Pappaw’s hands were rough and strong from years of working on the pipeline. His skin had a reddish, bronzed, leathery look, thanks to Cherokee ancestry from generations past. He carried a metal lunch box to work, and always had pieces of bubble gum in it for us grandkids. He also had an endless supply of quarters. He would give us a quarter for opening and closing the gate as he drove his truck through, or for changing the channels on the TV. I think there were a whopping three channels back then.
I remember the way he hung his hat on a hook beside the door when he came in from work each day. Then he would sit in his chair at the table and use a boot jack to take his boots off and let his feet rest. After a few minutes of cooling off, he would put his boots and hat back on and head out to the garden or to the sawmill. He was the kind of man you’d never see in the kitchen.
Except in December.
Each December Pappaw filled the house with the aroma of peanut brittle. He would stir the syrupy concoction of peanuts, sugar and corn syrup in a large cast iron skillet until it was the perfect color. Then he would stir in the baking soda and pour it all out on the wooden chopping block in the middle of the kitchen. After it cooled he and Mammie would hit the hard golden peanutty mass with the back of a spoon, cracking it into bite-sized pieces.
One December Pappaw caught me moping around.
“Why are you down in the mouth?” He asked in his raspy smoker’s voice.
“It’s almost Christmas, and I don’t have anything to give my friends.” I told him. I never imagined he would offer a solution. “Why don’t we make them some peanut brittle?”
I eagerly agreed.
I was so honored that he would make some of his delicious peanut brittle for my friends and that he would ask me to help. Usually the grandkids had to leave the kitchen when Pappaw cooked. It never kept us from sneaking small pieces off the edges of the chopping block after it cooled. As honored as I was, I’m not sure I was very helpful. I sat on the counter, talking his ear off as he stirred.
“Want to make it a Christmas color?” He asked with a gleam in his eye. I nodded, excitedly.
The next day I proudly carried bags of green peanut brittle to school. I thought it was the prettiest peanut brittle in the world. Pappaw had always had my respect, but he won my heart with his kindness and Christmas Green peanut brittle.
Pappaw and Mammie are both gone, but their peanut brittle tradition continues with my family as each December our home is filled with the sweet aroma of peanut brittle and treasured memories.
Now my husband stands over the cast-iron skillet, waiting for the syrupy mixture to turn the right color. I help my children break the brittle into bite-sized pieces and memories from my childhood rush in. I tell them about Pappaw and our green peanut brittle. In those moments my children get a glimpse of this great man with rough hands and a tender heart.
Erin Ulerich writes about fighting for hope on her blog at erinulerich.com. She loves coffee, chocolate, ’80’s music, and words. She believes God uses life-giving words to encourage, strengthen, and even change the course of our lives. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter @ErinUlerich and Instagram as erin9844