Popcorn, toasted marshmallows and Christmas postcards

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We had a popcorn popper that hung by the fireplace, a flat, rectangular basket made of window screenings (back when screens were metal, not plastic), affixed to a long handle. The top was slid open, popcorn put into the basket, the top slid shut, and it would be held over the fire in the fireplace and continually shaken for a small eternity until the corn popped.

Some summers I planted popcorn, which usually had the colors of Indian corn, red kernels intermixed on each cob with yellow and purple ones. (By the way, “purple” is a difficult word to make a rhyme with. Another color, “orange,” is also one that’s tough to rhyme.)

We let it dry on the stalks, shelled it and saved it for the winter. Homemade popcorn popped over an open fire isn’t nearly so good in taste as today’s microwaved popcorn; the goodness it had came from the preparation.

As a special treat, we would also occasionally toast marshmallows in the fireplace. Daddy cut and sharpened some hardwood sticks that we kept just for toasting marshmallows.

As an aside, have you ever missed the opportunity to ask a question, regretting afterwards that you should have seized the moment and asked it? That happened to me about 40 years or so ago, long before we had the internet to answer our questions, consequential and inconsequential. My friend Muriel Flood mentioned that some years prior when her husband had been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, one Fourth of July she had made marshmallows so her young sons could learn the American rite of toasting them.

The question that I failed to ask (and didn’t even realize it at the time): “How do you make marshmallows?” I still don’t know.

The impetus for me to think about my boyhood Christmases was hearing mention of a hectograph on the radio a bit of time ago. Mother had a hectograph, a gelatin-filled metal pan which would reproduce copies of any material written with a special reddish-purple ink. Each Christmas, she would draw a simple outline drawing with a Christmas theme and reproduce it on a number of postcard-size cards.

We would then color in the designs, using the holiday colors of red and green. These were the Christmas cards which we sent. Incidentally, the mail rate for postcards was 1 cent. Letters cost a whopping 3 cents to mail.

(Hectographs were used by small businesses for making short runs of copies in the ‘40s. Teachers used them in their classrooms to make worksheets for their students, Later, mimeographs, which I suspect are unknown to many people today, came into usage for making longer runs of copies. Modern copiers as we know them began moving into the marketplace in the early ‘60s.)

One final thought: My mother had a real dislike for substitution of “Xmas” for “Christmas”. She saw it as a cheapening down of the holiday, creating an abbreviation that literally took the Christ out of Christmas.

While I don’t use the word Xmas myself, I hope she now knows that it’s OK, since the letter X was used by early Christians as a symbol to stand for Christ.

Henry Croom is a native Wilsonian and a 1951 graduate of Charles L. Coon High School. This is the second installment of a two-part series on preparations for Christmas. The first installment was published Nov. 28. Croom lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and can be reached at hcroom@msn.com.