December 23, 2012

Popcorn good for trees and treats

Popcorn?” she asked. “Why would you write a column about popcorn?” My well-rehearsed answer: “Why not?” Kaye just shook her head and left the room. Not that she doesn’t support my efforts, but sometimes she is baffled at the mundane subjects I choose.

She inquired later how I came to head “off on that tangent.” I chuckled because that is the precise phrase my mother used when I was 10 and wanted to make popcorn balls for Christmas. I was always going off on tangents then and have never changed.

My late mother humored my “tangents” more often than not, and in the case of the popcorn balls, actually helped me gather the ingredients, make the balls and use food coloring to deck them out in different hues. I probably ate more than I hung on the tree, and that proclivity haunts me to this day.

“Babe,” as she was called, told me she and her six older siblings popped corn in a cast-iron skillet on the wood stove at Christmas when they were growing up in Monsey, N.Y. They used a needle and heavy thread to alternately string popped corn and cranberries to make garlands for their tree. She said they also made necklaces and bracelets that way. They gathered acorns and pine cones for decorations as well. Her older brothers would drill the holes in the acorns while the girls were already handy with the needle and thread.

When I was in my 50s, my mother sent me two remnants from those early days. One was a long string of sleigh bells; the other was a box containing old-fashioned colored light bulbs, carefully packaged amid cotton batten. They were made of paper-thin hand-blown glass and in the shape of animals. They were also hand painted and gorgeous. When I opened the box, it took my breath away. How had they survived from the early 20th century?

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