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.