On the Side: Man, you still cut a fine figure

It is unclear whether he'll last through another season, beat up as he is, suffering multiple fractures that never heal, only deepen and spread.

December is always hard on the man: This is his 60th by one count, though his exact age is fuzzy; he could be a little younger.

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One crack slants above the right eye, a superior orbital fissure they call it in the jargon.

Another digs deep across where the collarbone should be.

Both arms are compromised, scuffed and chipped.

When pressing him into the dough anymore, it is advisable to apply pressure at head and toe simultaneously to keep from snapping the guy clean in half.

It's that touch and go.

Is he aging in the kitchen drawer? Mocking my own journey, knees getting hinky, neck stiff in the morning, his musculoskeletal system creaky, too, even though he has no muscles and nothing you'd recognize as a skeleton.

I have gingerbread men (and women and now little girls) in reserve, trim and unscratched, their tin-metal edges still sharp as incisors.

But they are just cookie cutters, clones off the shelf.

I have history with this red man, his round, plastic head, now that I look closely, a bit too big for his britches. Is this another trait we share?

Once upon a time - every Christmastime, in fact - my mother would stamp out gingerbread men with his assistance, or maybe it was one of his brothers. I'm not even sure anymore if he was the original equipment, though from the road wear, he could easily lay claim to it.

We would help her, my two sisters and I. And then we grew up and my mother would ask what I wanted for Christmas, and I would say, "No more wallets. No more socks. No more sweaters. Make some gingerbread men."

She did for a number of years. And then, late in life, she stopped. Baking was just too much. Or maybe she'd baked enough for one lifetime; hit her quota of cookies.

That is how he came to work for my wife and me, and in a good year, the grandchildren if they are up visiting.

Which they were not this season. So I've been going it alone, making dough of butter and brown sugar, eggs and molasses, flour and ginger and nutmeg and cinnamon and, well, the allspice bottle was empty.

Then "Design Pat. 127026," as he is inscribed, went to town, flopping on his belly, leaving blanks in the floured surface, dusty snow angels.

It is hard on him, brittle from disuse, more fragile each year under the pressure.

But he stepped up to the plate again, and a box of his babies went off to Los Angeles in time, to the two newest granddaughters, whose mother is Jewish.

So a few gingerbread Stars of David are in the box, too, making for some odd couples, though this late in life odd is good; and the simple gift of one more season, anyway, is enough to celebrate for one small man.


Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.