Tennessee Christmas Memories

Sometime after Thanksgiving every year, my paternal grandfather would go to a grocery store and purchase an entire crate each of apples, tangerines, and oranges. I remember going with him once, and the manager of the store escorted us through the swinging doors at the back into the inner sanctum, a place I had never been, where Granddaddy made his selections. At the time, I thought this a most extravagant set of purchases. He would also buy peppermint stick candy and another kind of stick candy with the curious name of horehound. Thereafter, until these items were gone, every person who entered his and my grandmother’s farmhouse walked out with a bag–sometimes they called it a “poke”–filled with fruit and a bit of candy. The main portion of the house predated the Civil War and was made of logs covered with hand-planed boards and painted white. There must be hundreds of houses like this in Tennessee.

My grandparents lived much as their parents did in the 19th Century. The living room was heated with a fireplace that burned wood and coal. The kitchen was heated by a wood stove. The bathroom was heated by an electric heater, and the bedroom and other rooms weren’t heated at all. When someone came into the living room, he or she stood in front of the fireplace to warm up, rotating when necessary. When I was little, I would sometimes forget and let my pant legs get so hot that if I sat down I would leap back up.

Around Christmastime, my Grandmother would make an eggnog-like drink called Boiled Custard. She made it with milk from their cows and eggs from their hens, and would send it home with us in canning jars. I remember that one year she cooked an entire country ham, boiling it on top of the stove and then finishing it off in the oven. We must have eaten off that ham for weeks.

They’ve now been gone for over a quarter of a century, and their way of life, which seems so stark in the telling, I now remember as a constant and vibrant interaction with people–family and otherwise–who came and went from that house at Christmastime. I think of them a lot at this time of year.

Proust had his madeleine, but for me it will always be horehound candy.

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5 Responses to Tennessee Christmas Memories

  1. Carol Bradley says:

    Wow, those are great pictures of Granddaddy and Grandmother. I have wonderful memories of Christmas afternoons at their house.

  2. Kenny Clark says:

    It’s funny to me now that the things that we will always remember are the things that were least important at the time.I will always remember going out with my cousin several years in a row, to get a huge tree for our little country church, in his 1946 chevy pickup. I was ten the first year and he let me shift gears. I also remember the fruit and horehound candy, and the poke. Oh and don’t forget the “light bread”, and a soft drink was a “dope”. And how about an insect we called a “miller”? These are some of the rural western NC terms. Are they familiar to you. Nice story, thanks, Kenny

  3. tennesseeguy says:

    Yes, I do remember the “light bread” and “sweet milk” and “dopes.” When I was little, Granddaddy would take me with him in the car in the summer and we would stop at a country store for a Coke. He seemed to be able to drink his in about 45 seconds, while I would be swigging and burping and barely getting the thing down. It was unheard of, after all, to have to pay the two-cent deposit on the bottle.

  4. Kenny Clark says:

    I live in Tennessee now , and after several years in Nashville I had to get back to the country, and moved out west of town and bought fifty acres. I was amazed at last to hear folks saying things that I had almost forgotten. I was visiting a neighbor in the summer and they called an insect that is a type of moth, a “miller”. Now I hadn’t heard that since I was a child in the tar heel state. This may seem trivial but there is a good feeling associated with nostalgia as you get older. Kenny

  5. I have very similar memories and right now nothing in this world would be as good as boiled custard. My daddy and I would eat all that could be made. Thankfully you can get horehound candy. =) I just wish I could cook!

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