Every so often I find myself going too easily from reflective to sentimental, especially at this time of year when it seems like every beverage is seasonally … uh, “enhanced.” It goes against my nature, which is perhaps why I find sentimentality embarrassing, and even more perhaps why I’ve avoided lengthy ramblings on the holidays and significance and touching heartfelt somethingorothers in general. But I have been thinking a lot about tradition, because it’s December and because I have reached a strange point in my existence, one where “tradition” is less the thing you do each year and more the thing you try to replicate now that key pieces are missing.
One of the lessons of my first married Christmas is that I do not cope well with change. It would be marvellous if every holiday went exactly as I’d like it to, but the annoying thing about traditions is that they tend to involve other people. Now that Nick is one of my people, I have to care about him too, even though he doesn’t do Christmas the way I want him to. One year real soon I am going to have to get over the fact that he never believed in Santa Claus. What do I care if he’s on the naughty list? I’m on the nice list, so I’ll be getting a gift this year. And maybe it’s still possible to stab some magic into his heart.
This year we lost my Grandpa. Grandpa was funny, a veteran of the Korean war, a proud Canadian, and probably the only good dancer in the gene pool. When he was young he looked like James Garner and was just as cool as Jim Rockford, at least to me. Every time I visited, he was just about to head off on some grand adventure, often driving. And making him proud was something I very much wanted to do; I won a scholarship from the Korean Veteran’s Association when I was 18, and he was literally pink with delight. I remember the rum drinks, and thinking about how I would have to walk to collect my award deliberately, without stumbling, because there were a lot of old men there, and cameras. When Grandpa poured the drinks the Coke was just for colour.
I adapted reluctantly to changes over the course of nearly a decade of Christmases, where one grandparent or the other was sick or had passed away; I remember cooking holiday feasts while my parents visited my mom’s dad in the hospital, or cramming shortbread in my mouth as Cuddles and Auntie Lynn and I snorted with laughter at the kitchen table over three decades of holiday gossip, remembering Grampa with humour. When my grandma Cuddles died, we adapted again. But as long as there was Grandpa, my dad’s dad, a piece of my smaller self’s Christmas remained intact.
This is the year when all the things are officially different – no grandparents will be at our dinner table. That doesn’t mean that Christmas will be any less magical (except it won’t be for Nick because he doesn’t believe in flying reindeer either), but it does mean that I am at a temporary loss for describing the traditions I’ve held for my whole life so far. I’ve celebrated a few this year and they have been as joyous as always, and I’ve made quite a few new ones.
Many of these new traditions are due in large part to the fact that there are small children around now, and because none of them are mine I don’t have to be an adult. Some are because of Nick and Nick’s family, where there are many more small children and where I am also not required (or expected?) to act my age.
And there is still Sandi, who I think of as Grandma and who is very much family, who was good to my Grandpa until the last, and who I will still make a trip out Pitt Meadows in the coming week to visit. I believe she’s spending Christmas with her kids this year.
So even though there is lots to look forward to this year, I’d like to also think about Grandpa and the past. And because I do most of my thinking in the kitchen, I’d like to share with you a recipe of his, the origins of which are “the radio.” He heard the recipe on the radio at some point a very long time ago, but as far as anyone’s concerned it’s his. It’s his like Continental Chicken and garlic sausage and cheese on crackers. It’s called, quite simply, “Grandpa’s Radio Pudding.” Make it for yourself if you could use a warm hug or a bit of holiday cheer.
Grandpa’s Radio Pudding
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. cocoa
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts (or chocolate chips)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tsp. melted butter or shortening
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 4 tbsp. cocoa
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 3/4 cups hot water
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, cocoa, baking powder, sugar, and nuts or chocolate chips. Stir in milk, butter or shortening, and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix cocoa, brown sugar, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.
Bake for one hour.
Serve hot, with ice cream or whipped cream.