoration detail Sunday afternoon. Katie Valley stayed in the kitchen, talking with friends and mixing batches of frosting that mothers delivered to artists seated at two long tables. The frosting was slathered on the roofs and sides of houses, and kids used M&M candies, peppermints, ribbon candy, gumdrops, chocolate nonpareils and even cereal for their home improvement projects.
Terry Rossetti of Schenectady walked the narrow row between tables inside the enclosed rear porch and carried a large silver bowl filled with frosting. “You want more, honey?” she asked 3-year-old Adam Thompson-Moore. “You got it.”
Adam was decorating with his twin brother, James, and father, Robert Moore.
“We’ve been talking about this for weeks,” said Moore, a fifth-grade teacher at Charlton Heights Elementary School in Ballston Lake. “They knew this was coming, and they’ve seen all the house decorations. They say, ‘We’re going to make them, too.’ ”
Guests brought the candy decorations. Ryan Stewart, 13, of Burnt Hills, helped himself.
“Everything, all kinds of candy,” he said, as he loaded up his roof. “My parents are going to be mad at me.”
Corey Carpenter, 4, of Glenville, decided to go old school. She used plenty of Necco wafers, a candy that might have been more popular with her grandparents.
Tyler Berg, 13, of Burnt Hills, piled layers of pink and red candy on the top of his winter home.
Some kids topped their places with candy snowmen.
Parents watched the kids make construction decisions and smiled.
“Tyler’s roof is going to cave in, he’s got so much candy on it,” said Tina Galluzzo of Burnt Hills, whose son Xavier, 12, also was on the job. “I hope he has homeowner’s insurance.”
Adults weren’t just visiting for shrimp, pinwheel sandwich rolls, pizza and other snacks. They had their chance to decorate after the kids were finished.
“We’re competitive, and we take it very seriously,” said Dina Solomon of Glenville.
Some parents hovered around the kitchen snack table; others watched the Jets-Browns football game on television. Todd Valley, Katie’s husband, played handyman by using a hand-held electric drill to make circular holes in some kids’ houses. That way, they could fill the heavily decorated structures with even more candy.
“It’s a good get-together just before Christmas,” Todd Valley said.
Ann Parillo of Schenectady, Katie’s mother, appreciates the effort her youngest daughter makes to remember Kathy.
“I can’t even tell you what it does to my heart,” she said. “She does it for love and fun.”
Katie Valley was smiling all afternoon. But there were still a couple of tears.
“It’s joyful,” she said. “I have my moments, I always tear up. Kathy would be proud … we always say Kathy’s always looking down and smiling.”