Now that we have Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, it is time to start preparing for Christmas. Like my father before me, I hate shopping, but I am fortunate to have a better half that takes care of most of that. That’s a blessing, right there. The youngest of our four grandchildren just turned one, so that is helping to get us more in the spirit of the season and celebrations.
I just got out my mom’s recipe for her dark fruitcake. I got it all mixed up and put it in the oven for three and a half hours. My mouth is watering, already. I know all the jokes about fruitcakes, but this cake doesn’t fit any of them. When it comes out of the oven and cools, and I get all the greased wax paper off of it, it will go in a sealed container for about a month. I put a shot glass in the center of the cake, fill it with apple brandy, and sprinkle a bit more over the top of the cake for good luck. Waiting for that cake to be ready for sampling is just one of the joys of being excited and anxious for Christmas.
In deference to the heart doctor, who is giving me three months to get my blood pressure down, I only made one cake. In deference to good taste, I used real butter. My mom’s recipe is for two fruit cakes, so I cut everything in half. It is a heavy, dark cake, weighing about five pounds. My wife says it is an acquired taste, but I think it must be something you grew up with and looked forward to with anticipation, like the eggnog, and old, salt-cured hams and family gatherings and Christmas songs and carols.
Christmas in Rappahannock brings back so many wonderful memories. It would get started with plays and skits at school, and then one day my dad would come home from work with this big cedar tree that he had cut, probably somewhere on the side of the road. It was almost always too big, and we would have to cut it off once or twice to get it to stand up in the house. But, oh, that wonderful smell of fresh cedar in the home, mixed, of course, with a little wood stove smoke and all the wonderful aromas coming from my mother’s kitchen.
Dinner on Christmas day was always special, and if he hadn’t been at our house for Thanksgiving dinner, my grandfather, James Lillard, would join us. My mother was always happy when he was there, and the kids, all of us, had to be on our best behavior. Granddaddy always asked the blessing before the meal, and I can see my mom standing there beside him, with her apron on and her head bowed.
It makes my wife a little mad to remember this part, but when I was a child and there was a big meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas day, my mom would have all the men come in and sit at the table and eat first. When the menfolk had finished, she would clean up the table, and reset it for the women. Depending on how many people were there, some of the older boys might get to eat with the men, but if it was a big crowd, the children would have to wait or sit at a separate little table or in the kitchen.
My feeling about the men eating first is that it wasn’t right or wrong; it was just the way things were done then. There was a certain amount of respect that was accorded the head of the family. Do I like it better now? Yes, but the fact is we have bigger tables and dining areas, and we can all eat at the same time. I don’t look back and worry about the way things were in the past. I don’t live there. I live in the here and now, and so far, so good. I hope we can keep it the way it is. We’ll see.
Before I forget, I want to remind you about a breakfast the men of the Flint Hill Methodist Church are having on Dec. 19. We have to replace the air conditioner in our church, and we hope we can earn a few dollars from this breakfast to help with that expense. Don’t worry about the men doing the cooking. We will have the ladies there for quality control.
We will be at the Flint Hill fire house (thank you, Company 4) and are planning to start about 7:30 a.m. and go until 10. I have heard that there might be a visit from an old fellow in a red suit about 9 a.m. I hope he makes it.
Don’t worry about the cost, just come on down and have breakfast with us. We will have someone at the door, of course, and anything you can spare to help us out is how much it costs. And if you can’t afford that, come on down anyway, and have breakfast on us. That’s what good Rappahannock people do. And come visit us at church next summer when the new air conditioner is working. Or better yet, you can come visit us at church any Sunday at 8:45 a.m. The furnace is working just fine. I hope you can make it to our breakfast, and I do hope you will visit us at church.
Until next time, keep counting your blessings about the beautiful place we are blessed to live. We all want what is best for the future of our county, and from the calls and emails and conversations at the post office, I think our future is in good, hard-working hands. And while there may be a little of the good soil of Rappahannock under our fingernails, to me, that is just further testament to where we have been and where our values were formed. Stay well. Keep the faith. God bless you. We will be fine.