Yesterday's Magazette

7 – Simply Delicious

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By Madonna Dries Christensen

Christmastime surrounds us with a potpourri of scents: fresh pine, gingerbread, eggnog, cinnamon, pumpkin pie, and a plump turkey stuffed with sage dressing roasting in the oven. In church, trailing clouds of incense smoke mingles with the inexpensive perfumes and shaving lotions children gave their parents as gifts. That special blend can be intoxicating, often overpowering, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

For me, the definitive scent of Christmas is apples. It drifts toward me from the 1940s, reminding me of a time when life was far different than it is today, when simple gifts were ever so special.

Just before Christmas each year, Uncle Bud stopped by our house with a wooden crate of apples, his gift for the family. He also brought a bottle of brandy, and the two brothers sat down to sip and visit and smoke cigarettes. My dad’s were hand rolled, using Prince Albert tobacco. Uncle Bud’s were store bought and tucked into a cigarette holder.

The crated apples were as tempting to us kids as those in the Garden of Eden surely had been to Adam and Eve. These apples were not only tempting, they were forbidden fruit. Poppy always stashed the box under his and Ma’s bed in the downstairs bedroom, and we’d been told that we could not help ourselves. Given free rein, we would have gone through those apples like a horde of grasshoppers in a cornfield.

It’s not that we never had fruit. We had an apple tree in the backyard, which bore tasty produce after we cut around the worm holes and bruises caused by a fall to the ground and where birds and squirrels and ants and bees had feasted. But summer had long passed in rural Iowa and with it the fruits of the season. The Christmas apples were special; perfect, uniform in size, each the same shade of red, shiny and polished, and each nestled in a Prussian blue tissue paper blanket.

Poppy doled out the apples as bedtime treats, cutting them in half with his pocket knife to stretch them further. A half apple was better than none, and we were not disappointed in our nightly share. We broke through the rind, sank our teeth into the pulp and gnawed our way to the core and seeds. Each crisp and savory bite lived up to the name Delicious.

My sister and I saved the blue wrappers, first ironing them and then using them to make Christmas decorations or paper doll dresses. We tucked a few tissues into drawers for a sweet sachet. Later we lined Easter baskets or May baskets with them. Now and then, a hint of cidery fragrance hung in the warm, dry, indoor air of winter and early spring.

It was apple harvest time in Virginia, where I lived when I received word that Uncle Bud had died. Miles and years removed from the place and time when I was a child, the aroma of his gift wafted over me.

Writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” The scent of apples remains a comforting Christmastime memory, evoked when today’s hectic pace and focus on expensive gifts makes me yearn for the simplicity of an era long past.

Madonna lives in Sarasota, Florida. She’s the author of Swinging Sisters and Masquerade: The Swindler Who Conned J. Edgar Hoover. Web site: http://www.madonnadrieschristensen.com

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