Monthly Archives: December 2018

Oh FUDGE

Mom starts it all. Somewhere along the way she acquires a recipe for fudge that does not involve a candy thermometer. And sweetest of all, it tastes divine.

Her fudge becomes more than legendary. It become a family legacy. To be faithfully carried on by Mom’s only granddaughter, our daughter Emily.

If you know the right people you might score some of your own Midge Fudge.

“Mom, you must get a fudge lesson from Granne. Not by phone. In person. Watch everything that she does. Carefully. Pay attention.” I paraphrase Emily, but not by much. And so I sign up for a private class of Learning to Make Fudge the Midge Way.

I visit Mom in Reedville as many times as I can make the three+ hour each way trip fit into my schedule. It’s usually a day trip because as much fun as Mom and I have together, my life on the OBX needs me too. Mom and I go to lunch, shop for savvy clothes, go to local events. And one time we make fudge.

I have actually never helped Mom make fudge, being a busy teen when she starts her mission and then I am off to college and later become a married gal and mom. So a lesson really is necessary. To get all of the fine nuances down pat.

Mom has been making Christmas fudge for years. It is the sweet treat every one of us fourteen gathered at 6416 Three Chopt for the Christmas festivities look forward to bingeing on bit by bit and bite by bite.

But as with most good stories there is the requisite tragedy. One year the bingers are left fudgeless. The fudge is sequestered on the second story (the house is built on a slope) screened in back porch adjoining the kitchen. Any food that won’t fit in the tiny indoor pantry is safely kept on tables on the back porch.

In the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt (the window opens next to the crime scene porch) Keese tries to pin the missing fudge on Dad. He vows that he did not take it. He cannot believe that it has gone missing either. Cousin Jett wisely keeps to the side.

The six marathon bridge playing adults in this story decide to take a collective break and refuel with fudge. The tin is no where to be found. As Dad’s youngest sister, Keese, tells it, “We all start blaming each other, like three year olds, for taking the fudge. We cannot believe it’s really gone.” They quiz us, the children. We definitely know better than to sneak more than a tiny piece at a time. We are innocent and clueless.

Then, like a lightning bolt, the solution hits Mom. She has marked the tin “Richmond” in preparation for the trip from Ohio not to confuse it with other fudge destinations. She gifts deserving people everywhere.

It is the days of home dairy product delivery. Not wanting to believe her conclusion but having no other answer, Mom decides that the milkman from Richmond Dairy has absconded with the fudge. Of course he didn’t really take the fudge in a thievery manner, he thought it was for him. But the adults are fine with absconded, they have been denied any fudge until the next Christmas, a whole year away!

Emily is determined that the fudge legacy Mom has so faithfully woven into our family cloth will not fade away. She picks up the baton after Mom dies, insisting that as much as she will cherish every physical item Mom wants her to have (Mom’s list of who gets what is as legendary as she is) the one thing she really needs is the fudge pan. It’s nothing special, Mom’s humble cookie sheet pressed into service during her fudge marathons.

But Emily is right, Midge Fudge cannot be made properly in anything else. THE Pan oozes the flavor of all the fudge that has come before. And emits the loving touch of Mom’s hand as she prepared batch after batch.

Fresh fudge setting up in the one and only Fudge Pan.

At first Emily brings the fudge she has made with her for second Christmas on the OBX, individually packaged up. If someone cannot make it, their fudge is left for the next visit to the OBX. Then Emily upgrades everyone. Fudge is mailed as soon as it is made. It’s so much fresher. This year an unscheduled postal closing day vexes her as the fudge packages are en route and thus stuck somewhere aging unnecessarily.

Finally the mail gets moving again but Andrew’s package is lost in transit. Six year old PJ is terribly distraught. So is Emily. Lewis offers anyone else’s fudge to tide them over. No one volunteers. Ours is already consumed. Stephen says that it would have to be their kids portions, as he and Sarah have shown no restraint.

Midge Fudge getting ready for delivery! Emily includes a love note with each delivery so that recipients know the history of their treat.

I put a bug in Emily’s ear that cousin Peyton and I have been talking, among other things, about sneaking fudge at Three Chopt. When I tell Keese this, she says, “We all knew you kids were taking pieces. We just never said anything.” So much for stealth.

