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The Candy Box- by Joy Hafen
The Post Office in Barnard, Vermont was barely big enough to hold more than two people. One of those was Postmaster Ralph. There was never a chance that you'd ever be able to just pick up your mail and leave, Ralph was always ready to say hi, especially to the girls. Many times I would dial the combination to open our post office box and find a smiling eye staring at me on the other side, as if I was staring through a peep hole. It always caught me off guard and he loved to laugh at my surprise.
On a wintery day, there was the delight of a yellow note informing us of a package. This was always exciting, something besides bills for our parents, something that might be for one of us. The instant Ralph handed me the small rectangular box wrapped in brown paper, I knew what it was. I couldn't keep my excitement contained. The large, black scratchy handwriting on the package gave it away immediately. "Ooh!" I replied. "Something good?" Ralph asked. "It's from my Grandma," I said. Ralph smiled and waved as I left the Post Office, practically skipping. That must be the best job of a postmaster, getting to see the faces of those who receive lovingly sent packages from far away.
This box was a special treat. Our grandmother, in her late 70s and almost completely blind would make homemade candy every year. Grandma was skilled in all the homemaking arts. The homemade candy was just one of the special things that she would do for others. She had six children and every year, each family received a box. We didn't receive the same things either, each box was custom made for the recipients. I lifted the box to my nose to see if I could smell the fudge inside. I knew it was in there. Grandma knew how much our family loved chocolate. There was sure to be extra fudge in our box. My mother laughed as I was trying to gather up the scent before opening the box. As we approached the driveway we plotted our strategy for protecting our special gift and making sure we had a chance to enjoy it before it would be devoured by the brothers.
We entered the kitchen of our home, which always had the lingering scent of homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies. At the table, Mom unwrapped the package to reveal a store bought candy box. This was the always the procedure, as Grandma liked to have a real candy box to mail our treats to us. We always wondered just how many store bought candy Grandma was consuming, or throwing away, just to get the boxes. More likely she would save the boxes that she received as gifts and stowed them away to use for her own gifts, which were infinitely better.
Mom lifted the lid and we just sat and marveled. Fudge, fondant mints, and Boston Cream flavored candy filled the box. The scent of mint and chocolate filled my head and my heart. I thought about my grandmother in her kitchen. Her tiny 4 ft 10 frame working busily in her trailer in Tooele, Utah. I could see her carefully stirring the sugar for Boston Cream and putting her face as close to the pot as she dared to keep an eye on things. I thought of how she would take one of her Corel ware cups, white and shiny, out of the cupboard and fill it with cold water. I remember her teaching me how to drop a spoonful of heated sugar mixture into the cup to see what formation occurred. Years of experience helped her, feel the candy balls in the water, her small fingers rubbing the mixture and by feel she could tell when it was just right for adding the final ingredients and the molding. She would line her countertops with wax paper and as the day progressed, they would be filled with each one of her confectionary delights. Extra fudge for our family. Uncle Scott liked nut rolls. Lots of Boston Cream for everyone, some families liked a little pecan on the top, some preferred plain. No mints in this box, but lots of mints in another. Carefully she'd work, cleaning as she would go until the day was over and the job accomplished. Her tired body would change into one of her housecoats and she'd relax by rolling her knee high pantyhose down to her ankles and putting on some slippers.
Those were the thoughts that flooded my mind before I ever chose a piece to eat. The thought of how much I loved that little lady so far away from me. How much I loved her smile and her laugh. I thought of the time she spent to make something special just for us and for just a minute, staring at the candy in the box, I felt like her favorite grandchild. I'm positive there were 22 other people thinking the same thing across the country.
I probably chose Boston Cream. That was my favorite. I can still taste the caramel cream melting in my mouth. The box was more to us than just a yummy treat. It represented our grandmother's love for us. There was so much in her life she couldn't do any longer, so many things she had to give up with age and the loss of vision. But candy at Christmas, she could do that in her sleep. And every year, until her very last Christmas, every family received her love in a simple little box. To this day, I can still taste that candy, and I miss having it, (candy making is not genetic apparently), but more importantly, when I think of the Christmas candy box, I remember my grandmother's love.