The Year We Didn’t Break the Wooden Spoon

Christmas cake. What would Christmas be without it? (Yes, I’m one of those who love it!)

The beginning of every December, Mom pulled out the old cigar box that held her mother’s Christmas cake recipe and began the ritual.

Step one: assemble all the fruit – sultanas, dark raisins, golden raisins, mixed peel, candied citron, and glace cherries. And don’t forget the almonds and walnuts. That entailed a day of rummaging through the lower back shelf of the old Kelvinator refrigerator to retrieve what was left over from last year’s production, plus a trip to Mr. Marcotte’s general store to purchase anything we hadn’t found. Mom dumped all the fruit into the large yellow Pyrex bowl and poured apple juice over it all. Dad was a staunch teetotaler so no rum or brandy in our house!

Step two: cream the butter (the homemade variety) and brown sugar with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy. Mom and I took turns for the hour or so of smooshing and blending till we thought our arms would drop off.

Step three: dredge the fruit with flour, dump in the fruit and nuts and more flour, plus the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and stir till mixed.

Stir?” Are you kidding? How do you stir something as solid a fruit cake batter? You might as well be stirring cement!

There’s a tradition in making Christmas cake that everyone has to give the batter a stir to ensure good luck in the coming year. At least, that’s what Mom told us, and she wouldn’t lie. So each of us would dutifully take our turn trying to stir the mass. And, inevitably, the wooden spoon would break. I don’t know if that, too, was supposed to ensure good luck in the coming year.

After several decades of annually broken wooden spoons, my brother (of all people) had the “Aha!” moment. “Why don’t we mix it in the Mill-N-Mix*?” he asked.

Now, why didn’t we think of that?

We dumped the butter and brown sugar into the giant stainless steel bowl and turned on the machine. It beat that mixture into submission in no time flat. We dumped in the fruit, the nuts, the flours and the spices and watched in amazement as the industrial-strength dough hook wound its way through all that “stuff” with absolutely no problem. In 10 minutes or less, we had Christmas cake batter ready to spoon into the already greased and lined antique cake tins (another legacy from Mother’s mother) and put them into the oven.

We no longer took turns stirring the batter to bring good luck but perhaps taking turns turning the machine on and off counted instead. I don’t recall that we had any less good luck in the absence of a broken spoon.

#ChristmasCake #ChristmasTradition #BakingExperience #Mill-N-Mix #Innovation #HannaFamilyHistory #ChildhoodMemories #MargaretGHanna

*A Mill-N-Mix grinds grain which you then put into the attached bowl to make bread. It is now vintage equipment – find one if you can. Here’s a picture and description of it.

Old World Charm?

“Bodicote is a dump!”

Mary’s letter from Oxfordshire shocked me. She didn’t like the village where I grew up? How could she not? The cobblestone streets. The village pub (I got drunk there many nights as a lad). The Green where everyone caroused on Fair night.

I read further. And sighed. The pub was gone. The Green was Brown. Banbury was encroaching, razing everything in its path. Dad’s farm, the one he rented from Mrs. Wyatt, was in shambles, about to be bulldozed for houses.

I had never wanted to return to England. Now there was even less reason.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchChallenge #HighamFamilyHistory #BodicoteOxfordshire #QuaintEnglishVillage #MargaretGHanna

My maternal grandfather, Caleb Higham (b. 1889), grew up on a farm — The Grange — just northwest of Bodicote which, in turn, is just south of Banbury. A hundred years ago, Bodicote was one of those reputedly “quaint” English villages: three streets lined with brick row houses, a pub or two, a school, the village green, and St. John the Baptist Anglican Church surrounded by the graveyard. No longer; it is now overrun by housing development and is merely a suburb of Banbury.

No one knows why Caleb decided to emigrate to Canada in 1913. He never talked about it, in spite of the many times my mother and aunts and uncles asked. He refused to return to England, leaving everyone to suspect he left England under a cloud of some sort.

Grandma Higham did return, in 1952, to visit her sisters in Cornwall and then to visit Caleb’s family in Oxfordshire. By some stroke of good fortune, her letters to Caleb were saved, and the opening line in my little story above is taken directly from one of her letters. She was not amused, and my grandmother, never one to mince her words, spoke it like she saw it.

The Hero

An iron fist came crashing down
sent darkness snaking ‘cross the ground.
Out of that darkness came a cry
from someone rising to defy.
Others rallied round the call
for freedom, peace and hope for all.

That flame will never die.

#Heros #CarrotRanchCowsinoNovemberChallenge #FreedomsCry #Peace #Churchill #Roosevelt #MartinLutherKingJr #NelsonMandela #MahatmaGanhi #VolodymyZelenskyy #MargaretGHanna

The Debate

Caleb, Willie, Pete and Teo were well into their fourth, maybe fifth, beer.

“King has to resign.”

“Why should he? You think MacDonald wasn’t crooked?”

“He has to, it’s the honourable thing to do.”

“Ha! Honour in politics! You’re taking the mickey, Pete.”

“All I shay is, ish not my shircus, ish not my monkeys,” Teo slurred.

The argument came to a dead stop. “What?” the others said.

“Ish old Polish shaying, means . . .” Teo scratched his head, shrugged, “. . . means not my problem.”

“Of course it’s your problem.”

“Only if you’re a damned Liberal.”

The debate went downhill from there.

#99WordStory #CarrotRanchFlashFictionChallenge #FlashFiction #HighamFamilyHistory #CanadianHistory #Politics #KingByngAffair #MargaretGHanna

The back story:

Caleb Higham, my maternal grandfather, liked to drink. My uncles have stories of him coming home after a night of drinking with his buddies, three sheets to the wind, drunker than a skunk, pissed to the gills (pick your metaphor). Plus, he often sported bruised knuckles, a black eye, and a swollen lip because once “liquored up” he often got into fisticuffs. How he managed to drive the six miles from Assiniboia back to the farm without killing himself remains a mystery. Grandma Higham, a confirmed teetotaler to her dying day, was not amused, as they say. She invariably tore a strip off him, but it did no good.

Caleb was also a staunch Liberal. His brother-in-law was a staunch Conservative. This led to many good-natured political debates around the kitchen table. What those same debates might have been like with Caleb’s drinking buddies is anyone’s guess.

The “debate” referenced in this story is the rather messy 1926 King-Byng affair. In the federal election that year, the incumbent Liberals under William Lyon McKenzie King won fewer seats that the Conservatives under Arthur Meighan. Governor-General Lord Byng suggested that King resign but King refused, claiming he could continue in power with the support of the Progressive Party that held the balance of power in the House of Commons.

Then word leaked that one of King’s appointees had taken bribes, whereupon the Conservatives claimed that corruption was rife in the government. The government took its usual approach and appointed a commission to investigate. Thereupon followed a lot of too-ing and fro–ing but eventually King asked the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament to let Meighan form government. Lord Byng refused, citing King’s prior claim.

King promptly resigned and asked Meighan to form the government, which he did. The Liberals and Progressives moved a Motion of Non-Confidence which the Meighan government lost. Parliament was dissolved and another federal election was held.

This time, the Liberal party won a plurality of seats and King was once again Prime Minister.

Who says politics is boring?