COLUMNISTS

The mood of Christmas lingered on for weeks because of those peanuts

Justin Isherwood
Special to the Wisconsin State Farmer
For a week, two weeks, three weeks after Christmas we loaded our pockets with peanuts. Every chore, nice weather or foul, snow, sleet of blinding blizzard we had our peanuts.

My grandfather Eugene Fletcher reduced Christmas to its essence. Being a humble man, he didn't mean to reduce Christmas to its essence but he did it anyway. He didn't buy presents, no greeting cards, no peppermint candy. What he did buy was a barrel of peanuts, maybe only a half barrel but still a lot of peanuts. 

Peanuts do grow in Wisconsin, just not very good ones. Their growing season is about 140 days, a full 40 days beyond the standard Wisconsin dose. That doesn’t acknowledge those years when standard doesn't happen. 

Every Christmas our grandfather bought a barrel of Georgia peanuts and on Christmas day, he gave each of his grandchildren a big paper sackful. This was the extent of his Christmas tom-foolery, leaving to Uncle Curtis to ruin our souls with BB guns, jackknives and Red Hots, a gumball confection that burned a hole through your cheek from the inside out, or at least that was the sensation.  

The sack of peanuts was pretty much a letdown but Uncle Curtis came through with firecrackers, bottle rockets, invisible ink and x-ray glasses. A sack of peanuts, what sort of Christmas is that? Plain roasted peanuts, not even salted in the shell peanuts, our Grandpa Fletcher gave us peanuts.

What we had failed to allow for was the latitude of our fate, being farm kids, that any attempt to detoxify our winter chores by taking along Christmas treats was doomed to failure. 

The lemon drops, the cinnamon hots, the pillow candy, this cherished supply we stashed in our pockets so to raise the demeanor of evening chores. Candy as soon resembled small furry animals that were with some difficulty extracted from our pockets. 

Depending on which pocket determined the taste of the candy. Oil rags, nuts and bolts, Golden Eye BBs, firecrackers, pipe dope, bag balm ... I do know why there isn't a big call for hard candy tasting of Doctor Zeimer's sulphanated bag balm. 

Our grandfather Eugene Fletcher understood the solution was peanuts, but this detail took awhile to sink in. It was embarrassing to get caught red-handed with your pants off hammering at rock candy that had become real rock. 

For a week, two weeks, three weeks after Christmas we loaded our pockets with peanuts. I did mention it was a big bag of peanuts? Every chore, nice weather or foul, snow, sleet of blinding blizzard we had our peanuts. 

Eventually we learned that superlative trick of putting a whole peanut in our mouth and shucking it unaided, then the luxury of spitting out the shells. I don't know what is gratifying about spitting out peanut shells but it is.

Eventually we emptied our peanut bags and Christmas was over. But the mood of Christmas had lingered on for three weeks because of those peanuts. I don't yet know if this was our grandfather's point or if he just had a thing for peanuts. 

He wasn't the kind to say either way, just as I never knew whether he voted Democrat or Republican, but my grandfather, Eugene Fletcher, lived second place east of Maynard's Corner, the stone barn, white house, wood-fired stove.