Christmas Memories

hard-candy-750840_960_720  Hard candy cooling

It was the day that Christmas arrived from Indiana. Each year, my uncle from Indiana would drive the 500 miles from Rensselaer to Lincoln, Nebraska, and deliver Christmas. No matter how much we had decorated, or baked cookies, or shopped and wrapped presents, it was not Christmas until my Uncle Bill pulled into our driveway and delivered Christmas.

This was before my sister was born, so I shared the front bedroom with my two brothers. Late in the afternoon on the appointed day, I would begin a vigil, watching and waiting for him to arrive in the late afternoon of early winter. The sky would be streaked with purple and orange across the high clouds that reflected the last glows of sunlight. I would breath on the window, and my breath would condense on the cold surface of the single pane glass. Overnight, the window would show the spidery trace of ice crystals on the bottom of each pane, but during the day the ice stayed away.

I never knew what type of car my uncle would be driving, other than it would be a Chevy. He was a bachelor, never married after his service in Europe and Africa during the war, and it was his one luxury to buy a new car each year as the models turned over. So I kept my vigil as the shadows grew, and finally saw a car turn down our street from 33rd street, then slow and pull into our driveway. I would yell and race down the stairway, saying “He’s here”, and soon he would come up the steps towards our door. He always had a couple of big bags that he brought in first before he’d ever bring in his old suitcase.

There were the presents from him, and my other aunt and uncle, and my grandmother who all lived in the town of Rensselaer. That was the place we went to in the summer, to renew relationships forged decades ago. He always brought a weekly calendar from the Farmers and Merchants bank from his town, and that calendar with its space for notes for each day became the family planner for the next year. But the most important thing was the big box of chocolates that would soon have a place of honor on the table in our living room. It was like a 3 pound box of chocolates, and that was one of the highlights of our season.

Memories can be triggered by many things, but memories from smells are often the strongest. Of all of the smells of Christmas, nothing compared to the pungent cloud of anise-scented steam exploding out of the kitchen and permeating the entire house. As soon as the anise oil was poured into the sugar and water mix nearing hard crack, the mix would erupt in a boiling mass, and the smell escaped into the air. Anise candy was always dyed red in our house. Many years later I took to making it myself to bring back the memories of the aroma. I’ve added cinnamon oil for a cinnamon variety as well – the odor of cinnamon is almost as strong as anise.

Christmas eve dinner was traditionally chicken and noodles. No store bought noodles, though. My mother would make the noodles by hand, rolling them out and laying them on towels before they would be cooked. This year is the first Christmas since my mother died, so this piece is in honor of both my parents who helped to form the Christmas memories that bring back a sense of joy and longing.

 

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