Nothing draws families together like shared experiences. When I was growing up, among other things, we made candy every Thanksgiving. Now that we’re adults and all of my siblings have children of their own, we still do. Not just any candy, either–hand dipped chocolate candy.
My father cannot remember a time before his mother started making candy, but he does remember when she tried chocolates for the first time, in 1932. It was a disaster. She melted some chocolate, made some fondant, dipped the fondant in the chocolate with a fork, and set it aside. When it cooled off, it had all turned an ugly shade of gray, and tasted no better than it looked.
Some time after that, she saw an ad for a chocolate dipper. She applied and got the job at a place called Morrow’s Nut House. Dad says it was well named, as it had a wide assortment of nuts both for sale and behind the counters! One of them, the chief candy maker, terrorized the entire staff except the manager and Grandma, who on one occasion just calmly told him to put down his butcher knife. He was fired eventually and opened his own store. He hired Grandma to to sit in the window and dip chocolates.
Shortly after that, she showed Grandpa how to make candy, and she dipped it after work. They’d make about 300 pounds (with Dad rolling it into balls) and sell it at Christmas time. After all that work, by the time Christmas rolled around, they were too tired to enjoy what they kept for themselves. After two or three Christmases, they decided it was too much trouble for a business and too good to quit entirely, so after that, they made smaller amounts and gave it to friends.
Dad’s graduation from high school might have been the end of the story. He went into the army, then to college and graduate school, but after he got his first job, he and Mom decided to get the recipes and give it a try. The first time didn’t work very well, but they got the hang of it. I must have been about five at the time. I cannot remember a time before they started making chocolates. They’re still at it. Those of my sibs who live close enough go to their house to make it.
My own efforts parallel Grandma’s and Dad’s. That is, the early ones were disasters. I had always rolled creams and fudge into balls, but never learned to make the centers or dip. My first efforts at dipping looked like Grandma’s, except I had no one nearby to show me how to do it right. (It’s all in the temperature.) Nor did I have all the right equipment or anyplace to put it. I was in graduate school, clear across the country. I hate to admit how many years I ruined most of what I touched before I began to get the hang of it.
The point of this post, however, is the importance of traditions in building a family. I know so many people who have distant or strained relationships with adult siblings. They have little in common besides growing up in the same house or apartment. They did nothing together as a family with any regularity, and so as they grew to adulthood and spread out across the country, they had little reason to keep in touch. Obligatory family gatherings like holidays became meetings of strangers.
I do not claim that this one tradition explains why we’re all so close to this day and why most of our spouses get along so well. I could describe others. But we all make candy. We all enjoy taste-testing each other’s candy. And we all enjoy hunting for new kinds of candy Grandma never made and sharing the recipes. A couple of the younger generation have already graduated from college. One’s married. All but one are at least in high school. And I think all but the youngest are proficient candy makers. I know they all like each other and look forward to our time together.Google+