In the middle of Mass, Squints leaned towards me and whispered. “Mom, what’s Black Friday?”
I leaned back. Whispered bullet points. “Day after Thanksgiving. Everything goes on sale.”He chewed on this for awhile before asking,“Is that a Holy Day?”
I turned towards him. “Where would you get that idea?”
“Well, at the stores, there are signs on the windows for Christmas and Black Friday so I…”
“It’s not a Holy Day.”The day after Thanksgiving, we will not hold a vigil outside the store, waiting for gleaming doors to glide open and admit us. No, we will spend the day after Thanksgiving in our usual manner. The day after Thanksgiving, we will dip caramels.
My sister has already prepared several batches of caramel: melting copious amounts of sugar and stirring in ingredients I’m not allowed to reveal here. As I write this, the caramel waits in rectangular baking dishes for warm hands to soften it and remove it from the pan. The caramel waits for warm hands to shape it into bite-sized pieces. The caramel waits for its thick shell of chocolate.We’ve fallen into a pattern: Three or four of us will shape the caramels; Two or three will dip. A runner will take cookie sheets full of glistening caramels to the dining room to cool and harden.
Cousins, together again at last, will talk and laugh and catch up. Occasionally, a younger cousin will be recruited to grab a handful of caramels from the dining room and pass them around. Orthodontist recommendations will be ignored. We will work for several hours in this way, dipping and talking and sampling a caramel or two. When the caramel is gone, we will move on to peanut clusters. And sometime after noon, my sister will begin cooking the several hundred pierogi (another secret family recipe) she also made in the weeks before Caramel Day. For the second day in a row, we will overeat, stuffing ourselves with brats and pierogi and caramel, of course.
No, Squints, Black Friday is not a Holy Day. But Caramel Day is sacred. We shape our lives around around this day. After lunch, we will clean up and pack up the candy and head home to hide the candy from our children. Because that candy will become Christmas gifts. Teachers receive candy. Neighbors receive candy. Relatives and friends receive that candy. In late October, past recipients of this treasure begin making their inquiries: “Are you making candy this year?” People have come to expect it. And if their box is a bit smaller than last year’s, they will not hesitate to let you know. That candy has become legendary.
I do not give it away lightly.
* * *
After Mass, we ate breakfast, and, on this day of rest, Squints and my husband set out to rake leaves.
An hour later, Squints came in. “Whew, I’m beat.” He took out a saucepan and measured out milk. “Seven bags, Mom. Well, really only six because we had to fill one twice. The wind blew it over and everything spilled out.” He turned on the gas and added cocoa power and too much sugar to the milk. He stirred.The woman who lives behind us emerged, rake in hand. She raked for a few minutes then lifted a small handful of leaves into the bag.
Squints added his secret ingredient—peppermint sprinkles—to his cocoa.The woman’s bag blew over.
“Squints,” I said, watching him take a taste of his cocoa and smacking his lips. “Look there.” I pointed. “Wouldn’t it be nice to go help her rake leaves?”He looked at me. Frowned. “I just…”
“Who knows? Maybe you’ll land a lawn service job.”He set the spoon down. “You think she’d pay me?”
“I’ll keep an eye on your cocoa.”“OK.”
“Don’t expect any money.”"I won't. He shrugged his coat back on and headed outside. I watched him approach, rake in hand. I watched her pause, rake poised above the leaves. I could hear Squint’s voice in my head. Want some help?
I watched a smile blossom across her face. I watched my son raking leaves for a woman he’d never met. I watched two people, separated by half a century come together in a trivial task. I wondered why it had taken me seven years to figure this out.Forty-five minutes later, Squints came home, grinning from ear to ear. “She was so happy, Mom! You should’ve seen her.” He raised his voice a notch. “I never thought I’d get three bags filled today! I’m so pleased! And look…” Squints fished around in his pocket and withdrew a folded bill. “She paid me!” He poured out his cocoa and sat down to drink it.
“I told her about Destructo.” He paused, looking out the window. “She’s a cat person. She’s been feeding those wild cats. They live beneath her porch.” I nodded.
“She told me she’d ring my doorbell the next time she needed help.” He dipped his spoon into his cocoa. “She’s really nice, Mom. And she seems lonely. I think we should have her over for dinner.”I paused. I wanted to help a neighbor, but dinner? “Well, at least we can make her a box of caramels.”
“Oh, yeah. I told her all about that. She’s expecting some this year.” He patted his pocket to make sure his money was still there and finished his cocoa in silence.
For more about Caramel Day...This post has been linked to Love Links
Labels: Boys, Community, Consumption, Family