DECEMBER 6, 2015
Growing up in Louisa – That Special Time
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
Well folks, it looks like we made it through Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was uphill for me since Susan, my wife, had her tonsils out the week before. She got ice cream mostly, but I enjoyed some various goodies while watching mysteries with her. We still had everyone over for Thanksgiving, but with everyone pitching in with sides and desserts, Sue only had to put the turkey on to cook. Others took it out, made gravy. Everyone pitched in to clean up and enjoy some desserts. We learned we are to have grandchild number thirteen! We also have a great grandchild due shortly, too. I can’t figure out how all this happened without our getting old. Anyway, we had plenty of toddlers and babies running around and screaming. We were so blessed.
When I was growing up, our family had relatives in for Thanksgiving, too. The turkey, gravy and dressing was what I lived for. I remember helping mom make the dressing and then stuffing it inside the big bird. They don’t do it that way anymore, I was told, because of possible contamination, or something. Hey, I’ll eat turkey and gravy anyway it comes. I used to fry it but the family is back into a traditional kind cooked with Lipton’s onion soup powder and cranberry sauce to cover.
When I explore my memories of the season we are entering, there weren’t any ‘Black Fridays’ and it would have been totally impossible to have a Cyber anything. I know that in those days Thanksgiving, then as now, signaled the beginning of the Christmas season. Stores were starting to put up their decorations in hopes of building up the Christmas shopping spirit that would result in capturing critical year-end revenue. At the same time all around town pageants and cantatas were in rehearsals. Christmas music was on the radios, the town had started putting greenery on the street lights downtown, and with a little luck some snow flurries would wafer down and excite everyone. It seems like today stores start with their decorations and promotions just after Halloween. When I was growing up it wasn’t until the week just before Thanksgiving, or maybe the week after. It was more of a relaxed time and people weren’t particularly in a hurry.
Memories are clear about some of the annual changes I saw downtown. I remember that Wright Brothers Jewelry put fake snow in their windows and displayed their sparkling gold, silver, and diamond trinkets in their windows. Many a girl, or lady, stopped to dream about the man in her life bringing home one of those jewels, or maybe for the single girl, an engagement ring. Whoa!
Even the bank had a Christmas display in their little window. Mom held me up for a short while so I could see the magical scenes, or whatever it might have been. Mostly I remember the crowds at the ten cent store with the enlarged toy section and the smell of the cooking hamburgers. To quote Winnie the Pooh, “My honey-pots were calling. Sometimes, I was given a bag of popcorn from somewhere up the street. Maybe Erns?
Western Auto had some things I liked, too. Schwinn bicycles was high on my list as a teen, but once, when I was younger, my eyes settled on pedal cars. We couldn’t afford the pedal cars (I think I wanted a WWII fighter plane), so I had to make do with some empty boxes and crates. They didn’t move, but I could pretend. They didn’t last long either, but somewhere someone would soon enough put out a refrigerator box. Those made wonder army tanks.
As Christmas drew nearer, we had all those Christmas plays, concerts, parades, nativity dramas, and lots of carols wafting over the airwaves. At our house the cedar tree that was cut down by friends or neighbors was dragged in. With some trouble it was made to stand upright in front of a living room window. Bubble lights were wrapped around the tree along with a set or two of regular ones. They looked about the same but were slightly smaller than the big heavy ‘outdoor’ bulbs the stores used, as well as some outdoor displays. We didn’t do anything outside, but concentrated on our masterpiece tree in the living room. I remember that shiny icicles were taken out of the long cardboard container and hung one at a time until the tree was covered. Nearly every year I had to run down to Ed Land’s Sundry Store to grab another box or two. When finished, and only after finishing, a star was put top and the tree was lit. So, too, was our holiday spirit. We kids loved to turn all the lights off except for the tree and the electric trains from a prior year that had been set up. We would just sit and look, each of us retreating into a world of imagination of our own.
Our family tradition now is to have cookies and eggnog on hand when we take out the boxes of decorations and set up the tree. We all rejoice and comment at the sight of an old beloved ornament. Some of the decorations rekindle Christmas’s past as we bask in the nostalgia, bonding with each other yet again. It is a night of memories and hope for the future. Our grown kids make an effort to bring their families to decorate the tree. Each has one of their own, but the ‘family tree’ sits in our living room and we feel blessed that they still enjoy reliving the past and coming to the ‘family’ home to decorate the tree.
