Saturday, December 14, 2013

almond pecan popcorn

In 1975, my last sibling left home to go to college. That left just me & Mom at home. From that point until 2002, I lived with or near Mom and we spent almost every Christmas together. For the first few, my sister who is a year older came home. But after she finished college, we didn't see much of her, just as we didn't see much of my older siblings.

Mom and I had traditions. One tradition was to buy each other entirely too many Christmas presents. It was ridiculous. And once I had a child of my own in 1987, the outrageous gift-giving reached a fever pitch. One Christmas, we counted almost 100 presents under the tree, all for the three of us. Some of those came from other people, of course. But it was still insane. And we largely kept it a secret from my other siblings. Once I started working and had a decent income, I could not stop myself! Every time I went shopping I would see just ONE MORE THING that I would convince myself would make Mom happy. And she apparently had the same problem. It was almost embarrassing. Over the decades, I think I bought her the entire Pfaltzgraff Winterberry holiday china collection, including the gravy boat and the three-tiered desert tray.

Another tradition was Neiman Marcus Almond Pecan Popcorn. Oh, delicious candied popcorn with sweet pecans and almonds mixed in! It was so good! If we didn't eat it all before the day I had to get in the car to drive home, she would pack up half of what was left in a plastic baggie and send it home with me. My son was lucky if he got any at all.

We also ALWAYS had Almond Roca, her favorite candy. Each piece is a perfect foil-wrapped morsel, which could easily be consumed in one bite. But I always bite off half and set the other half daintily on the opened foil. Then, I slowly eat the first half before popping the second half in my mouth. And when my brain registers that the second half is almost gone, it tries to convince me that if I glance over at the foil that the second half will still be sitting there waiting for me. It never is. But I always check, just in case I got distracted and just THOUGHT I had consumed it.

What else? Oh! Mom always made cookies. We had chocolate chip cookies and cardamom cookies. But the best cookie she made were her Russian tea cakes or wedding cookies, as some people call them. The little balls of cooked dough (butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, chopped pecans) were cooled and then rolled in confectioner's sugar. Oh, who can eat just one ... dozen?

Mother always had her train set assembled and going around the Christmas tree. She loved Norfolk & Western and the one with the Chessie cat. As my son got older, he lost interest in the train set. I often wonder what became of it.

We would listen to all kinds of music and watch the Nutcracker on television. If A Charlie Brown Christmas came on while we were there, we always watched it. And Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (with Burl Ives) was a must if it happened to be on while we were there. But mostly I remember listening to music.

We always attended Christmas Eve service somewhere. During the years she was in the pulpit, it was at her church, of course.

On Christmas morning, we always started with V-8 juice and some kind of sweet roll. Then we opened presents! Woo hoo!!!!! Then we cooked all day. Yes! For just the three of us! Turkey, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, rice & gravy, crescent rolls, cranberry jelly, olives and pumpkin pie for dessert. Then we always worked the new puzzle that Santa had brought us.

Depending on when I needed to be back at work, I might stay one day or up to one week after Christmas. So sometimes we got to do after-Christmas shopping. We always tried to hit the Hallmark store first thing in the morning on December 26th. The deals!!! And there was always some type of artists' cooperative to hit to find pottery or other small objects.

We had a lot of fun. I loved asking Mom to tell me stories from her childhood. There was always something I hadn't heard before.

In 2002, Mom decided to go live with my oldest sister and my brother-in-law in Colorado. It happened around the same time that my son left to go live with his father. And that was the end of our Christmas traditions. I honestly didn't realize how much it meant to me until the time came when I didn't have it any more. I've spent more than one Christmas day alone since then, declining invitations from people I knew but didn't have a close relationship with. That was probably stupid. I told myself that I'd rather just stay at home in my pajamas, which was true. But I think I was just missing my Mom.

Oh, the complexity of the mother/child relationship. Mom has issues. Heck, I have issues! But for that 25+ year period, we were good friends. I knew most of her secrets and she knew most of mine. But I didn't know her as well as I thought I did and we weren't as close as I thought we were. Because once she moved to my sister's house, our connection pretty much disappeared. I understand more about why and how that happened now, but back then it was pretty mind-blowing.

You never know, from one year to the next - or from one moment to the next - whether you will continue to have what you have now. The advice I have isn't new or unique. Enjoy now. Love each other. Show appreciation. Because you just never know!

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