I suggest that a package of fudge to Peyton would not go unappreciated. And it is not. “Omg. Your sweet baby girl sent me Midge’s fudge with a cute picture and sweet card. You raised a fine daughter!  I’ll write her!!!!  Yahoo. My inner child will be shoving fudge in my mouth before I get caught!!!!!”

And she on the spot munches through two layers. Which turns out to be a very good thing because not long after the first text I get another, “Guess who got into Midge’s fudge. That’s throw up (she has sent a photo of a small but telling lump on her favorite rug) but I had it (the fudge) way out of reach. This is a dog that can’t climb up on the bed! Oy!!” Thankfully Alfie barfs up the little that he ate. Just proves that Mom’s fudge knows no boundaries. It’s loved by all.

Chocolate is bad for me? But it was so good. I admit it. I absconded. I really did. Guilty.

In fact when Keese and Emily chat at Mart’s memorial service, Keese asks if she can please have more fudge this year. The five or six pieces, while much appreciated, are just simply not enough. Keese is probably still scarred by the milkman denial year.

Oh yes, our girl knows her market, she sends you just enough to want more. “Emily,” as Peyton puts it, “is like the pusher man. First one’s free.” And when asked she says that a text appreciation message is quite acceptable, but a hand written postal note gets you more.

As much as she loved how happy her fudge made people, this photo of Mom in her pre-fudge making years is not far from how she felt after an endless fudge session.

Look what you started Mom! Thanks!! The legacy you built piece by piece over the years binds us all together in such a sweet way.

Epilogue

Cousin Peyton, slightly younger than her brother Rick, Jett & myself just read a short separate post I have put up about the fudge tragedy. When I ask her if there might be any missing details she replies, “I’m sure I was huddled in a fetal position with the shakes and chills jonesing for fudge. That’s probably when you caught me eating that candied grapefruit rind!!!”

Candied grapefruit rind? Yes, it is as awful as it sounds. Mother Leigh made it, not one to waste anything especially perfectly good grapefruit rind. As Peyton points out, it was truly an era of waste not want not. I try to like it. But clearly my personal sugar addiction has a line. Peyton and anyone else is welcome to the entire lot.

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The HEART of Christmas

Christmas dinner at 6416 Three Chopt Road mid 70’s

“Fla’Leigh, I need the table.” This will be my grandmother pleading with her oldest to please move her Christmas present wrapping project so that the big dining room table can be set for dinner. I haven’t quite got the spelling figured out; but, my grandmother is extremely good at blending my aunt’s given name of Florence Leigh, which is what she is always called by her parents, into a one syllable word. Others call her Flo. Most call her I.G. I think I get that tag for trying to say Florence Leigh and coming up with an overly simplified version that sticks, but no one else calls her like her mother does. It’s a definite mother daughter thing.

“Yes, Ma’am,” everything is swiftly moved to a beautiful round cherry side table that collects odds and ends. It would be dining room table enough in any standard size room.

As I wrap up another year of present wrapping using our own long dining room table with gifts stretched out in a long line by family, I.G. and her Christmas present wrapping flurry always comes to mind. After dinner, back come all the presents still to be wrapped and the fixings.

It’s a cozy set up. The dining room is centrally located with its floor to ceiling pocket doors always open. One doorway is a view of the open staircase in the central hall ever busy with eternal holiday bustle. Carolers easily fit there when they stop by to fete us. Because there is plenty of room we invite them in for a moment of warmth.

Another pocket doorway gives access to the living room where an eternal four hand game of bridge rotates between the six adults. It is also where the tree is, so wrapped presents quickly get dispatched to a spot in the ever growing pile.

Placing packages under the tree mid 70’s. The dining room pocket door is on the right.

How did I.G. score this perfect wrapping spot? Mom always wraps presents before we leave Ohio. She plans to be ready to play bridge and shop at a moment’s notice. She even puts on bows and it is up to Dad to see that the car is packed in such a way as to minimize crushing. He could easily have created the game of Tetris. He is an expert at working all the angles. But even so, some bows suffer. Finally after too many years of even slightly smashed bows, Mom compromises. She will add bows in Richmond.

