Vermillion couple’s gifts are always in style and good taste

Vermillion couple's gifts are always in style and good taste Every November, Roger and Rose Marie Parson's turn their home into a Christmas cookie factory, creating the tasty treats like clockwork in time to deliver or mail them to friends and relatives not only in Vermillion, but all over the country. by David Lias If you visit the home of Roger and Rose Marie Parsons in Vermillion, there's still a good chance you'll sense the aroma of freshly baked Christmas cookies.

No doubt, the sweet smell of gingerbread still lingers in the air there.

For nearly 30 years, the Parsons have transformed their house into a full-blown homemade Christmas cookie factory.

They don't bake just a few dozen cookies, or a few hundred.

Each November, they create about 2,000 of the treats.

They do it almost single-handedly, without question each year, because they know how important it is to keep holiday traditions alive.

"This is a family project," said Rose Marie, "and it's really a project from Roger's side of the family. I can show you a family picture of Roger in 1971, the year when we got married, and it shows him busy decorating cookies."

The Parsons are compelled to complete this huge undertaking every Christmas season not only because they like spreading the good taste of kitchen-baked cookies among friends and family.

To Rose Marie and Roger, something as small as a batch of cookies symbolizes a giving of the self, something representative of the true spirit of Christmas.

That means the Parsons have never battled fellow shoppers in the aisles of stores for a Cabbage Patch Doll, a Beanie Baby, a Furby, or the trendiest product on the shelves.

"We didn't want to give our family and friends knick-knack gifts," Rose Marie said. And, she added, after so many years, quite a few people have grown to expect a package of their cookies.

Rose Marie is a library associate in the Health Sciences Library at The University of South Dakota. Roger is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at USD.

Despite their busy schedules both at the university and in other endeavors in the community (Rose Marie stopped her cookie project to help clean and serve coffee at the local church the Parsons attend) they somehow get all of the work done.

"I usually start on about Nov. 1, but this year I was late," she said. "I started making dough on Veterans Day, and baked most of Saturday and Sunday following. I had them all baked before Thanksgiving."

The Parson cookie-baking project is a bit more labor-intensive these days for Roger and Rose Marie, because their family is growing up. Sons Bill and Brian are attending South Dakota State University and residing in Pullman, WA, respectively. Their youngest son, Ben, is a freshman at Vermillion High School.

"When the kids were younger, all I did was make dough and put pans in and out of the oven," Rose Marie said. "But this is still a nice tradition. I'd rather give these for gifts," she said, looking out over rows of gingerbread men that had taken over her dining room table, "than something bought in a store."

Every November, Rose Marie mixes up 18 batches of white dough and six batches of gingerbread. Each "batch" of dough just about fills an ice cream pail, and is promptly placed in a freezer after it is mixed until it is time to roll out the dough, cut the cookies and bake them.

The cookies may be limited to just white and gingerbread, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Tables throughout the couple's house were filled last week with cookies in the shapes of Santa, stars, reindeer, bells, angels, wreaths, Christmas trees, and even somewhat non-traditional shapes.

"If you look close," Rose Marie said, "you'll find chickens and rabbits, and cookies shaped like the four suits in a deck of cards, spades, diamonds, hearts and clubs.

The Parsons have discovered that their gingerbread Santa cookies have grown in popularity, so this year they baked more of them.

Last Thursday, Roger was busy decorating them by first brushing cookies with corn syrup, and then applying red sprinkles for Santa's hat, and coconut for his beard.

After the baking and decorating is finished, the Parsons begin the final stage of this project — packaging.

They prepare for Christmas by saving every coffee or cocoa tin can that they've emptied over the past year.

"We can get two or three dozen cookies in a can," Roger said. "I'll wrap each of the Santa cookies before we put them in the can."

The Parsons started decorating cookies the day after Thanksgiving, and continued through that weekend. They resumed their work the night of Nov. 30, but couldn't get back to this rather daunting task until the night of Dec. 3.

"We plan to have them done by Friday (Dec. 4) so we can get them boxed up and ready to go early next week," Roger said.

"I don't think it would be Christmas without doing it," Rose Marie added. "We're still big believers in tradition."

Besides, after all these years, some people have just grown to expect a special package from the Parsons each Christmas.

"Everybody looks forward to getting them," Rose Marie said laughing. "They'd think there was something wrong with us if we didn't keep going."

Roger's occupation as an educator means the family has moved several times since 1971.

"You may move places, but you still have your family things that you do," Rose Marie said.

There's something besides cookies that she also bakes in the weeks before Christmas arrives.

"Since 1975, I've always made a bread Advent wreath," she said. "It's just another way of not losing touch of the season; I guess I'm a believer that the weeks before Christmas are a time for us to prepare."

There's also a special reason the Parsons bake so many cookies each year. They need to.

Rose Marie said that she alone has seven brothers and sisters, and so many nieces and nephews, she loses count. Cookies are also mailed to Roger's family members and friends, including people who let him hunt on their land.

That means their treats will wind up in homes all over the country. This week, they mailed cans of cookies to Washington, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Nebraska.

It won't be long and they'll deliver Christmas cookies to close friends, neighbors and co-workers in Vermillion.

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