Sweeter Than Chocolate

Sweeter Than Chocolate, Small-Town Girl at Heart

When I was a child, Christmas was the most anticipated season of the year.  It couldn’t have been a happier time—with the setting up of the Christmas tree and decorations; the hours spent in the wet snow building snowmen, forts, and making snow angels; the evening drives gasping in awe at the splendid light displays; the indulging of candies, cookies, and other sweets; and most importantly, the anticipation on Christmas Eve to find out what gifts Santa will leave under the tree—all these created the high-spirited atmosphere and sheer excitement of the season.

But even at seven years old, I knew these weren’t the only things that made the season so special.  Times spent with family are my most cherished memories.  One Christmas in particular holds a special place in my heart.  It was the Christmas of 1992, the year I acted in my first play at church.  It was a beautiful Christmas Eve, crisp and clear with stars twinkling in the sky.  The play ended with a standing ovation and I beamed, excited that I had recited my six lines perfectly and on cue.  After the play, the Sunday School teachers gave each of their students a small gift before we were all bundled up and ushered outside into the raging blizzard that crept up on us during the play.

My Dad drove out of Niverville along PR 311 with the wipers furiously scraping across the windshield as grape-sized snowflakes splattered against it. He thrust his head out the open window because the wipers couldn’t keep up with the downpour of snow.  The sky and the road suffocated our little car in a wall of snow, like being trapped in a net of white bed sheets and unable to find an exit.  What seemed like hours later, but were merely minutes, Dad accepted defeat and turned around on the highway, barely eluding the soft drifts at the shoulder of the road that attempted to suck our little car into the ravenous black mouth of the ditch.

He drove blindly back into town with the four of us kids in the backseat, bundled in our winter coats, ski pants, hats and mittens like puffy blue and pink snowmen.  We held our breaths, struck utterly quiet by the fearful darkness of the storm.

The warmth and glow of Grandma and Grandpa’s tiny house embraced us into safety out of the raging storm.  Grandma set out a platter of sweets with rosebuds, macaroons, footballs, eggs, gummy oranges, and jelly beans.  We stuffed ourselves on candy and chocolate, mandarin oranges, peanuts, candy canes, and Pepsi.  I cradled the Barbie doll and package of Excel peppermint gum from my Sunday School teacher as I savoured the chocolates from the box of Toffifee Grandma had wrapped and given to each of us, and I watched my family crowded at the table, their laughter drowning out the howling wind outside.  That night I knew I would have been happy with just a pack of gum, as long as I was with my family safely out of the storm.

We all settled down for sleep after midnight with the storm still raging outside and 10 people crammed into the tiny house—my grandparents in the living room with my brother on the floor at the foot of their bed; my auntie on the kitchen floor beside the sink; and upstairs, my uncle in his room; and my parents, my two sisters, and myself in the conjoining room with four of us crammed into one bed and my baby sister in the crib.  We were like the Whos from The Grinch who Stole Christmas, cozy and warm with our bellies full.

The storm dissipated in the night, leaving an aftermath of blinding whiteness that blanketed the earth, with the humpbacks of cars sticking out of snowdrifts in the ditch and the side of the road like disoriented beetles that lost their way.  The biggest surprise on Christmas morning when we drove home were the presents sitting on the couches with our names on them.  Mom said Santa made it through the storm after all.

That Christmas became the start of a new tradition for the next fifteen years with Christmas Eve spent at my grandparents’ house after the Christmas play.  Every year, Grandma set out her red and white Tupperware platter filled with sweets and served peanuts and mandarin oranges as we stole candy canes off the tree and drank Pepsi until we were all exploding from sugar-overload.  Then she gave each of us our Christmas Eve gift—a wrapped box of Toffifee for the kids and Turtles for the adults, sometimes with a twenty-dollar bill stuffed inside.

Both my grandparents have since passed away and we are now beginning to start our own family traditions, but one important thing that I have carried with me since that cold, stormy Christmas Eve in 1992 is that no matter how hard the blizzard raged outside, I was warm and safe inside and my family was right there beside me.

Now as I open a box of Toffifee and let its sweetness melt on my tongue, I recall those Christmas Eves at my grandparents’ house filled with laughter and warmth, and I know that the love of my family is sweeter than chocolate.

Copyright © 2011, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Originally published as an honourable mention in the December 22, 2011 edition of The Carillon 

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