Monthly Archives: December 2016

New Year’s Eve Fruit Cake

When searching for my favorite Christmas recipes, I found Mama Graham’s icebox fruit cake recipe typed on a double index card. I was flooded with sweet memories of both hers and my mother’s versions of that recipe. My grandchildren and I talked about making it this year for Christmas–and for old time’s sake. Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought, to have loaves of that fruit cake to surprise everyone? But here we are on the other side of Christmas and making that cake was not one of the many things we accomplished.

But is it too late? We used to hoard Mama Graham’s cake and enjoy thin slices of it all winter, even into the spring if we were that lucky. My mother had so many children (ten), she could never make enough cake to go beyond her own table. But Mama Graham made half loaves for her three children and shared more with neighbors and friends.

So–no, I don’t think it’s too late. Just because fruit cakes are a popular (though often ridiculed!) gift at Christmas is no reason to stop short of making them on New Year’s Eve. Our grandmothers baked fruit cakes in mid fall, then seasoned them with cider (or something!) till Christmas. The ice box fruit cake doesn’t need all that soaking. Now that I’ve gathered everything together, I’m excited about mixing it!

Looking at Mama G’s recipe I’m reminded that she typed it because she typed things that were very special. She only learned to type when she was in her 60’s and then it was hard for her. But she bought a sweet little typewriter and, being the “neat” queen that she was, she typed addresses on Christmas card envelopes. And she typed other “sacred” things like this recipe. I see a dab of erase tape in a place or two. But it is correct to the letter. And I know she must have done two others, one for Revonda and one for Ronnie, no copying or multi-printing available for her then.

Oh, and by the way, Mama G’s birthday was the 29th. She would have been 93.

All right–enough said. I’m ready to start. If you’d like to make a “late” fruit cake also, here’s the recipe for Ice Box Fruit Cake:

  • 1 pound (Honey Maid) Graham Crackers (Hey, you can get the crumbs. Easier!)
  • 1 pound miniature marshmallows (She, in later years, used marshmallow cream)
  • 1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 1 can angel flake coconut
  • 1 (10 oz.) bottle cherries, halved
  • 1/2 box (1 cup) raisins or 9 oz. box
  • 2 cups chopped pecans (On rainy days Mama G set Papa to cracking and picking out nuts but she chopped them herself. They had pecan trees and froze gallons of nuts each year.)

Crush crackers (or use 16 oz of cracker crumbs!). Add nuts, fruit and coconut. Mix together. Melt marshmallows in milk on low heat stirring continuously. (I did mine this way wanting to make it the way she did.) Add to mixture and start stirring at once. Marshmallows will cool quickly. Mix more than you think you need to. And then mix some more! It’s no wonder Mama G couldn’t do this after she had carpal tunnel in both hands. As she said, wet your hands before shaping into loaves or pushing hard into loaf pans. Dampening will keep your hands from sticking.

I’ve placed my loaves (a 9 1/2 x 4 and two small loaves) in the refrigerator (I do remember an ice box but we are blessed with a refrigerator!) and tomorrow we’ll try slices to welcome in the New Year!

A quote from my mother for the New Year: “Leave everything better than you found it.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hope in Bethlehem

Stories of the creation of Christmas carols are uplifting, sometimes humorous, but always they bring me joy as I see how God has used people of all walks to bring us His message. The following story of the creation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of my favorites. This carol came from the soul of a man who was in deep despair and found the hope he so needed in the little village where Jesus was born.

Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, December, 1835 and died in Boston, January, 1893. He has been called “the greatest preacher of the 19th century.” He was known for freeing slaves and for hi influence in allowing former slaves to vote. He was chosen in 1865 to deliver the sermon at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.

Brooks had already been fighting fatigue and the dark hopelessness of the times even before Lincoln’s assassination. Praying for strength, he was able to offer hope at Lincoln’s funeral, but afterward he felt broken and unable to go on. In spite of all he’d contributed in volumes of sermons and compassionate pastoring, he felt completely inadequate and empty.

Brooks took a sabbatical and traveled in the Holy Land. Experiences there rejuvenated him and he eagerly returned to his congregation. But no matter how he prayed and sought after the words, he couldn’t explain to his flock how precious his experiences had been walking where Jesus walked.

He told his people how he’d felt burdened even in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve, 1865, and had borrowed a horse to travel out into the countryside, to get away from the crowds. He found himself at twilight in the village of Bethlehem and entered a small church where, as he describes it, his “heart sang.” He writes of that experience: “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.

It had been a strange and wonderful experience, yet Phillips Brooks knew his congregation wasn’t “getting it.” He longed for them to understand.

It was Christmas Eve, 1868, three years after his return, as he sat at his desk trying to prepare for the Christmas Day services, when he felt a certain release, a powerful peace. He was able then to pen the words to Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. He rushed to share his poem with his friend and organist Lewis Redner who exclaimed that this was “it”; he could see now what Brooks was talking about.

Lewis Redner (1831-1908) and Phillips Brooks had worked together to draw hundreds of children into studying the Bible and singing songs together. When Brooks showed him his poem it was understood between them that Redner needed to compose a melody for the poem that very day. He set to work and struggled, trying one tune after another, but none was appropriate for Brooks’ powerful and descriptive poem. Finally, he went to bed, spent and dejected at his failure.

He woke up in the night with a simple straightforward tune in his head and stumbled quickly to try it out on Brooks’ poem. It matched perfectly, a gift from heaven!

The children sang Oh Little Town of Bethlehem for the first time Christmas Day, 1868.

How many times has God used the valley of despair to bring hope and joy to His children, to us who plow along in the darkness. Read the words to this carol (two stanzas of) and take hope, dear friends.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by;

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently

The wondrous Gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

—Phillips Brooks

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One Starry Night

I love stories. Just begin “Once upon a time,” and my ears are perked. The song “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Edmund H. Sears starts like a story and I love it dearly, along with all the other Christmas carols. When I hear Christmas music, even before Thanksgiving, I experience a feeling of peace and wonder and nostalgia. Some carols remind me of specific wonderful times and I’m transported to the scents and smells and sounds of that experience. For instance, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”…..

Who knows it was really midnight when Jesus was born? But it could have been. It was at least night because it says in Luke that the shepherds were keeping their flock “by night.” Anyway, when I was nine years old I wasn’t worried about theology or philosophy either one, but I absorbed the story and enjoyed singing the words that etched themselves into my heart for later perusal: “It came upon a midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:…”

The night Jesus was born, I considered, could have been a night such as the one when I, along with several of my brothers and sisters, took a very special Christmas Eve walk.

My two playmate brothers, Charlie and Stanley (the other three had already grown and left home), had been building a small house in our woods that fall of 1951. They had allowed five-year-old Suzanne and me to help–that is, up to a point. As soon as it was “dried in” when we could have really enjoyed it, they put us out. We were forced to find our own amusement. Hopeful that the hammering and sawing we heard might just mean the boys were making us a present, we tried to think of something we could give them in turn. Mamma helped us hem handkerchiefs after we’d given up on our success in pottery and aircraft construction.

Christmas Eve finally, finally, arrived. Mamma and Daddy banned us from the Hall about 5:00 that afternoon so they could bring in the Christmas tree and decorate it. We could hear swishing and sliding as they wangled the tree in, hear Daddy instructing Mamma, “All right, now, up she goes,” and Mamma then eying its straightness with “No, to the right, little to the left, there that’s good. Here’s the string. Catch!” We knew, though we were not supposed to look, that Daddy was now tying the tree to the balcony rail.

Even the oldest girls, Pat and Ginger, home from college, were not to see the tree until the candles were all lit and Daddy blew the trumpet. In fact, the girls were in charge of feeding us all our supper. But no one was hungry except Stan who was never full. Suddenly, instead of prodding us to eat our bread and milk, Pat was putting on her big coat, fluffing her hair out over the collar and grabbing coats for Suzanne and me. Somehow everyone else seemed to know what we were doing, but it was a mystery to me.

“Oh, Suzanne, where are your mittens?” asked Ginger.

“In my coat pocket with mine,” I said. “Her coat doesn’t have pockets. Anyway, our mittens are so full of holes our fingers are sticking out.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” said Pat helping Ginger fit them on us. “If it weren’t for the holes they’d be too little. Hmmmm. Too bad you two don’t have new mittens. That’s a shame.” She sounded a little as if she were telling a joke but I wasn’t getting it.

It was a moonlit night with a dome of stars overhead, so clear it felt almost as if they were pulling my eyes right out of my head. Jackie started singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as we trailed down Sunny Lawn, across Sand Flat, and crunched in frozen ruts of an old road that wound around Tulip Hill. I could almost imagine one of those angels appearing in our path, “bending near,” especially when Pat said in a hushed voice, “There! Do you see that one bright star?” We looked where she pointed and sure enough, the brightest star actually did have a shining longer point like stars on Christmas cards.

We were so intent on studying the stars, Suzanne and I, that we didn’t notice Stan, Charlie, and Jackie running on ahead leaving us far behind. The cold crept into my holey mittens and I fisted my hands to warm them. It had gotten pretty dark in the deeper woods and I stayed close by Pat’s side, glad when she took one of my hands in hers. At least that one could be warm. Suddenly Ginger said in the most startling voice, “Halt! Look through the trees! What is that?”

