My late grandmother made this small nativity, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions. We had another casualty this year…the donkey fell off of the mantle directly onto the tile hearth, entirely missing the soft carpet directly in front of it. I was very lucky he broke into only three pieces. Some Gorilla Glue and poster paint later, and he looks nearly brand new. He looks significantly better than poor Mary, who suffered an identical fate nearly twenty years ago, on a mantle four houses and three states ago. I reconstructed Mary from many more pieces and no paint on hand, a job my husband labeled as hopeless. But the set means a lot to me, and you can’t have a nativity without the mother of God.

Unpacking the Christmas decorations every year is a walk down memory lane, but I look the most forward to the family pieces:  this nativity and another cheap plastic one from the same grandmother when I was very small; a ceramic lighted tree made by my other grandmother, and which will one day be my Christmas tree in my nursing home room; the lighted Christmas bells which hung over my grandparents’ door when I was very small, and now hang over ours; and the little wind-up Christmas carousel we found in my late aunt’s things when cancer took her way too early. If I ever die in a house fire, it will be trying to save the Christmas boxes.

Grandparents are special, and these things bring back many happy memories. They are all gone now, but I had the special blessing of knowing all four of my grandparents as an adult. There was grandpa who always happily made the effort to saddle up the horses for us kids to ride, and his feisty Irish wife; theirs was a true 60-year love affair. My other grandmother was an amazing cook, forever ruining me on store bought cookies and sweets. I easily turn my nose up and walk away from them to this day…compared to grandma’s, they’re not worth eating. But her husband, one of only two people to have shown me complete and unconditional love, was the one who made all the candy at Christmas. Peanut brittle and divinity and homemade caramel corn and both chocolate and peanut butter fudge. I never knew he was the candy maker until a couple of years ago…I always just assumed it was grandma. So again this year I’ll dig out the family recipes and think of where I come from. I’ll think of happy childhood memories, and I’ll miss these strong people who helped shape my life, giving me both roots and opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. I miss them, but a part of them lives on. Here are two of grandpa’s best recipes–you’ll be glad if you choose to give them a try. Happy holidays!

Peanut Butter Fudge

Bring 2 c. sugar and 2/3 c. milk to soft ball stage (until a small amount dropped into cold water forms a soft ball, generally after about 15-20 minutes of slow boil).  Quickly add in:

1 c. marshmallow creme 

1 c. peanut butter

1 t. vanilla

Pour immediately into foil lined 8×8 square pan, let set.

Grandpa Kaufman’s Caramel Corn

1 c. butter

2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. light corn syrup

1 t. salt

1/2 t. baking sofa

1 t. vanilla

6 qt. popped unsalted/buttered popcorn (about 1 1/2 c. unpopped or 3 microwave bags)

Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add baking soda and vanilla.  Pour over the popped corn in a large roaster, mixing well. Bake one hour at 250, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from pan quickly, before it sets up.  Cool completely, break apart.


About Kelly J. McCleary

Wife and mother of three, author, financial professional View all posts by Kelly J. McCleary

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