Back-to-back stories on candy weren’t in my plans, but I found the idea too sweet to resist. Please forgive me for such an elementary pun. Sometimes, I can’t help myself. At other times I don’t try.
While writing last week’s column, a number of candy-related childhood memories came to mind. One I especially treasure was when our family visited in a home about a mile south of us.
Mr. Henry McWhorter and his wife, Miss Jewel, were a nice elderly couple, somewhat older than my parents. His brother and sister-in-law, Joe and Eunice, lived next door to them. All the McWhorters were friends of our family and had been since well before I was born. We saw them each Sunday at Harmony Baptist Church, and during the week at Joiner’s Store or passing along the road.
The McWhorter families lived in modest homes on their small family farm. The two brothers and their wives, who were sisters, were good-natured folks. Mr. Henry, who I saw most often, had a warm and ever-present smile. Perhaps it reflected his contentment with simple living, but I gave little thought to such things back then.
Only once do I recall visiting with Mr. Henry and Miss Jewel in their home. Maybe we went there on other occasions, but one night stands out for two reasons – peanut brittle and Cremora.
My mother is a wonderful cook and has baked her share of pound cakes and lemon pies. Peanut brittle, however, has never been in her regular lineup. Miss Jewel McWhorter, on the other hand, made peanut brittle that was hard to keep a lid on.
A friend and former co-worker of mine, Judy Daniels, makes marvelous peanut brittle using her Grandma Powers’ recipe. It’s perfect, like Miss Jewels’ was, perhaps because its origins date back to the same era. Judy’s brittle is packed with peanuts and doesn’t stick to your teeth. Stuck brittle isn’t a major problem if you’re eating at home, but it’s tough to handle in a crowd. It can be dislodged but your wife will be annoyed, and you’re likely to be struck from future guest lists. Word gets around.
I don’t have room to name all the renowned candy makers in Dooly County, but I can’t write about peanut brittle without mentioning one of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Ruth Cross. Someone, I don’t recall who, told me a few years ago about the bidding wars for Miss Ruth’s peanut brittle at an annual church auction. Her brittle brings top dollar for Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings at Unadilla First Baptist. Lottie would be pleased, I believe, to know homemade candy from Dooly County is helping send missionaries to share the gospel all over the world.
Miss Jewel’s peanut brittle was memorable enough I never forgot it. Plus, there was the thrill of being introduced to Cremora. That was my first experience with a powdered non-dairy creamer. Seeing it on TV was as close as I’d ever been. Our cow, Star, was from the old school and only gave liquid milk.
The coffee I drank during early childhood was loaded with sugar and cream. I don’t remember drinking it except at breakfast. The option of Cremora, however, left no doubt in my mind I was having coffee with Miss Jewel. The thought of living on the edge was too tempting to resist.
There’s no telling how much white powder and sugar I added to my cup. I kept shaking and stirring, transitioning my black coffee toward milkshake status. Whether I enjoyed it more than usual or not, I can’t say. What I remember is experiencing something new. It’s an odd memory, I suppose, to have stayed with me for sixty or so years, but sometimes little moments seem to last the longest.
Nothing special was going on that night at the McWhorter’s, just our family of four and the two of them spending time together. I think they had a wood-burning stove to heat the room, but that detail may belong to another place. Their home wasn’t fancy and there was not anything about the evening that seemed remarkable. Yet somehow that memory surfaces every now and then. And each time it does, I’m tenderly reminded of a lovely couple from long ago.
Cremora, I’ve often thought, is why I’ve continued to remember that night, and to some extent it is. But what I’ve grown to value most is a reminder that good fellowship doesn’t require an elaborate setting or extensive planning. It can be as simple as sharing a cup of coffee and peanut brittle. And sometimes we get an extra blessing from a memory that grows sweeter with time. No pun intended.