My other aunt, Keese and her husband Martin, always stay in the former maid’s room located next to the kitchen with its own outside door to the second story back porch that spans the back of the kitchen. Thankfully for cold weather this room also has an added tiny access door at the back of the connecting closet that opens into the pantry. It’s like a small apartment complete with bathroom and enough space for wrapping presents.

And so the dining room table is free for the having as my grandmother will have wrapped her few gifts before the thirteen of us arrive. She always give country hams to her three children. We grands get the balance of her gifting attention. My freshman year in college she gives me a much longed for wrap around skirt. They are the current rage. Mother Leigh has no idea what a wrap around skirt is, but that does not deter her. She gets help from a friendly clerk at LaVogue, a high end store out of her shopping league, but it’s where fashion happens. It’s my favorite present that year.

At the dining room table, I.G. can wrap presents and still be part of all the fun activities. She’ll even take a rare break, allowing me to take over after I prove my worth at proper wrapping. Together we will put ribbons on her last gifts mere moments before Santa arrives.

The dining room has one more door. This door leads to all the things that wrap every one of our family gatherings up into a figurative bow. It’s a swinging door to the back hall and beyond that the kitchen. The kitchen is where my grandmother holds court from sunrise (well before any of us are up) to sunset. She sits in the chair behind my dad in the photo and makes biscuits, rolls, and so much more but these two stand out in my mind. She cuts perfect biscuits, a few at a time from an enormous dough ball, with a drinking glass. Alton Brown has nothing on her ingenuity.

My beautiful cousin Jett gone too soon, my Dad and my Aunt Keese in the only picture that I know of that exists showing the kitchen at 6416 Three Chopt. It had our heart and is our core.

Mother Leigh’s cooking is traditional southern comfort food. She gets a real ham deep in the country. Her favorite spot is a dusty two pump gas station between Suffolk and Whaleyville. I take her on this journey one time. Those of you who know of Cindy’s Kitchen sixteen layer chocolate cake procured at the gas station in Coinjock, here’s to gas station food always ringing true. Prior to our arrival, she cooks the ham to perfection. She makes red eye gravy from the drippings. All through Christmas a bit of it will be simmering on the stove, ready to go on a freshly baked biscuit.

The smell of Mother Leigh’s legendary coffee drifts throughout the enormous house and nudges late sleepers awake. There is a steep switchback staircase between the kitchen and dining room that gives quick access to this family hub. Breakfast is an ongoing affair, something hot always waiting for each of us as we stumble down the stairs in haphazard fashion all morning long.

I make myself learn to like black coffee like my adored Uncle Dick (also godfather), husband to endless present wrapper I.G. It’s a drip affair. Eight O’clock blend beans ground to drip specification on the spot at the down the street A&P. Not content to settle for ordinary and not willing to pay more for the richer Bokar Blend, Mother Leigh cleverly pours the economy Eight O’Clock through twice making it even richer than Bokar. My sibs, cousins and I have cut our teeth on her coffee milk, mostly milk & sugar with a splash of coffee. But as the oldest grand it is my responsibility to take up the mantle of adult coffee drinking. Only Dick is a hard core purist. It’s an acquired taste but I persevere and to this day prefer my coffee just this way.

Mother Leigh’s kitchen is the heart of our Christmas. It’s where we air differences. It’s where we make up. It’s where we solve the world’s problems. And we cherish every moment. We know we are blessed.

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Filed under Christmas, family, Richmond VA, Richmond VA West End, Three Chopt Road

Christmas in the SAND

Living on Guam in the 50’s is everyone’s dream life, from kid to adult. We go to the beach, we party, we play, we bond. In later years whenever the subject comes up, my parents always refer to this period of our life as the time when everything is perfect.

We ride out typhoons, one a direct hit. I vividly recall Dad taking me out in the eye to show me how calm everything is. Only moments before the wind is blowing with such ferocity that anything not tied down (he and fellow crewmen have spent hours tying down planes so that they will not tumble like weeds) gets carried along.

Typhoon preparedness on Guam 1953

Almost every night that the weather is good, there is an outdoor movie on base. Folding chairs are set up. Attendance is always full, even if it’s a repeat show. There’s no bathroom so you either endure or go home, which isn’t too far away. Everything on base is within walking distance.

