Let’s acknowledge something, shall we? From Thanksgiving to January 2, everybody in America’s life gets appropriated by these festivities. It doesn’t really matter what religion you practice, or if you don’t practice one.
Every retail establishment is bonkers, it takes twice as long to buy shampoo or toilet paper if you are unlucky enough to have to face the discount big box of your choice.
There are an endless number of social obligations, the gift-buying, giving, and obsessing.
And the decorating.
Last night, we brought our fake tree up from the basement. After child went to bed, Fella and I listened to Xmas music on LastFM on the Xbox (that’s such a handy little machine) while we put it together and wished we had some spiked eggnog or hot buttered rum.
This morning, we feasted retail. We went to Target (I’m one of those douches who calls it Tar-gjay) and looked for more red, wooden-beaded garland and a star that wouldn’t render our seven-foot, plastic tree off kilter. We have exactly the right number of white lights, and my mom gives everyone in her family an ornament every year. This year, I have at least 38, one for each of my Christmases, and one for each of Child’s, too, plus two for the years I’ve had Fella at Xmas (and he’s been on the gift-giving list), and some colored glass balls and tiny silver ones, too.
We went and looked at real trees and fought our scruples about killing trees for a reason other than books, magazines, newspapers, or other printed media. We decided to stick with plastic this year, and maybe next year we’ll kill one. Maybe.
This afternoon, we’re making red sauce and we talked briefly about holiday plans–whose house we’ll visit and when, what cookies we’ll make. We are big bakers and give our friends boxes of homemade treats for Xmas. Ask anybody, we make boss cookies. Last year, we made a cookie narrative, too.
Here it is: cookie tag
Those of you who know me know that I’ve been pretty overwhelmed. Working retail sales jobs, yearning for my sweet, intellectual life, and being a single mom has wasted a lot of my space for sentimentality since 2005.
But this year, I’m self-employed, so this mess is on my terms, and I am in a well-working domestic partnership with a guy who couldn’t be a better match for me if I’d made him myself.
I have time to reflect and to be thankful.
I’m remembering Xmas from my childhood and what a wonderful, warm, people-filled season it was.
Today, I want to share two, food-related memories.
First, homemade molasses taffy.
This is the second season without Grammie Joyce. My mom’s mom. My mom is still walking around looking lost without her mom. Grammie J was a hardworking protestant if there ever was one, and she loved this. All of it.
She went to church a million extra times, decorated with at least a half dozen crêches, and had a beautiful, real tree every year. She put those big-bulbed lights on it and a whole mess of wonderful, glass ornaments from the 60s.
She died in August 2010, so last season was too soon to reflect without the jadedness of grief glasses.
At Xmas, she’d have all her kids and their spouses and my cousins over to make taffy.
She’d boil the molasses (King Syrup), sugar, salt, and water to softball, which she tested without a thermometer in a tiny aluminum pie plate filled with a quarter inch of cold water, and would pour the goop into greased, larger aluminum pie plates and they’d rest outside till it was cool enough to handle.
We’d get our hands all buttered up, and we’d all–even my dad and uncles–pull taffy. The kids would get fed up before long, and we’d hand our greasy taffies off to the men who’d keep pulling till the stuff was white-tan while the women did dishes and cleaned. Yes, gender stereotypes are alive and well in my extended family.
We’d all take some home, and it was delicious.
But what I remember more than the taffy is the way we all wore sweaters–it was the 80s and early 90s, so the sweaters were awful–and how everyone participated. The adults would talk about their lives while the cousins bonded over toys and Atari, later 16-bit Nintendo, and ran around outside regardless of the chill. Everybody was happy and the parents didn’t get angry or impatient, and they were teatotallers!
Later, there would be homemade ice cream.
It might have been hours later or days, but the men would go outside and babysit this thing:
They’d dump rock salt & ice they made in milk cartons into that bucket, and listen to it whir, and test it, and shoot the old torro-poo-poo.
It occurs to me that I know nothing about the men in my family, just that they exist. But if they have inner lives, I imagine they came out over the ice cream machine.
Before Poppy died (when I was 8), he’d go, too.
Then the ice cream–usually two flavors, icy vanilla and very, very light chocolate made with Hershey’s syrup (what else? We were in PA, after all, 20 minutes or so from Hershey)–would roll into Grammie Joyce’s too-warm kitchen and we’d all have little, red bowlsful with pretzel sticks or Kay & Ray or Middleswarth‘s potato chips.
Kay & Rays were, at that time, made about 10 minutes from where I lived with real pig lard, and Middleswarth’s is another PA brand.
So for all the hating on this commercially insane season of pure waste since I became a mom, I’m finding that this year, it’s kind of nice. I’ll be in my own home for Xmas eve and morning for the first time as an adult, and–as much as I hate to admit it–I’m having a good time so far.
I have no spare money, so I’m making all my gifts, and snuggling on the couch between bursts of decorating, crocheting, and Child corralling is, well, lovely.
So is planning how I’ll personalize my gifts, how I’ll ship them, and thinking about making the perfectly sized boxes for them.
Maybe next year I won’t dread this all starting in July, and we’ll make more traditions and memories and Child, Fella, and I will become more of a family.
Maybe I’ll resurrect the taffy tradition this year. That would be swell, wouldn’t it?