Memories of days of Christmas past

Right after Thanksgiving, Uncle Walter would come home from town with all the ingredients for the Christmas fruit cakes.

There were always two — one white fruitcake and one dark one. The white fruitcake was for Mama, because that was her favorite. It had golden raisins in it and sliced almonds instead of dark raisin and pecans. Chopping up all the fruits that went into those batters took several people sitting around the kitchen table in that old kitchen. The candied fruits had to be sliced thinly. Grandmama couldn’t abide big hunks of fruit in the batter. Everything had to be done to her level of excellence, and everything was checked before being folded into the thick, rich batter.

We never had to buy pecans, and many a Sunday afternoon was spent cracking pecans and carefully removing all pieces of shell, picking out the nut meat. And each half had to be checked to make sure it wasn’t withered or dark.

We used kitchen shears to cut everything up.

Children were good for that. Also, any available child was a willing pair of hands and legs made for running errands and bringing bowls, spoons and ingredients to the table.

And the aroma from the old oven once baking began was like no other.

That first whiff of baking fruitcakes brought Christmas into the house.

After the cakes were cooled, they were wrapped in clean dish towels and stored in cake tins in the pantry. Every afternoon Uncle Walter would open up the tins and pull back the dish towels from the cake tops. Then he’d pour a little homemade wine into a glass and slowly dribble a couple of tablespoons of the wine over the top of each cake. After this operation was complete, he’d tilt the glass up and finish off the rest. We just assumed that was part of the process. The cakes had to ripen at least three weeks before they were to the point where they were judged ready for slicing.

And then the countdown to the last day of school began.

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddOh how we longed for that day. There was an electrical current running through classrooms coming straight from excited children. We’d make our list and devise ways of getting presents for the others. Many of our gifts were homemade. Fudge was a big one, and of course Woolworths in town furnished an array of items affordable for small pockets.

I still have the tin box with the picture of a sailing ship on top I bought Uncle Walter for Christmas from the dime store. It cost 25 cents. I don’t remember this, but the tag is still stuck onto the bottom of the box. I keep tape and other small items in it now. Uncle Walter used it for cuff links and tie clips.

The bubble lights were always carefully packed up every year and brought back out each Christmas. When Matt plugged them in, we’d wait anxiously to see if they still lit up. It was such a relief if they did. They’d come from the Sears store in downtown Fayetteville, the shopping mecca of the region, and it was 40 miles one way.

We only went to Fayetteville for major purchases, perhaps only twice a year. We’d go in the fall for school clothes for the new year. And on occasion, when some necessity was unavailable in Laurinburg, the closest town with stores, we’d make a special trip to Sears in Fayetteville.

They had the only escalator within a hundred-mile radius, and while the adults shopped we spent our time riding up and down. It was a real adventure for farm children who never saw any lights other than those from the stars.

Just before Christmas was a time when we traveled to Fayetteville. They had to take us with them, because we couldn’t be left at home alone, so it’s just as well we spent our time there on the escalator, ignorant of what they were buying.

Because the most spectacular thing about our Christmases was the surprises. Those crack-of-dawn Christmas mornings made irreplaceable memories we take with us down through the years.

Merry Christmas everybody.