On Saturdays, all the base kids pile onto a bus and get driven off base to a local theater somewhere short of nowhere. We fill the theater, dozens of screaming wild ones with pennies to spend on candy and popcorn that if selected wisely will last the entire morning. I am sure the only adults around are the bus drivers and the film operator. We form new friendships, dissolve old ones, fight over seats, food, and anything that strikes us as worthy. We love it all.

I go to school off base that is a series of quonset huts, one per class all connected by a concrete sidewalk. There is a big hut to serve as an auditorium. And in the middle of the complex a walk in refrigerator where cold milk is served to go with bag lunches. No cafeteria. We eat on the porch of our classroom hut.

On base we entertain ourselves by running behind the DDT truck spraying for mosquitoes, getting as close as possible to the back of the truck so to be entirely enveloped in the cloud of poison. You have to hold your breath, the smell is so awful. I am bad at it and give it up after a few tries. Still our kids marvel at why they are not malformed head to toe.

We sneak into the sugar cane fields behind the base, always leery of the possibility of lurking Japanese soldiers, to get stalks of cane to suck on. The sugar taste is so good.

Dad brings me exotic dolls and clothes from Japan whenever he goes there. A doll with wigs to change her status from young unmarried, to geisha, to wife; covered cloth slippers with a separation for your big toe. And straw open shoes with a velvet thong between the big toe and the rest, you would know the design as a flip flop, but then the concept is totally new to all of us. Learning to walk in them is hard even if they are pretty, the strap is annoyingly uncomfortable.

But the absolute best of all for a kid on Guam, is Christmas. The Navy shipmates decorate their ships within an inch of their smoke stacks. They are gaudy beauties to behold. I never tire of a trip to see them.

Decorated Navy ship on Guam 1953

A huge hanger is set up with presents for every kid on base. We get a collapsible cheap glass wind chime packed in a flat cheaper cardboard box lined with thin tissue. It smells divinely of the orient. I am always sad when mine breaks. We get a mesh stocking full candy. And, as if that is not enough, there are individual gifts. There is a line by age for girls and one for boys. The presents, identical according to specific sex and age, are wrapped and hidden behind screens and carefully handed out by an adult as you reach the front of your line. This glory stops at age twelve. I have figured out that the twelve year old girls get a toy red piano. I really want a piano. I’m only ten plus I won’t be on Guam when I’m twelve, our tour will be up. I get in the line for twelve year old girls and lie my way forward. I have not one bit of guilt about my deception. Mom doesn’t know how I have come by my treasure, she’s clueless about the details of the process, so I’m spared any inquisition.

Christmas 1953 on Guam. Me holding seven month old sister, Suzanne. Note the red piano behind my left shoulder. And next to my knee, the unique Japanese forerunner of the now common as sliced bread, flip flop.

The piano is only eclipsed by a German doll that I get for Christmas. I have sleuthed out my gifts, so this doll, a last minute addition, is a complete surprise. Mom tells me later that she initially passes on one for me because she’s done her shopping. But when she realizes that I will be the only doll age girl on base without a German doll, she picks a simply dressed one for me. It seems that a ship has come in mere days before Christmas with the dolls and there is a scramble for the most elaborately outfitted ones. I am impressed with the girls who get dolls dressed in over the top clothes and accessories but I love mine, simple dress and all. She’s absolutely beautiful.

Just as is life on Guam for those of us lucky enough to have our Christmas moment in the sand.

EPILOGUE

When your past gobsmacks you, in a good way, you just have to laugh and pay attention. Preparing to start a post about Christmas on Guam I see feedback from from the youngest daughter of Dad’s pilot partner in crime.

She has happened upon my blog post about her dad. She’s my sister’s age so I really do not recall a lot about her. Both born on Guam, they were but babies. Her older sister, still younger than me, I very much recall as cute and fun.

Normally I write and rewrite and put a draft aside but like I said when you’re gobsmacked you rise to the occasion, so Merry Christmas Yvonne aka Bonnie and Marianne!

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Filed under ball family, Christmas, guam