Christmas Candy

I looked at my grandmother’s hands deftly pouring the chocolate into the molds and asked, “How long does it have to sit?”

After last year’s Christmas and my awkward attempts to fill the empty spaces surrounding the holiday, I’d decided to go for broke and travel to see my father’s family’s holiday this year.  Last year’s Thanksgiving had done the job nicely of distracting me away from what I’d lost in terms of family and tradition and reminded me of all that I still did have.  I’d returned this past summer for ten days, and my visit had been surprisingly easy and fun.  The thought of spending another Christmas alone when I could be in a loud, noisy house with little boys that were Zach’s age was too tempting to resist.

So instead,  I was in my grandmother’s kitchen preparing to spend Christmas for the first time with her.  It was kind of astounding to think that I’d never spent Christmas with my own grandmother.  But I hadn’t.

I’d never spent a lot of time with my father’s family growing up.   My parents were both from the East Coast, and I’d actually been born out there and lived there for the first two years of my life.  But my father had followed a job opportunity out to Michigan just after my second birthday, and as a result I’d left behind a whole family that I hardly knew.  My grandparents came out to visit once when my parents were still married that I could remember, and then my father took us out there a few times in the summers after they’d been divorced.   My grandparents were working class people who didn’t have a lot of  money, and so traveling out the six hundred or so miles that separated us did not happen often.

My grandmother had always kind of scared me as a child, her being the harsher of the two grand parents.  My grandfather was the happy go lucky one, always joking with us kids and playing games.  It was my grandmother who reminded us to clear our plates or wipe down the sink in the bathroom.  So it was rather a surprise to me when I found her to be kind and loving and happy to see me when I arrived last year for Thanksgiving.  She was not the scary authority figure I remembered.   She was a sweet little old lady who enjoyed her grand and great grand children.  She made chocolate candies from scratch.  She watched her stories in the afternoons religiously.  She listened with great interest in the stories of her family as they gathered around the holiday table.  She never said a word about me being a single parent and had nothing but praise for my son and his manners.

“Oh I leave it out overnight,” she said with the slight lilt that all of my family from this area spoke with.  We were making her holiday chocolates.  Every year she sent us all a big box of chocolate covered pretzels, marshmallows, graham crackers and other molded goodies.  I’d taken these for granted the last few years; this is just what my grandmother sent at Christmas.  It never occurred to me how much work went into each and every one.  “You have to be sure it’s good and solid or it will all just stick together in one big mess.”   She popped one of the pretzels in her mouth, the chocolate dribbling down her fingers in a glorious mess.

“I never realized all that goes into this.  It seems like a lot of work.  Do you ever think of just buying a box of stuff to send to everyone?”

My gray haired grandmother looked at me with confusion in her eyes.  “Everyone expects that they will get a box of chocolates; I think that it would be strange for them to get a box that I didn’t make.  What exactly would be the point of buying them?  Then they wouldn’t be MY chocolates.  You wouldn’t get a special box with extra pretzels, because I know that’s what you like.  Your brother wouldn’t get extra peanut butter cups.  Do they even sell boxes with peanut butter cups in with pretzels?”

I stood there in the kitchen my grandmother had cooked in for forty years and smiled sheepishly.  It wasn’t about the chocolates.  Not at all.  It was about tradition, about doing the same everything each year.  About being part of a family and knowing who they are.  And I realized, that even though I’d never spent a Christmas with my grandmother, she’d been part of mine, every year.

“No, I don’t think they do,” I answered,  mimicking her movements as I drizzled chocolate over the dozen pretzels laid out in front of me.

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