Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

 

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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Escaping Christmas Kitchen Duty

cooking-utensilsLong ago, pots and pans rattled in our kitchen on Christmas Eve. Pungent sage escaped the 11 x 13 inch rectangular glass Pyrex dish filled with dressing baking in the oven. Homemade pie crust snuggled inside a nine-inch round glass plate on the linoleum counter top. Crimped dough, pinched between Mama’s right thumb and forefinger, fluted the pie’s edge. Mincemeat filling rested in a bowl ready to be spooned into the crust. A baked lemon pie cooled and waited to be crowned with meringue on Christmas morning. Mama moved from one task to the next as smooth as a restaurant chef.

Pocket WatchChildhood memories are reminders of a homemade life. Everything from scratch from killing the chicken in the backyard, plucking and cleaning it in the kitchen early Christmas Eve to dipping flour from the tip-out bin for making rolls. Days of work for Christmas lunch (You may remember from previous postings that my father insisting on eating at 12 Noon by his pocket watch) followed by hand washing and drying dishes and sweeping the kitchen and dining room floors.

cheeseballMy own adult memories of baking banana bread, dredging chopped dried fruit for the annual fruitcake, and baking cornbread for southern-style dressing, and homemade cheese balls rolled in fresh-shelled, chopped pecans prepped the holiday scene. Labor-intense hours in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning remind me of those special days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Recent holiday memories are toil free. If invited to dine with others, I bring a relish plate of veggies and olives. If I decline the invitation as I did this year, Denny’s is my go-to place. My twin and I attended church then headed to the nearby restaurant. It was packed with families, even one group we knew, who escaped Christmas kitchen duty.

 

 

 

 

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Spirit of Christmas – Act Two

Christmas TreeChristmas morning used to be an exciting time with dishes rattling in the kitchen and family chattering in every room. Christmas 2015 at my twin’s home was as quiet as the legendary church mouse with the TV on closed caption and both of us checking our emails without our hearing aids in place. With back pain for both of us, hers worse than mine, cooking dinner was a chore to be avoided.

Wikipedia Photo

Mid-afternoon I drove us a couple miles to a small, older Denney’s tucked between a gas station and a motel. Only a few tables were occupied. After a long wait, a frowning man dashed out from the kitchen and cleared a table before hurrying back toward us.

“Can we sit in the other section away from the Juke Box?” my twin asked.

Bah Humbug ScroogeFrustration crossed the man’s face. “I’ll turn it down,” he said and left us standing. He returned minutes later and led us to the closest booth. “Someone will be right with you,” he said and trotted back to the kitchen. His mood screamed Bah, Humbug!

Wall clock-black and whiteThe wall clock mounted above the doorway to the restrooms ticked away the minutes. Five. Six. Seven. A server in a Santa hat hesitated at our table.  No smile. No introduction. No menu. “I’ll be right with you,” she said and kept on walking.  Eight. Nine. Ten. She reappeared with two menus. “I’ll be right back to take your order.” The second right back turned into another ten minutes.

Near the end of our pot roast meal—a first for me at Christmas—the silent server plopped our bill on the table and moved on. I puzzled over the tip. Should I or shouldn’t I?

Merry Christmas-SnowmanA man dressed in a snow jacket with a dark watch cap pulled down over his ears stopped at our table. A pleasant smile topped his scruffy beard. His eyes lit up as though he recognized me from long ago. He leaned down toward me and whispered, “Have a merry Christmas dinner.” He tossed a folded $5 dollar bill over my credit card, stood straight, and made a quick about face toward the front exit. The five unfolded in slow motion and revealed a twenty tucked inside.

“What was that all about?” my twin asked. “Do you know him?”

“Never saw him before. I don’t know where he came from.”

“He was with that group of men who sat at the booth behind you. They’ve all been standing outside so long,” she said, “I thought they were a homeless bunch eating here for the two-dollar special.”

The smiling stranger reminded me that one person can make a difference. I shook off the staff’s Bah, Humbug! attitude and passed on his spirit of Christmas with a generous tip for the disgruntled server.

 

believe-in-the-spirit-of-christmas

 

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Spirit of Christmas

scrooge-1My father could have been a double for Scrooge’s in A Christmas Carol—minus the greed. Both scoffed at the hectic holiday hubbub that floated like fresh snow. Real snow never fell in Chowchilla, our small San Joaquin Valley town, but it glistened on Sierra mountain tops looking north from Robertson Boulevard. Downtown merchants became amateur artists and created snowmen from spray cans on front display windows. They painted a tophat, a plaid neck scarf, and brown twig arms. They daubed eyes and a row of coal black buttons on the white globes.  Merry Christmas in glistening red foil stretched above the winter scenes.

A few local Scrooges dampened the community Christmas Spirit, my father vying for the top position. His Bah, Humbug! list of no’s at Christmas was longer than Scrooge’s. No Christmas tree. No Santa. No gifts. Mama agreed to skip the decorations, but she silently put gifts on layaway each spring to be opened before our family meal at noon.

