My dear reader,
I have a confession to make.
One day last week, I let Chloe skip school. She wasn’t sick. Or tired. Or injured. She didn’t have an appointment with the doctor, dentist, allergist or orthodontist (or any other person with capital letters trailing after their name). But I let her stay home, stay warm, and stay in her PJs. All the livelong day.
She played hooky… and we made fudge. Now, before you google “truant officers” in my district, let me assure you that this is not a regular – or even once-in-a-blue-moon -occurrence in our household. (Which is possibly why I am not considered “the fun parent” by any of our offspring.) Also, in my defense and Chloe’s, she’d already finished finals, and she’s perpetually sporting straight As. Smarty pants, that one.
So I’m thinking a little midweek merry-making is permissable, right?
At the most wonderful time of the year, merry-making involves fudge-making. And watching “White Christmas” and listening to Kaye and Crosby croon. (We crooned too, in case you were wondering. Chloe can belt out a rousing rendition of “Sisters,” despite the fact that she doesn’t have one.) As we sang and stirred and savored our day together, my girl grinned and giggled non-stop. She had a ball. And licked the bowl. (And the spoon.)
At our house, it simply isn’t Christmas without my grandmother’s secret-recipe fudge. Batch after batch. Smooth, sweet, chocolate bliss. Mixed, melted, poured, and shared.
Oh taste and see that the LORD is good.
Can I get an amen?
The fudge tradition was begun my grandma Ida Rivoire Dickson (Idee to all who loved her, which was pretty much anyone who ever met her). As far as I know, Idee possessed the only copy of a highly-classified document (pretty sure it was a 3 x 5 index card) which contained the secret recipe: exact measurements, ingredients, vanilla extract stains and a genuine chocolate-fudge smudge. Eventually she handed it down to my mom – the recipe, not the highly-classified index card – and then on to yours truly. (For the record, I’m fairly certain the document was destroyed at some point. So it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.)
I have decades of cocoa-drenched Christmas memories. Idee would pull up a chair next to her stove, tie an apron twice around my waist, and hand me a wooden spoon. I wielded it with wide-eyed wonder, like a magic wand. (In hindsight, perhaps it was.) I was trained and supervised in this distinctive culinary art by the finest fudge-maker in all the land: my beloved Idee. Over the years, I was promoted from Butter-Melter to Vanilla-Extract-Pourer to Milk-Measurer to Cocoa-and-Confectioner’s-Sugar-Stirrer to Deputy in charge of Double-Boiler Duty. This was a tricky task, requiring one strong grip on the pan handle and another on the wooden spoon… and it required an occasional adjustment of the stove-top burner setting to ensure the proper timing and temperature for masterful melty-ness. Under my grandmother’s devoted tutelage, I climbed the confectionary ladder (and eventually outgrew the pulled-up-chair too)… and that is how I became an Executive Chef of Secret-Recipe Fudge.
But it wasn’t so much the secret recipe or even the dense, dark, luscious fudge itself that made such an impression on me all those Christmases past. It was the cavities. Just kidding. Although I’m guessing my fudge habit eventually eroded a few divots in my tooth enamel. It didn’t turn out all bad, though: I got silver. And then a crown. (You may call me Princess Wendy, if you’d like.)
What I remember most about Idee’s fudge was this: she gave it all away. Every last tin. To friends and family, old folks and new neighbors, church members and garden club ladies, the mailman and the paper boy (please excuse the gender-specific designations of the late 1960s). All of them were blessed recipients of Idee’s sweet, secret-recipe (and maybe magical) fudge.
And there were others too. People who were sad or suffering, laid-off or lonely, grieving… or just grumpy. She knew that fudge couldn’t cure all those ills. But it might make them a little easier to bear. And it would certainly remind them that someone took the time to see (and stir) and care (and share). In her own kind, quiet, gentle way, Idee taught me that Christmas isn’t all joy and jingle bells for everyone. Sometimes the season brings a whole lot of hurt and heartache.
Undoubtedly, for some, December ushers in bitter-cold and winter doldrums: dismally grey days and dreary, weary nights. December delivers distress: busyness and bills, hurrying and scurrying and worrying about every last little thing. For some, December means desperation, not celebration. Dread, despair, or unbearable isolation. Loneliness burrowing deep and dark. Hopelessness that can bleed dry all the merry and bright and beautiful and worth-living-for.
I believe Idee knew this… simply because she noticed. Somewhere along the way of life, she had slipped off the lenses of self-focus and slipped on a pair of bi-focals:
Amity and Empathy.
Idee was no stranger to dismay. Her life was not “all roses and no thorns.” She endured more than her share of sadness and strife. But along with those thorns, Idee was given great faith and hard-won wisdom. Which she kindly passed along to me:
It’s important to help bear one another’s burdens… and maybe bring a little tin of treats too.
Idee never failed to deliver tidings of (cocoa) comfort. And bone-crushing hugs.
My mom followed her lead, visiting nursing home residents at Christmastime… and every other season of the year too. She would come and sit beside her dear, elderly friends and talk with them and read to them and deliver hugs. And yes, fudge.
And now, Chloe and I will carry on the family tradition.
We will honor my grandmother (and my mother too) by doing what they did: delivering a little sweetness to someone who is feeling bereft… or barren… or bitter.
We’ll deliver fudge and big hugs to a beautiful young mother facing her first Christmas without her own dear mom. We’ll take a tin to our neighbor whose wife is away caring for a sick relative. We’ll send some fudge to friends who just moved here… and still ache for “home.” And we’ll bring a batch to Clinton, our favorite cashier at Kroger who always has a ready smile and warm greeting (and a speedy-quick checkout line) for all his customers and their kids. Even the crying ones. And the extreme Coupon-Clippers. (Clinton deserves a medal, I tell you.)
For some, Idee’s secret-recipe fudge will be irrestistible melt-in-your-mouth MERRY. For others, it might be just enough sweet to help bear the bitterness or brokenness of a blue, blue, blue Christmas.
Whatever your state of mind this Christmas, I pray that someone, somewhere, somehow, some way will deliver a little sweetness to your home. And your heart.
May God bless us, every one.
P.S. I’ll pass along a copy of my grandmother’s secret recipe to ONE lucky new subscriber. Simply click the “follow” link and sign up to receive my blog via email, and you will be entered to win a top-secret 3 x 5 index card containing Idee’s fudge recipe!