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December 21, 2000

Remember candy canes? Those peppermint-flavored red and white jobs that we all grew up with? Of course you do. I spent the morning at WalMart this morning. I was looking for gifts for the family we’ve adopted and discovered WalMart had some pretty good stuff at affordable prices. I loaded up my cart and decided to throw in some candy canes, ‘cause all kids should have candy canes on Christmas, right?

Oh, I found the candy cane aisle, all right. There were chocolate candy canes and raspberry candy canes, and fruity candy canes, and bubble-gum flavored candy canes. In the whole section filled with candy canes there wasn’t a single “traditional” flavored candy cane.

I guess I’m a purist. In truth, I don’t even like peppermint flavored candy canes, but it’s tradition. I left the store with no candy canes, figuring I’d just pick some up when I went to the supermarket.

So I went to Albertson’s, loaded up my cart with food, headed for the Christmas aisle and what do I find? chocolate candy canes and raspberry candy canes, and fruity candy canes, and bubble-gum flavored candy canes. Again, not a single peppermint flavored candy cane. Have they all disappeared?

I didn’t buy them again and I’m determined that somewhere in this town there must be “normal” candy canes. I’ll keep you posted.

It’s funny how our memories are so tied up with taste and smell. Christmas seems to be especially filled with memories of scents and tastes from my childhood. Mostly sweet, of course. ‘Cause what is Christmas, if not an excuse to eat all those goodies that you get the guilties for eating during the rest of the year?

I decided to make cookies this year to pack along with the Christmas baskets to take to the Breaking Barriers clients. When I think of Christmas cookies, I remember two in particular. I later found out that they were called “Mexican wedding cakes,” but in our house they were “goodness sake cookies,” for reasons which I no longer remember. Flour, butter, pecans, and powdered sugar. Melt in your mouth goodness that I haven’t had in years. Those are on my list to make today.

Of course I’ll make Tollhouse cookies. Funny how I can’t quite recreate the same taste in chocolate chip cookies that I remember from my childhood. I don’t know what’s missing, but...something. My mother used to make them regularly and store them in the old pig cookie jar. I have the jar, but most of the paint has worn off of it now. I got real good at sneaking into the kitchen and lifting the head off the tummy of the pig to get a cookie. I don’t think I ever fooled my mother, but I kidded myself that I had.

I also remember a year she made thumbprint cookies. Orange-flavored balls, rolled in walnuts, with an indentation made by thumb and filled with some fruit-flavored jam. I don’t know if she made them more than one year, but...strange...I still remember them to this day.

See’s candy was a big Christmas taste. I love See’s chocolates (much better than Godiva, which is too sweet), but it never tasted quite as good as it did with the box being passed around the family table after we’d all finished our pumpkin pie and were relaxing before opening presents.

Not all the tastes of Christmas were sweet, though those which come first to mind are. Nothing has ever equalled my mother’s turkey stuffing. Even when I grew up and discovered she added (oh horror!) ground up organ meats from the turkey, I still loved the taste. Now I make my own stuffing and I like it...but it isn’t like my mother’s was. Even her stuffing these days isn’t like it used to be. Or maybe it’s just my memories which are sharper and nothing could really compete with that mental taste sensation

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It’s not fair. The plan for tomorrow was that I was to call to make arrangements and then drive over to the Sacramento AIDS Foundation to pick up vouchers so my grandmother-friend can go shopping for her grandkids, who have just been dumped on her. I was also going to pick up a Christmas dinner for her family and deliver everything to her, along with the gifts I bought as well.

This evening I conferred with Breaking Barriers just to finalize plans and learned that the Sacramento AIDS foundation has closed its doors and laid off its staff and there is nobody to give me vouchers for my friend. She was counting on the vouchers, as she's been trying to scrape enough together to make happy Christmas for those kids (5 from her daughter who is in jail, but 13 all together).

If I can’t contact the SAF, we’ll just take on the family ourselves. Grandma is doing so poorly that I suspect this is going to be her last Christmas. I want to help make it a little happier for her.

Maybe by Friday, when I make the deliveries, I’ll have found some of those “real” candy canes!

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