Friday, December 3, 2010

Five-Pound Loaf and Broken Spoons

In my family, traditions are important. They link us with special moments shared with loved ones, and, taken in the right way, can be quite fun.

When I was a child, we got to open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve. We also watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every year since it premiered in 1966. I only missed it once, when I was in the Air Force and on duty. Now we have it on video, just to make sure.

Another tradition our family had was an old candy recipe, passed on from time immemorial through my father's ancestors. It goes by the unusual moniker of "Five-Pound Loaf," and the air in my father's house would be rich with it every Christmas. The ingredients would get mixed and heated (I have the recipe somewhere among my own clutter), and when the proper temperature is reached, the fun began.

At Mom's call, every able-bodied male in the house at the time would rally for the next part. When we kids were but striplings, Dad would ply a couple of older male relatives with promises of "a share of the take" or a couple of beers to round out the roster. The procedure called for grabbing the steaming pot of bubbling, thick sweetness and running out the back door to jam the pot up to the brim in the nearest snow bank. Then the smallest of us (usually me) would take the first turn at stirring that pot. The mixture would begin to thicken, and before long, my little spaghetti-arms would wear out. Then it was my older brother's turn, and then our oldest brother. After he wore out, the older men would take turns holding the pot and stirring until the mixture was pronounced "ready." This was usually after we went through several wooden spoons. We knew better than to use metal ones, because they would always bend before we were done.

Then one year my father (a machinist by trade) came home with a "little friend" he made at work: A stout, carbide steel rod about two feet long with a flat, heavy paddle bolted on the end. This saved uncounted money on the endless train of broken and mangled spoons, and made our mother immensely happy. Plus, in a pinch, it could be used to fight off an entire Viking horde, should the house come under attack. At least, that's what Dad claimed. While the others stirred the pot, I would stand watch. I never did see any Viking hordes advancing through the snow toward Dad's house. It may have been they were cowering in fear behind the elementary school, terrified of "the spoon."

Anyway, once that most devilish part was completed, the pot was carried back into the house and the mixture scooped into a greased baking pan to finish setting up. The final product was pink, had the consistency of fudge and had chunks of candied fruit all though it. It was so sweet, we couldn't eat a piece without a tall glass of milk, but we considered it an essential part of every Christmas, even as much work as it was.

I myself have never braved that ordeal, but maybe one Christmas, when I have grandchildren, I may haul out the recipe and tempt every member of the local body-builder's club with a piece, just to try it. I don't remember what happened to Dad's "Little Friend." Maybe it was stolen by Vikings.

In the meantime, we enjoy our own little traditions. On the 12th of December, we gather around and sing the first verse of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Every night after that, we sing the next verse, and on until finishing up on Christmas Eve. Now, I know the Twelve Days officially start on Christmas and end on Epiphany Day, but we have always done things "our" way. What makes this so much fun is that we make up our own motions to go with the song, the goofier the better.

And on Christmas Eve, after the tree is decorated and lit, we dim the lights and set candles on the table. The last thing we do is drink a toast of eggnog or cider to our Guest of Honor, for whom the Christ Mass is dedicated. My wife and I finish the evening with wrapping the gifts for the family and placing them under the tree.

This has been our own tradition, started by my household. If my children carry it on, I would consider it an honor. But I also look forward to the traditions that they start with their own families.

Traditions are important. They bind us together with special moments shared with special people in our lives. It doesn't matter how far back they go, or how new they are. If they make the holiday special, they have fulfilled their purpose.


Rosalie Skinner said...

Cyrus, What an interesting tradition. Amazing, experiencing first hand the art of candy making. We have a local candy shop that does demonstrations of 'pulling' the hot syrupy mass until it is the right consistancy. Then they make decorative rock candy. The smell is probably more tantalizing than the actual sweet when finished.

The idea of finding a snow bank anywhere on this continent could be a problem and Vikings aren't a threat... but the rest of the procedure sounds like a hoot!

When you find that recipe, please share it.
Thanks for sharing your traditions. It is the way we pass on values to our children isn't it?
Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

Wendy said...

That was lovely, Cyrus. Thank you. Traditions hold families and friends together and it is always special to hear how other people bring love into their family and maintain it. (I wonder if that little boy had the same aversion to a wooden spoon as my children did, when it wasn't Christmas. I guess that is one everyday 'tradition' that has been broken by this generation, fortunately.) :)

I love the way you build up to Christmas Eve and I can see the lit tree and candles and Mr & Mrs Claus preparing the presents. Like Kat, you live inside the Christmas Card, too

Debra K. Dunlap said...

Cyrus, what a beautiful post. As I read, it made me remember sitting around the tree every Christmas Eve with my own children, reading the Night Before Christmas and singing carols until they fell asleep in the twinkling lights.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Cyrus, what a fun tradition with the candy and what a wonderful tradition you have started in your own home. I love traditions. We always had a traditional Christmas Eve dinner, which I make to this day. Because my children are married, we have to share them. It worked out well for me, they go to their inlaws on Christmas Eve and join us for Christmas day. My youngest son and his family join us for our Christmas Eve dinner. This year, I've decided to have the traditional dinner on the 19th so everyone can share in it again.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tradition. Thank you for sharing your memories of this.