*All grammatical errors intentional*
1933. Oklahoma. December 24, 7:30 p.m.
If I want Doodles to sleep warm as buttered biscuits, I’ll have to do some more quilt tucking.
I press it in good and tight all along her side and under her chin. There. Now she won’t shiver in her sleep or roll off on the floor. It won’t hurt her any if she does cause our mattress is only four inches of feathers and cloth and it lays right on the floor just on top of an old blanket with a few moth-eaten holes.
Doodles is nine years younger than me and my responsibility. Truth is, I was so glad to get another girl in this family, I don’t mind doing anything for that skinny little baby. I have two older sisters, but they were already married by the time I got to having any sense.
I’ve been stuck with eight brothers and me the only girl for miles around for so long, shoot, Doodles was like getting a tiny angel to take care of. Ol’ heaven sure waited a long time to give her to me, though, cause I’m almost growed up now.
I put my ear on top of the wood floor and try like crazy to overhear the soft talking in the room down below me. No matter how hard I work at it, I can’t make out the words. Something gets scooted here and yonder. Something big.
Yep. That’s the right sounds for shore. Same as every year. It means Mama and Dad are getting things ready for us kids to have Christmas in the morning. My raccoon grin breaks out so big on my face, it couldn’t be erased with a mop!
Waiting and waiting . . .
I yell straight into my squashy pillow until my eyes water. I do that sometimes when I get excited and don’t know what else to do. I get that over with and flip on my back. I crack every one of my fingers one at time. I learned how to do that from Calvin—one of my brothers.
Most of those boys are good for nothing at all for a girl like me, except maybe learning me how to do things like fistfight and get in trouble. Only thing I’m glad about is how Sam taught me how to spit across the room and make it land in a coffee can. Now, that’s useful.
Shush now, I tell myself. None of that matters tonight. Not with the magic dust swirling all around me so hard my stomach feels like a Mason jar full of cow cream right before it curdles up into butter.
Nothing no how can ever be as fun as Christmas at the Woodsons’ house, even if it ain’t much more than a shack. It has all of us in it, don’t it? Mama always calls the little dirt road leading up to our house our very own Blackberry Road, and that makes us feel good inside, even if we’re poor as dirt and too dumb to stop laughing about it.
Us kids have to go to bed extra early on the night before Christmas so special things can happen. I don’t know how Mama and Dad do anything special for us with us having just about no money in the whole wide world. I shore love it when they do, though. I love it more than running home barefooted the last day of school.
Rich as Solomon
I stare into the dark with my hands folded over each other and whistle for a little while until the idea of those sweet banana pies Mama makes after breakfast tomorrow rastles my mind down to the ground. She never makes us those pies except on Christmas day. They taste so dang good, you feel rich as Solomon when you eat them.
She makes enough for us kids to have two whole slices if she cuts the pieces real narrow. After making her pies, Mama starts stirring together our Christmas Candy Cake in her big crockery bowl. I’m telling you right now, it’s pretty near the best thing anyone ever ate.
All this thinking means I’ll never fall asleep tonight. Dang near stupid to try.
Next thing I know is one of those no-good brothers throws a pair of overalls on my head. I fling it off madder than a hound dog with his head stuck in a log and can’t believe it’s light outside. I fell asleep? It’s morning? I leap off of that mattress and grab Doodles up tight and take those creaky steps downstairs two at a time. I run quick through the kitchen and into the front room and into Mama and Dad’s tiny bedroom.
Has it happened? The magic?
The glow in my mama’s eyes is as loud as a hollered-out bunch of words. I can’t hardly take my eyes off of her eyes, they’re so bright. I put Doodles down and shake my hands in the air just to get my nerves settled down.
Can we? Can we look now?
Mama counts our heads to see if all us kids are there. After the last head, her usual serious face breaks out in a smile bigger than the whole state of Oklahoma. She steps away from the iron-post bed where her and Dad sleep.
I tell you, us kids scamper under that bed like rabbits outrunning a pack of slobbery hunting dogs. When we come back out, we’re holding on to one of Dad’s long gray and white wintertime socks.
Those socks look like they got the mumps
Doodles laughs right out loud at us holding our fat socks with both hands like someone’s gonna steal them away from us. We claw them open and dump everything out in our own special spots we pick out in the tiny house. Hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans in their shells pour out first. Then comes an apple and an orange.
My mouth goes dry to bite into that shiny red apple, so I do and eat it all up. This is all the winter fruit we’ll ever get, so us kids always gobble it up quicker than you can say shut up.
The bottom of our socks sag with every kind of hard candy. Oh, the colors and shapes just make us crazy. Some of the candies are square with dimples all in them. Other kinds are round with flat ends and little drawings like Christmas trees and holly sprigs on them. Best of all are the big hunks of folded over ribbon candy. That’s Mama’s favorite, too.
