Brightly decorated Christmas trees and gayly wrapped presents. These images of Christmas pop into my mind. It is however, the image of my father and me huddled over a rocky card table that I hold close and will treasure for ever.
My father was a large man. Standing just under six feet tall with a large barrel chest. Born in rural Quebec in 1924, he was one of 15 brothers and sisters. His large calloused hands told the story of a life spent in manual labor. Always quick with a joke or funny story, he was not one to show affection in any way.
Christmas was a special time for my father. Before it was illegal, we would tramp through drifts of snow in search of the perfect tree. Standing in awe, I would watch my father swing the axe and fell our tree with a few strong strokes. For weeks, our conversation revolved around our outdoor decorations. We plotted and planned, confident that although they were never extravagant, we would upstage ourselves every year. Although the memory of all these preparations are cherished, they are dwarfed by those of our annual candy making. Handmade chocolates, gooey balls of popcorn and thick rich fudge were my father’s specialty. I’m not sure why I was the one assisting my father in making his creations. I’m glad I was; the making of our chocolates became the high point of the Christmas season for me.
Banished to the basement, at our make-shift work station our fillings were made. Everything around us became dusted in white powder as we used vast amounts of icing sugar. A salt shaker lid was used to cut out the discs of peppermint. Our fingers became deft in making the squares of maple, and some-what round balls of coconut. Hour after hour we worked filling trays. We would then surface from our workshop to the kitchen for the delicate task of dipping our treasures in melted chocolate. One by one each piece was placed onto a toothpick and delicately dipped into the pot. Let your hand linger for too long, the filling melted and dropped to the bottom. Swirl it too fast and it would emerge not evenly coated. I never tired of watching as my father’s large hands made the correct shapes and then delicately dipped them with just the right twist and swirl. For me I was fortunate, my mistakes could be eaten. I don’t remember our conversations during those hours. I’m not sure what was said or not said. In his typical manner I am sure my father filled the space between us with his banter and jokes. I just remember working, side by side with the gentle giant that was my father.
This was my special Christmas treat.