Fruitcakes and Silver Icicles

silver-iciclesSilver icicles.

            The first time I broke away from my grandmother’s Christmas traditions was the year I got rid of the silver icicles on our Christmas tree.
            My grandmother believed that traditions help make holidays special. This was most apparent when it came to her Christmas traditions.
            She had to have a Christmas fruitcake that had to be made before the first of December so it could age properly.
            Even though the same items could be found in local stores, she had to order at least one thing from the Sears Christmas catalog.
            And she had to have a Christmas tree covered in silver icicles.
            As long as these three traditions weren’t broken, we had a merry Christmas.
            When I was old enough to stand in a chair, I watched her make her fruitcake, wrap it and place it in a holiday-themed cake tin, then open the tin every few days and sprinkle the cake with brandy.
            By the time I was ten, she had taught me how to fill out catalog forms and call customer service numbers to place her Christmas orders.
            And as far back as I can remember, I decorated our Christmas tree as she sat in a chair directing.
            When my grandmother moved into a new house in 1988, she started a new tradition. Instead of directing me how to put up the Christmas tree, she told me the task was all mine. I was excited for about fifteen seconds.
            “You can decorate the tree by yourself this year,” she informed me.
            “Really?” I asked, trying not to let my excitement show.
            “It’s all yours,” she replied. “But, you’re going to have to get a new tree, new lights, bulbs, a star, and icicles.”
            I knew what that meant. The task was all mine, but she still wanted her tree done her way.
            I was moseying through a store gathering the items for my grandmother’s Christmas tree when I suddenly felt the urge to rebel, to break with tradition. I asked myself what she would do if I changed things up a little. Throw the tree out on the trash pile? And me with it?
           “She might,” my good sense answered.
            But I didn’t listen.
            That evening, my grandmother sat in her chair and watched as I put up the tree. She nodded pleasingly as I draped the lights around the tree. She said how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. When I took the red bows out of the bag, she asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
            “Hang them on the tree,” I answered.
            “I don’t think those will look good with icicles,” she said.
            “I didn’t think so either,” I responded. “That’s why I didn’t get any icicles.”
            My grandmother tried to hide her frown, but it was hard to hide a frown that covered her entire body.
            When I was done placing the bows over the tree and placing the star on top, my grandmother’s frown turned upside into a smile.
            And we all had a merry Christmas.
            Last year, I broke the Christmas tree tradition again.
            Out went yesteryears glistening ornaments and colorful ribbons and bows. In came fall foliage and white doves.
            As I put up the tree, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to see if my grandmother was sitting in the chair watching.
            If she had been, I’m sure she looked over the rims of her glasses and wondered when they started making pre-lit tree. I thought I heard her say how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. And when I reached in the box and took out the brown, yellow, orange, red, silver, and gold leaves and then the white doves, I know she frowned and asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
           When I was done placing the foliage and doves over the tree and placing the star on top, her  frown couldn’t help turning upside into a smile.
            And it turned out to be a merry Christmas.
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Remembering Mr. Bean

grandfathers photoMr. Bean was my grandfather, but I called him “Daddy.”

His name was Willie White, but I hardly ever heard anyone call him by that name. Instead, my grandmother and his friends called him, “Bean.”
He was “Uncle Bean” to his nieces and nephews; He was “Mr. Bean” to unrelated younger folks.
His big brother, my Uncle Walter, who was a couple of years older, called him, Son.
And his children and grandchildren, we all called him, Daddy.
By the time I came along, my grandfather was nearing retirement. He’d worked with his brother as a logger for years, but health problems were forcing him into retirement. What         I mostly remember are the years after he retired.
When my grandfather could no longer work as a logger, he became an entrepreneur.
He grunted earthworms and sold them as fishing baits.
He raised rabbits then sold them.
He collected aluminum and scrap metal then sold it.
He even put a vending machine on our front porch and sold sodas.
My grandfather did what he had to do to take care of his family.
Becoming an entrepreneur was an easy decision for my grandfather. After he retired, he quickly realized he had everything he needed to “sit and watch” as he made money.
He had a light brown Chevy truck.
He had a big yard.
A front porch.
And, he had an able-body workforce of children and grandchildren, who were already paid in shelter, food, clothing, and a lot of love.
For his fishing bait business, we would load up on the back of his truck with our wooden stakes and iron bars then head out to the woods, where my grandfather spent the day watching us grunt baits. I always stayed near my grandfather, who loved using snakes for target practice. When we got home, we became sales clerks, counting out fishing baits to customers, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
For his rabbit business, my grandfather bought several rabbits, sat in a chair and instructed us on how to build rabbit cages, and then waited. And not that long.
For his aluminum and metal collection business, he loaded us up on the back of his truck and we road to all of his established collection sites. When we got home, we processed and bagged the metal then packed the bags on the back of his truck for shipment to the recycling center.
Selling sodas didn’t start out as a business venture. Initially, my grandfather’s plan was to stop us from spending every quarter we got our hands on buying RC and Nehi sodas from Mrs. Lillie down the street. After he put the vending machine on the front porch, he quickly realized that his household members weren’t the only ones buying drinks from the machine. All times of day and night, we would hear people walking up on the front porch to buy drinks from the machine.
My grandfather was also a wise man.
He knew that all work and no play does not make for good children. So, when it was time to clock out, he let us play. And play we did.
On July 3, 1976, Daddy closed shop.
I was 11.