And there was FUDGE!
House after house offered a tray of flat little inch-wide pieces of fudge---the old-fashioned (fairly new then, I suppose) grainy kind, with a bit of moist sugary crunch in some pieces, like when you scraped the bottom of your cornflakes bowl as you spooned up a bite. The bits were enclosed in every twist and turn and fold of waxed paper known to woman. I think now how many a scrrrrritttch-and tear across the saw-teeth of the box, how many scissors-snips into squares and rectangles, the opaque little curves drifting to the table like the leaves outside, must have occurred all over town on those October afternoons.
The small packets varied in skill and care as well, ranging from hasty twists, unfurling in the basket to reveal small peeks of brown or butterscotch or plain old Pet Milk Peanut Butter, to precise neat folds like a valued present, crisply creased and secure.
Several local ladies “went all out” in their offerings---notably Mrs. Freeman, whose six boys were all grown and out of the house, for her big basket trays on the porch held one of our favourite things in all the world---fried pies.
Her maiden sister Miss Beatha had lived with them long as anybody could remember, and was one fine cook herself. The two sisters must have got going in that kitchen way before daylight, making up the dough and cooking those huge pots of dried apples into such a sublime filling. You could smell the wonderful scent of frying dough and sugar from two doors down at the Reed’s.
For politeness’ sake, we’d stand quietly in line as little old Mrs. Reed, her three strands of powdery pearls riding high up on the back of her neck from her hunched posture, stood beside a table with a round silver plate of candy, elegantly dropping a single sugar-crusted “orange slice” into each person’s bag with the sugar tongs; we uttered the requisite “Thank you, Ma’am,” and turned for the steps. Her daughter, the formidable Miss Reed, teacher of second grade and all things MANNERLY, stood chatting out front with some of the adults, keeping order all down the block, merely by dint of her presence. And ONLY that stern presence, perhaps, kept us from rushing the Freeman porch like water bursting a dam.
It seems to have always been daytime still when we lined up at that wide green porch, mostly because we all made a beeline for there first. There would be sweet Miss Beatha, picking up a neat square of brown paper from the pile she’d cut out of saved-up grocery bags, sliding it deftly under and around a pie, with that irresistible fragrance rising around all us impatient kids like praise to Heaven.
She’d hand you yours and you’d accept it with the heartiest thanks of the night, and take that first glorious warm bite before your feet left the steps. Those pies were the reason that many a Mama allowed the kids to take off before supper---they’d get fed SOMETHING good before all that candy. It was FRUIT, for Goodness’ Sake, after all.
I’m sure none of us gave a Minute’s thought to the hot, intensive labor that went on in that kitchen all day---the steaming pots in that still-hot southern climate, the rolling out and the cutting around a small saucer, the crimping of the edges, and the manning of several black skillets of bobbing, sizzling half-moons, all in various stages of Done and Ready To Turn. Then onto a tray of laid-out grocery sacks, for that last, gnat-enticing shower of Double X sugar.
We just accepted the sweet simplicity of that lovely gift, delivered warm and crisp and delicious into our eager, grubby hands. We held tight to our sacks, flipped up our masks or tried to avoid the painted-on charcoal or lipstick that magically transformed our faces into goblins and gangsters and fortune-tellers in big hoop earrings. And we bit into those sweet crusty handfuls of generosity, adding a taste of homey comfort to the excitement and the scary and the wonder of the night.