Tangerines, Bananas, and Pecans - December 2021
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW
Tangerines, bananas, and pecans—three foods that take me back to my childhood and Christmas mornings in Tennessee. That was the only time of year we had them, and each Christmas was special because of it. Let me tell you a little about my early years. I was one of seven children. We lived on a farm where we swam in a nearby creek and picked wild blackberries in the fields in the summer. We had to watch out for rattlers and copperhead snakes while we picked berries. We learned to love nature and God. We might have been considered poor monetarily, but we did not realize it because we were rich in so many other ways.
On Christmas morning my mother got a one-day break from cooking breakfast. The other 364 days a year, she made a large batch of homemade biscuits every morning which were usually served with eggs. Sometimes she cooked other foods to go with the biscuits—sometimes creamed corn or fried potatoes, and very rarely we had fried chicken for breakfast! We ate what we had, and we usually had blackberry jelly and butter on our hot biscuits—so yummy! As kids we were never hungry, and my grandparents were partially responsible for that. They raised crops, including corn and wheat, and every year their corn and wheat were taken to a mill a few miles from their house.
At the mill the corn was ground into cornmeal and the wheat into flour. Our grandparents made arrangements with the mill for all their children to show up at the mill and take home sacks of cornmeal and flour anytime they needed it—what an ongoing gift! Thus we had many homemade biscuits in the mornings. Twice a day we baked cornbread in a sizzling-hot black skillet at noon and supper time. We ate potatoes, home-canned vegetables from our garden, and dried beans or peas with our cornbread. We always had butter on the cornbread too. For desserts we frequently made blackberry pies from the berries we had picked and canned in quart jars, or we made cakes “from scratch.” We had to learn to grow gardens, cook, bring in wood, and sew at young ages, and we were active and healthy kids.
On Christmas mornings, in place of our mother’s home-cooked breakfast, we were allowed to eat as many bananas, tangerines, and pecans as we wanted. We cracked the pecans goodies from the shells with old-fashioned nutcrackers—such treats! I’m not sure how the tradition started for those three foods on Christmas morning. I wish I had asked my parents whose idea it was. But they are gone now, and all we have are our memories.
One cold day a few months ago, I reached for a tangerine from our refrigerator at home. As I glanced to our kitchen counter nearby, I saw a bunch of just-right bananas in a bowl, and I remembered that we had shelled, frozen pecans in our freezer. At that moment, I remembered Christmas mornings in Tennessee. And it struck me how privileged my husband and I are! We regularly enjoy foods that my family only had once a year! And I realized how blessed I am now compared to my growing-up years—when special foods were rare, when money was scarce, and we lived in a house with inadequate heat.
It is easy to take our blessings for granted when we have our health and our loved ones near. In my earlier years I would have never dreamed that my first husband would die at the age of sixty-three and my life and our family holiday traditions would be forever changed. Perhaps someone you love has left this earth too soon too, leaving behind bitter-sweet holidays for you—bitter because of their absence, but sweet because of the time you had together and the memories you made.
Maybe you will still choose to hang on to your family holiday traditions, similar to my tangerines, bananas, and pecans on Christmas morning. Or perhaps you will choose to do things differently. No matter what, hopefully you have some sweet memories that no one can take away—memories, those timeless treasures of the heart.
“Christmas is a day that holds all time together.” - Alexander Smith
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator