Sparrow Girl – The Taai Taai Pop

The Taai Taai Pop

“Aletteke, kom hier” mum stood by the school fence waving her arms in the air with the enthusiasm most adults no longer possessed. This was the good kind of “come here”, this was a child to child “come here.” I ran toward her. I could hear my shoelaces clicking against the wet brick path dragging along as I’d not managed to tie them.

Judging mum’s from her enthusiasm she would not yell at me. I rarely ran. I wasn’t any good at it. My right foot always dragged a little and the foot was turned in. Ballet lessons has really paid off. Now I could run, trip in mid-air and have it all sorted out by the time I landed..

Mum caught me at the end of the little walkway. “We have to hurry”, she said it with a most triumphant smile. The smile that could make me forget all the cruel little things four year olds can do to each other. Mum could tie my laces, fix my coat, put on my mittens and kiss my cold little face seemingly all at once.

Something good was happening and I wondered what it was. I’d have asked but we were moving quickly and I had no breath left for asking. We were not going home, we were facing the wrong way for that. We were going toward the shops. Magically as we came close to the shopping streets the street lights lit up, including the decorations. Seasonal sparkly stars and banners with the friendly face of St. Nicholas and his faithful companion Black Piet. I wanted to stop and take it all in but we were still flying and I hadn’t caught a breath.

I was beginning to sweat uncomfortably into my knitted scarf. “There”, mum’s gloved hand pointed at the bakery window. In the window was the largest Taai-Taai Pop (doll) I had ever seen. Taai-Taai is a thick chewy molasses and spice cookie/cake traditional during the festive holidays. Most were shaped as St. Nicholas, horses, Christmas trees. This one was the mitred saint and his companion, four delicious feet tall. I gasped. “It’s beautiful, and so big.”

“We have to take it home, and you have to help”. She hustled me into the bakery. Mum fumbled through her purse as she excitedly announced to the lady behind the counter that she had won the Taai-Taai pop. We were congratulated. The roly-poly baker came from the back of the store and took a picture of us by the window, where there was just enough light. I was dwarfed by a pastry, wow. We were urged to stay for a coffee and a cookie, I was given a little milk. I felt very special. I would have something to tell the rest of the kids tomorrow. While we had our cookie and beverage the baker and his lady wrapped the doll in cellophane topped off by a large red ribbon. Several customers came in and noticing that the doll was won and by us we were congratulated.

It was cold, but the excitement made it easy to bear. Mum held onto the top of the pop and I kept the bottom from falling to the wet ground. It had to be done with care so the pop would not break before we got it home. Pappa would be so surprised.

We were drenched but the cellophane had kept the pop dry. It was displayed on a small bench near the piano. Guests were invited to come and eat the pop at a drop in party the day after St. Nicholas. The usual oddball collection of beatniks, neighbours and opera singers, they brought wine and beer and hot chocolate. There was dancing and singing until the next morning.

It was a very large pastry it took many people a month to help us finish it. Taai Taai is very chewy, so it was not hard to sit, relax and savour the spicy treat. Saturdays Pappa would make hot chocolate and it was one of the few times I was allowed to dip a cookie in.

I was allowed one piece each day until it was all gone, and is was the most delicious Taai-Taai even on the last day.

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