Mama and Daddy took the Studebaker into town this evening as soon as Daddy came home from the mine. Mama’s eyes held Christmas secrets, and Daddy laughed and kissed her cheek when she whispered what she wanted to get.
“Ma said she had some pennies saved back, Daddy,” I told him before they left. “She wants you to get a peppermint stick for each of the little kids.”
“Ok, Son. Go get it from her and then we’ll be going.”
We waved them off, five pairs of eyes watching out the kitchen window as the old car lumbered its way through the heavy snow toward town.
“Well, let’s get cracking, Kids!” laughed Ma as soon as the car disappeared from view.
Jason and me and Mary Anne went out to the barn and hauled the canvas sack of black walnuts out from the space under the loft. We’d collected them in the fall and hidden them away just for this night. The chores we’d done had earned us the money to buy extra sugar and all the fixings to make black walnut fudge. With the Depression dragging on, Mama had told us sadly that she couldn’t afford to make the traditional pans of fudge for Christmas Eve, but we were giddy with excitement to think of the surprise she and Daddy would have when they got home that night, and the sweet treat from our shared efforts was just the thing to make our Christmas complete.
Ma and Susie had the milk scalding on the cook stove, while Tara buttered the pans and measured out the precious sugar. Ma had fiddled with the Crosley radio while we were outside, and now the sounds of the Andrews Sisters and Perry Como cheered the warm kitchen with a happy rendition of “Winter Wonderland.”*
We poured the walnuts out on the hearth and started cracking the hard shells. By the time we were done, we had black hands and a few cups of shelled walnuts.
“Ok, Kids, the milk’s ready and the bowls are set out here on the table. C’mon around and lets get this fudge stirred up,” called Ma. We gathered close and formed an assembly line. Ma poured the hot milk, I added the sugar, and the little ones dumped in the walnuts.
Before long, the sticky sweet fudge filled the pans and the air with chocolately, walnutty flavors and smells. We sighed as we set the last pan on the windowsill to chill. Ma went to her room and got her Bible, and we sat in a circle at her feet as she read the Christmas story.
“And it came to pass that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…”** Ma read. We smiled as the familiar words filled our imaginations with scenes from long ago.
It was close to bedtime before Mama and Daddy came home. Their cheeks were rosy, and they brought a crisp snowy scent in with them as they unwrapped their mufflers and peeled off their gloves.
“What’s that lovely smell?’ Mama asked suddenly. Her eyes darted to the windows and she spotted the pans of fudge cooling on the outside sills. She and Daddy exchanged a glance and then laughed.
“So much for our surprise, right, Honey?” Daddy smiled. Mama brought the wrapped package they’d brought from town to the table. The brown paper crinkled as she unfolded it, revealing a small pan of Black Walnut fudge.
“Daddy did some work for Miss Pringle last week and she paid us in fudge!” Mama exclaimed. “But the joke’s on us…now we have fudge coming out our ears…think we can eat it all?” To show her proof that we could indeed eat it all, we cut the fudge into large pieces and gobbled down the small pan full of chocolaty, nutty candy in no time flat.
“Time for bed, Little Ones,” Mama prompted.
Later, as the snow fell softly outside and the radio played merrily in the background, Ma, Mama, Daddy, and me sat around the fire. I watched lazily as Mama filled the stockings with oranges, peppermint sticks, and pencils. Then smiling broadly, she dropped a few walnuts into the stockings and their familiar shapes made lumps in the rounded toes.
Daddy grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap. “I think I could stand another piece of that fudge, Honey,” he laughed. “Somehow it tastes better this year than ever before.”
*Winter Wonderland: Music by Felix Bernard and Lyrics by Richard B. Smith, 1934
**Luke 2:1, The Holy Bible, King James Version
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