Countdown to Christmas

Advent calendars begin the countdown to Christmas on the first day of December. My mother began the countdown in early fall when she put dolls on layaway for my twin and me. Papa commenced (his word choice) his countdown at Red’s Market, an easy four-block walk from home. My twin and I were too young to stay alone, so we tagged along with Papa and Mama.

I gazed at the candies, but Papa forged toward the open bins of nuts when they finished the regular list. His eyes darted between the tiny round hazelnuts and the heavy brazil nuts as though a major decision. Instead, he dipped a metal scoop into a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspected each and discarded those with imperfect shells. He poured the walnuts from the scoop into a lunch-size brown paper bag and centered it on the scale hanging from a chain. He checked the weight, calculated the price, and returned two or three walnuts to the bin. He added the cost to his pocket notebook.

At checkout, Papa double checked every price as Mr. Red rang up the items. Satisfied that the cash register total matched the notebook price, Papa extracted his tri-fold black leather billfold from his hip pocket. He transferred the rubber band onto his left wrist, removed a few dollar bills with his right hand, and gave them to Mr. Red. Papa slipped the wallet back in place then counted the change before he dropped the coins into his front pant pocket.

At home, Papa carried the sparse groceries into the kitchen for Mama to put away. He walked into the next room carrying the small bag of walnuts in one hand. He lifted the trap door in the dining room floor, twisted around, and descended the ladder-like steps into the dark hole. The coldness escaped and seeped into my bones. I saw the warm glow below when he pulled the cord hanging from the single light bulb attached to the ceiling. Metal scraped concrete as he pulled out the round storage can reserved for Christmas treats. Next, a distinct pop when he opened the lid. The sounds reversed when Papa snapped the lid closed and pushed the can back under the steps. Darkness again as he climbed the ladder.

On the next two grocery trips, Papa bought a scoop of hazelnuts, then brazil nuts. Mama’s wish for a fresh coconut was next on the list. After Thanksgiving, Papa examined the Christmas confections. Hard ribbon candy and tiny squares were his favorites. After each of these trips, he repeated the cellar rituals.

Winter work was scarce, so the last grocery trip before Christmas was for flour, sugar, and lard for baking. Papa calculated the prices, then stopped at the candy bins. He pushed the smallest scoop into the chocolate drops. Satisfied, he poured them into a small paper sack.

At home, he carried the tiny treasure toward the cellar. I asked for one. “Candies are for Christmas,” was his reply. The chocolates joined the other Christmas treats in the storage can.

On Christmas Eve morning, pleasant aromas permeated our modest home. While Mama cooked chicken and dressing, sweet potatoes, and pies, Papa trekked to the cellar several times and returned with the bags from the storage can.

I pleaded for the chocolate drops. Mama interceded, and surprisingly, Papa opened the bag and offered one each to my sister and me. I closed my eyes and bit slowly, hoping for the luscious taste of lemon or creamy maple. The center was artificial strawberry. My disappointment will be short-lived because I can eat all the chocolates I want tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Christmas.




Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir

4 responses to “Countdown to Christmas

  1. I remember there was a nut bowl with the old fashioned cracker and picks. Seems like it was made on a lathe from a chunk of log with the bark still on it.

    I also remember that trap door in the dining room.
    I went down into the cellar a few times go get a jar of jam or pickles or whatever Grandma wanted from her store of home canned goods.

    I remember Mom buy those chocolate drops as well and never knowing what flavor you would get until it was too late. I resolved in my early childhood to only buy boxed chocolates that had an index in the lid, telling me what was what.

    Problem solved. 🙂

    • Violet Carr Moore

      Rob, I agree with “Problem Solved.” I only buy identified chocolates. That nut bowl with the cracker and picks was a major part of Christmas. After we ate all the nuts, the bowl disappeared until the next Christmas.

  2. Jeanne Haidary

    I love hearing about shopping at Red’s market. So many Chowchillans have fond memories of that store. We lived in the country, 13 miles out Robertson Blv., so we shopped at Matli and Guy (or was it Gai?). We just called it Matli’s. Stanley’s dad and Mr. Guy were brothers-in-law I think. The store was at the “Cross Roads” where 152 crossed Robertson. When they expanded the store they called it a Super Market. That was the first time I heard of a supermarket.

    • Violet Carr Moore

      Jeanne, I have lots of memories of Red’s, but only a few from Matli & Gai. Those special times at Matli’s were at the soda fountain.

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