I finish eating my orange, and I’m looking for a dishrag to wipe my hands on when my brother Snipe throws an orange peeling at the side of my face. My hands curl into fists, but then something kind of strange takes me over and pops that mad feeling right off me. I just feel like smiling at him.
I toss him a piece of my own candy, which, if you knowed how much I love that Christmas candy, you’d be real surprised I did such a thing. Snipe looks plenty surprised, too.
Breakfast and a Contest
We eat us a breakfast of mama’s special red-hot pork sausage, eggs, biscuits, milk gravy, and sorghum before we’re allowed to start in eating our candy. Two of them no-account brothers get told they have to help me wash and dry the stacks of dishes and skillets, and it’s so surprising, my mouth won’t hardly close. No one usually cares how many million dishes I gotta wash for this bunch.
While we work, we have a contest to see who can stuff the most ribbon candy in their mouths.
I don’t know who the winner is cause we suck and slurp with our mouths gaped open and our eyes bugging out just like a new pup with his ears pulled way back. We bust out laughing and near choke to death on candy juice.
From the other room, Dad says, “Hey,” at us in a gruff voice. We know that means stop your fooling around and get your work done or get your rear ends whooped, so we hide and do it one more time.
Christmas Candy Cake
After making her banana pies, Mama gets Dad’s hammer and puts a big peppermint stick and a handful of ribbon candies inside a flour-sack dishtowel. All us kids gather around to watch and make big eyes at each other every time she swings the hammer to crush the candy.
Whooee! It shore is hard to wait for that cake to cook and get it’s icing and candy melted on the top.
When Mama takes that pretty thing out of the stove with the marain icing sitting up on it like stiff snow and a little crust of melted red, green, and white candies sparkling on the top, us kids bout lose our eyeballs right out of their sockets. Wouldn’t be surprising at all to see our eyes rolling across the wood floor after Mom whisks her cake over to the griddle to cool down.
Later, I’m grinning ear to ear and eating my hunk of cake, and I go to thinking. I can’t swear to it . . . well, you ain’t even supposed to swear, but anyways, I get a feeling that God Hisself must of gave that recipe for the Christmas Candy Cake to our Mama.
I mean, why not?
Don’t it stand to reason the Almighty would want to share a special cake like that for His own son’s birthday?
Click HERE for an Old-fashioned version PLUS a New-fashioned version of Grandma’s Christmas Candy Cake.
What holiday stories and recipes have been passed down in your family? We’d love to hear about them!
Read more Biddy tales in Blackberry Road.
Biddy Woodson, a sharecropper’s daughter, has learned how to sass and vinegar her way through life with eleven siblings in 1934 Oklahoma. Trouble sneaks in one afternoon like an oily twister when a beloved neighbor is murdered and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest Mr. Leroy, a Black man Biddy knows is innocent. Though she vows to see Mr. Leroy freed, she’s up against more than she ever bargained for. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead her into deeper mysteries and despair—and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.
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Jodi Lea Stewart is a fiction author who believes in and writes about the triumph of the human spirit through overcoming adversity. With an Okie mom and a Texas stepdad, her writing reflects her life beginning in Texas and Oklahoma, later moving as a youngster to an Arizona cattle ranch next door to the Navajo Nation, and, as a young adult, resuming in her native Texas.
Growing up, she climbed petroglyph-etched boulders, bounced two feet in the air in the backend of pickups wrestling through washed-out terracotta roads, and rode horseback on the winds of her imagination through the arroyos and mountains of the Arizona high country. Her lifetime friendship with all nationalities, cowpunchers, and the southern gentry allows Jodi to write comfortably about anything in the Southwest, the South, and beyond.
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What’s next from Jodi? Another epic historical fiction novel catapulting the reader out of Texas into Mexico, Argentina, and China and into the epicenter of another intriguing human drama. Look for it in 2022.
TRIUMPH, A NOVEL OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT is a 2021 International FIREBIRD First Place Multicultural Fiction Award Winner
If you are a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, and want a dramatic, different, and sometimes humorous version of New Orleans life, St. Louis, and Texas in the early to mid-century 1900s, encased in beguiling plot twists and unforgettable characters, read TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit by Jodi Lea Stewart.
Two children are ripped from their separate homes in 1903, one by a secretive Voodoo sect, the other one hidden out of blind fear. Their uncertain fates set in motion a series of events that reverberate decades later. Opening in the Louisiana swamps and moving into New Orleans and St. Louis—this novel weaves together three vivid storylines featuring two friends of different races defying the odds of their heritage and 1950s bigotry.
TRIUMPH was a finalist in three categories in the 2021 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards contest, won a Readers’ Favorite with Reviewers, and is a 2021 Firebird First Place Award Winner in Multicultural Fiction.