A few years ago, in this column, I wrote about the story of the special Christmas candy we used to buy every year down at Brandley’s. Since growing up, I had searched the world over trying to find the same product for my family and me to enjoy. I went to a number of well-known candy makers, and later when it became possible, I browsed the web, all to no avail. Then when sharing my Christmas memories in email with my LHS classmate, Betty Hager Meade Cook, she told me the other side of the story I had not known as a youth. You see, she not only knew about the candy, but had a hand in the making it with her grandmother to sell for charity. She sent me the recipe! What joy! The quest of many years was fulfilled. As a result, I’ve been making it around Thanksgiving (most years) as a tradition since. We made two batches on December 2 (I was reminded by one of my sons that it was candy making time.) Here’ a reprint from the earlier column:
…One of my favorite memories was the special Christmas candy that was sold in tins only during that time of year. We got a piece a day leading up to Christmas, if it lasted that long. It was unusual in that it was creamy and flaky, melting slowly on your tongue; taking several minutes to dissolve. It was Heaven.
Later, as an adult, I searched high and low for this candy so to share with my growing family. I went to large candy shops, I searched the web, I inquired of relatives and never missed a chance to ask friends from Louisa. Finally, through email, I remembered to ask my LGS & LHS classmate and good friend, Betty Hager Meade Cooke. She recounted this story to me that made this memory even more special.
“Cream candy……….many memories…..first, as you know, my Grandparents lived on a Pastor’s salary and Grandmother was extremely frugal; she had a dime jar and put all of her dimes in it, and when she had “enough” she used that money for major purchases, e.g. freezer, washing machine, etc. Cream candy and fruit cakes (which she baked in the 1 lb coffee tins that everyone saved for her all year) were her source of Christmas present money. She would get up early and start her first batch, and then go outside on the porch, in the cold, and pull it and spread it out on the marble, then rest a few minutes and start another batch.
“Pulling the candy was hard work, but she loved doing it. She took orders from all over the USA and mailed it out, again in those coffee tins. After dinner she would make one more batch, even though we tried to get her to rest. She did this daylight until dark all during the Christmas season. And then baked lots of fruitcakes, (I would help cut up the fruit)…I also liked the cream candy when it was sticky, and use to sneak a piece.”
“On Christmas all the family gathered, but we could not eat until she made “plates” for those less fortunate and had delivered them. I remember Mrs. Ratliff that was a shut-in who lived in a corner house by the railroad, but I don’t know others that we took food plates to, but it was important to her to see that they had a homemade meal on Christmas.”
Since Betty passed the recipe to me we have a family tradition of making this wonderful stuff at Christmas time. The first making required that I go out and find some marble slabs and a candy thermometer. Since then we only have to remember to round up the special ingredients and set a date for everyone to show up. It is fast and fun to make once everything, including the weather, cooperates. Now, for the reader’s benefit, Betty and I have agreed to share this very special recipe. Maybe the tradition will fit into your Christmas schedule, too. We would be pleased to think other families would keep this going. Here’s how to make that special candy:
Christmas Cream Candy
It is important that you read the entire recipe before starting making the candy.
Caution: Be sure not to stir while cooking. Pull the candy outdoors in cold weather.
Put sugar and boiling water together and let boil over fire to hard ball (250 degrees F) stage on a candy thermometer without stirring. Put salt and soda in the half & half and add slowly by the tablespoon while still boiling. After candy starts boiling the second time, add butter and let boil to hard ball stage again (250-270 degrees F)
Pour onto cold, buttered marble slab. Wait until it gets cool enough to pull and not burn your hands (Usually around 2 minutes). After pulling it for a time, it will get real stiff. When it gets real stiff, stretch the candy out on a cabinet and cut it with scissors into about 2” pieces. Let the candy lay for about 15 minutes and then put it in a tin can, with waxed paper separating the layers, and store the can until the candy creams (about a month, or a little less). This is why it is best to make this around Thanksgiving, so it is ready to enjoy at Christmas.
Maybe next week I’ll share another very simple toffee candy recipe that my wife makes for Christmas. It is very like some I had when growing up, too. Merry Christmas and God bless you richly in this season.