For a tiniest second I thought, The angel has come down! Then I took a deep breath of cold air and realized the light, like a tiny pinpoint through the trees, was exactly where that little house should be, the one from which we’d been exiled weeks before. I let go Pat’s hand and, suddenly fearless, dashed ahead.

The Little House as we began to call it had been furnished and decorated by Jackie and our brothers. It was the most fantastic playhouse anyone could have imagined. There were curtains, wallpaper, stove, quilted doll-size bed–and a window with a sill on which a candle gleamed. I can remember this very minute, all these years later, the pounding excitement in my chest. It was a gift of love that would last long after the walls caved in and the shingles disintegrated.

It was time, then, to hurry back to Stone Gables house and line up for the Christmas tree, the youngest, Suzanne, in front. I can taste a piece of hard candy right now, feel the warmth of new mittens, and smell the tantalizing scent of a brand new book.

And in the distance I hear the tune to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ginger’s Birthday

From the beginning, I loved gingerbread. I thought it was really nice to have a big sister named Ginger who could bake yummy things, like cookies–and gingerbread. Today I’m thinking of her because it’s her birthday. I can’t call her and wish her a happy birthday because she has  Alzheimer’s and lives in a different world. She’s 86 today. She doesn’t know it but, though she’s always been one of the middle ones of us ten, she is now the oldest one living.

In my first colorful memories of Ginger she wore her dark soft hair in long braids. If she gave me a piggy back ride I could gee and haw with her braids. She taught me my ABC’s using a stick to write in the sand.

When Ginger was away at Rabun Gap school, she saved us young ones little boxes of cereal from her breakfast tray. We were so thrilled when the big loud Trailways bus brought her home for holidays. She always had new funny songs to teach us and never got too old to play games with us like “Catch a Fellow Off a Stone” or “Blind Man’s Bluff.” She was so serious about her Bible study and wanted each of us to be just as serious. But she really loved a good laugh too.

The summer before Ginger got married in 1955, she sewed nearly all the time on Mamma’s New Home sewing machine. I hung around and pestered her a lot. I was twelve years old and dreaded to see her leave. Our brothers secretly placed a kitten in hers and Del’s car when they drove away. Several of us piled into a brother’s car and chased them all the way to Toccoa. We laughed ourselves sick when we saw that kitten’s head appear on the back of the seat between the heads of the bride and groom.

When Ginger had her first baby, we celebrated around her letter as Mamma read to us. Ginger and Del lived in Texas where he was in seminary. We didn’t know when we’d get to see little Joel. Then, at Christmas, with no warning, they appeared. We took the baby from Ginger and presented him to Mamma, telling her it was a baby who’d been left at our guesthouse. She took one look at that bouncy cute baby and said calmly, “This is Ginger’s baby. Where is she?”

Ginger and Del had three more children, Jonathan, Eulanne, and Freida. They were all so cute and fun and Ginger doted on every one of them. The family went as missionaries to Bangladesh but had to come home because of medical problems. In the meantime, I’d gone to college and then got married. I didn’t see Ginger that often anymore. But when we did land at our home at the same time, we started talking where we’d left off the last time. And giggled a lot, shared books, Bible verses, and many songs. One summer a whole bunch of us got together and Ginger instigated our having a star-watching night.

Ginger loves music and still will try to sing in her bed at her care home. Daddy used to say that Ginger had a light in her eyes like stars glowing when she was excited. Her eyes still light up like candles when we sing songs about Jesus. She doesn’t recognize us but knows we are someone who loves her. Recently, my sisters Jackie and Suzanne were visiting her and Suzanne called me. She said she’d hold the phone to Ginger’s ear and let me talk to her. I told her who I was and where I live and that I loved her. Suzanne said she smiled. She talks mostly in garbled unrecognizable sounds, but the last time I visited her she broke out of that “other language” and said distinctly one time, “I love you.” She even said to Charles and me as we hovered over her bed, “It’s good to see both of you.”

Alzheimer’s is a terrible thief that takes away one’s ability to communicate, to enjoy life, to know one’s identity, to remember….

But down, deep inside, I know my Ginger is still there. I remember how she loved playing with her grandchildren, how she was so proud of their every achievement. I remember how she was always doing for others, teaching English to Laotians, even after she retired from teaching fourth grade. I sit and hold her hand and tell her about the good things she’s done. She doesn’t understand, but she smiles. And her smiles light up her whole face.

Happy Birthday, Ginger!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized