When someone in the grocery store says, “I loved your column,” I never ask which one. I did once, they said, “last week’s,” and neither of us could remember what I wrote.
So much for a lasting impression.
Then, just before Christmas, a package arrived, and I realized some folks do remember.
The remembered column was one I wrote last Christmas. It was about my efforts to find raisins-on-the-stem for my Aunt Anne. Raisins-on-the-stem had been her father’s traditional Christmas gift to her, and in Depression Alabama, that was quite a gift. When her father died, she knew, come Christmas, there would be no raisins.
But on Christmas morning, the raisins were there. My father, her big brother, had taken up the tradition.
The next year, the same.
So it continued. When my daddy went off to war, he asked my mama to take some of her precious ration stamps, buy raisins-on-the-stem and send them to a now grown-up Anne so she would know that her brother remembered.
Every year, no matter where he was or what he was doing, my daddy would go out, find the raisins and mail them to his sister.
There wasn’t anything particularly ceremonial about it. It was just between them, and because it was, with a bit of Christmas memory, it could also be between daughter and her daddy as well.
Daddy did this for 70 or more Christmases.
Until he didn’t.
Daddy died Dec. 18, 2010.
But the tradition did not die with him.
My mama, despite all that was going on, found raisins-on-the-stem, wrapped them and sent them.
But last year it looked like the tradition, and the memories it held, would finally come to an end.
We were well into December and no raisins-on-the-stem could be found.
Despairing, I began writing a column as a cry for help, a call to all of you that as you shopped for the season, if you saw raisins-on-the-stem, please let me know.
And then, just as I was about to publish my plea, Mama called. Her friend, Mrs. Fuller, had found them.
So once again, Aunt Anne had raisins-on-the-stem on Christmas morning, just as she had every Christmas she can remember.
And she knew that her daddy is still with her. And so was her brother. And so were we all.
This year, I again was on the raisin-on-the-stem hunt. Aunt Anne is in an assisted-living facility now, and it just seemed more important than ever that we get the treat for her.
But I was coming up blank. So was Mama.
Then the package arrived. It was from a man named Robert Thompson, who lives down in Mobile.
“I kept your article from last Christmas season,” he wrote (it had been reprinted in the Mobile Press-Register). “It brought back bittersweet memories of my own youth back in the ’30s.”
He went on to tell me how he was born in 1928, “was raised on a hardscrabble cotton farm in Georgia,” and how things back then “were quite poor in my family.” Yet, on Christmas morning, “it seemed there was always some raisins-on-the-stem that somehow showed up.”
So, he continued, “just in case you have trouble finding them again this year … enclosed are some raisins-on-the-stem to ensure that Aunt Anne gets her traditional gift.”
How did he know?
But at Christmas, miracles happen all the time.
So I telephoned Mama. “Call off the hunt. The raisins are here.”
Then I packed up one box of raisins and sent it to Daddy’s baby sister by priority mail.
I kept the other box — he sent two — and on Christmas morning it was under our tree, just to remind us of all the good things that happen to us.
His letter closed with, “I hope you and your family and especially Aunt Anne have a wonderful Christmas.”
Thanks to you, Mr. Thompson, we did.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.