One December Saturday, Papa agreed to go with us to the lighting of the community Christmas tree. Anticipation built as darkness approached. The walk downtown was an easy ten blocks in the warm summer, twice as long in the winter chill. Papa bent into the fierce wind and pulled the brim of his black felt hat down over his forehead. Mama tugged the ties of her headscarf tighter and turned up her thin coat collar against the cold. My twin and I skipped along the sidewalk too excited to feel the cold.

Christmas TreeAt the City Hall, we sipped hot cocoa from paper cups while we waited. The mayor activated the lights. Colors glowed from the lowest branch to the star on top of the live tree that reached upward toward the roof of the one-story building. A siren sounded and Santa arrived, sitting high on a blazing red fire truck. Papa stiffened and cast his eyes downward, away from the smiling red-suited man waving at us. We each received a brown paper lunch-size bag filled with an orange, an apple, a handful of unshelled nuts, and two or three pieces of hard candy.

Back home, Papa sent my twin and me to bed without a word about the magical evening. I had pleasant dreams that night because he had abandoned his Bah, Humbug attitude and celebrated the spirit of Christmas.

Merry Chistmas Vintage

 

Ebenezer Scrooge, Bah Humbug, Chowchilla, California, San Joaquin Valley, Christmas, Violet Carr Moore

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Christmas Candy

Shopping CartAt Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal bin on the hanging scale into a small brown paper bag. He calculates the weight, multiplies it by the price per pound, and writes the total in his notebook.Lard can

After each of the infrequent grocery trips, the food is put away in the kitchen, then Papa goes into the cellar. From the dining room, I hear the scrape as he drags out the metal can and a distinct pop when he opens the lid. Then the familiar sounds of the lid snapping back in place and noises of pushing the heavy can back under the steps.

Chocolate-drops

On the next shopping trip, Papa hesitates at the open bin of chocolate drops. He scoops, then pours the confections into the smallest paper bag. He weighs it, calculates the price and enters it into his notebook.

Papa’s favorites are the white centers. His second choice is pink. The pink tastes strong to me, more like soap or bubble bath than candy. The plain are good, but I like the lemon yellow or maple brown fillings.

small-brown-paper-bag

At home, Papa follows his ritual as he carries the tiny bag of chocolate drops toward the cellar door. My mouth waters. I ask for one. “No” is his stern reply. I watch him pull open the trap door and descend. I listen for the familiar metal scrape, the air pop, and the returning push that seals his answer. No chocolate today.

PieThe next day, aromas drift from the kitchen throughout our small house. Mama is cooking chicken and dressing, baking sweet potatoes and making pies. While she works, Papa disappears into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the cans, then closes the trap door.

I plead for the chocolate drops. Mama intercedes, and surprisingly, Papa agrees. One chocolate drop is offered to each of us twins. The aroma of my carefully chosen nugget is stronger than pungent sage and other spicy smells from the stove. I close my eyes and bite slowly into the candy, hoping for the luscious taste of lemon or creamy maple. Ugh! The soapy taste of pink! I swallow it in disappointment.

Glass candy dish with lidPapa fills the lidded glass candy bowl with chocolate drops, off limits until Christmas. No more pink for me. Tomorrow, when no one is watching, I will prick the bottom of each chocolate drop with a toothpick searching for lemon yellow fillings.

Tomorrow is Christmas.

Merry Christmas-Snowman

 

Excerpts from “Christmas Candy” from Double Take (Released December 2014) by Vi Parsons and Violet Moore. Purchase AUTOGRAPHED books from Carr Twins & Co. website, or buy from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0978923642 .

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Black Friday Shoppers

Headlights

My headlights sent a beam down the country road, slicing the early morning darkness as I drove toward town. I parked in a crowded lot, then hurried to claim my spot in the short queue outside the glass double doors of Wal-Mart, the newest, and only, big box store in our small Louisiana town.

Hour glass-animatedThe line lengthened and snaked into the parking lot. Minutes ticked by. Impatient people behind me jockeyed for an additional inch of pavement. The frenzy escalated as a hesitant man inside approached the doors, key in hand. A single click, an inch of space from the threshold to the top of the door jam, then …

Stampede!

I stepped to the right inside, leaned against the closed snack bar, and watched. Individuals raced empty carts like chariots in “The Gladiator.” Coordinated shopping quads split, scurrying like mice startled by a bright light. One raced toward televisions, a second dashed to electronics. The third jogged toward microwaves and coffeepots as the fourth team member grabbed an oversized cart and sprinted toward toys. When the mob thinned, I sauntered the aisles jammed with loaded carts.

“May I get you a basket?”Shopping Cart

I turned to face the blue-vested associate who’d opened the door twenty minutes earlier.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I don’t see anything I need.”

 

At home later that day, I climbed the attic stairs and dragged down the six-foot Christmas tree and decorations. After dinner, I made several additional treks up the stairs and returned with loaded bags. The tree lights winked at me, keeping my secret that I had finished my Christmas shopping months before this Black Friday.

Christmas Tree

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