The year was 1972.
The plan for Christmas was for my brother, Wayne Nichols, his wife, Diane, and their 2.5-year-old son Kenny to come home to Erma from Rome, N.Y. and celebrate with us; us being our grandparents, Hazel and Clarence Nichols, and our mother, Anna Brennan and two other siblings, plus me.
They arrived Dec. 22 and the family started right in for the holiday, enjoying meals and the fun at our grandparent’s house.
It was great to have a young child to enjoy Christmas with and have him help to set the trains up that ran around under the tree and share with him the fun of preparing for Christmas Day. We all were so happy and excited.
Then, Dec. 23, my brother, Wayne, Kenny’s dad, started to feel sick. “It’s just from traveling,” he said. “I will be fine tomorrow.”
Well, the next day we all started to feel sick, including Kenny’s mom, my mom, and the grandparents. I was 13 years old at the time and although I had a headache and a queasy stomach, I was great compared to all the adults. Of course, Kenny was leaping around and wanting to go outside and sled and play.
So, everyone went to bed very early and wanted to recover for Christmas Eve. They did not… they woke up sicker and no one wanted to eat or decorate or visit or move, except 2.5-year-old Kenny. He was full of energy and hungry and excited. So I, the most well of all the sick family was assigned child care, and at noon on Christmas Eve, it was decided to cancel Christmas dinner and any other activity that required alertness or eating.
We called the neighbors, Elsie and George Schetler, and canceled them coming to Christmas dinner. She would always bring a black walnut cake with fluffy sweet icing, but no one could think about looking at or tasting it.
None of the side dishes were made, no peanut butter stuffed dates or other treats and the delicious roast pork with oven brown potatoes that our granny lovingly made never went into the oven.
My mother, Anna, stayed at her house, too sick to drive the mile to her mom’s house, and on the phone, she complained about the dog jumping up on the bed and the motion making her even sicker. She did not even want to think of dinner.
The 13-year-old aunt, me, and the happy and excited child, Kenny, set out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer and also snuggled in bed and listened for sleigh bells and perhaps the sound of hooves walking on the roof. We also heard some coughing, moaning and snoring throughout the house.
Christmas morning was more of the same with sick adults flopped here and there and Kenny unwrapping and playing. Most went back to bed.
Finally, Kenny declared he was hungry and I was hoping that a simple bowl of cereal would satisfy him and we could play a game and even take a nap. I was fine with watching him eat but then he asked for some grapefruit sections and the thought of them in the stomach on top of the milk weakened my well feeling and so I said, “That is to eat tomorrow.”
I was starting to feel ill again when he quietly asked for apple juice instead. I was thankful for that miracle.
A few days later, recovery was beginning and crackers, toast, and tea were the only things served.
My brother and his family had to return home. News of the London Flu was in the headlines. Even for New Year’s all the folks were just eating light and resting. We would not be having a make-up Christmas dinner that year.
Not such a Merry Christmas story, but at least we were still all together and for that one time, we all agreed on what to do.
The recipe that follows is an amazing taste treat. Made with black walnuts, not English walnuts, and spread with fluffy caramel frosting. It is old fashioned and quite memorable.
My wish for all is a safe, exciting, and “well” Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Black Walnut Pound Cake
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped black walnuts
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour and baking powder; add alternately to creamed mixture with milk and extracts, beating on low speed just until combined. Fold in nuts.
2. Pour into a greased and floured 10-in. tube pan. Place in a cold oven. turn the oven on to 325° and bake cake for about 1 hour 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely.
3. Spread with Caramel Frosting
Easy Caramel Frosting
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a large cast-iron skillet, or heavy sauce pan, bring sugars, milk and butter to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute.
2. Remove from heat. Pour into a heat-safe mixing bowl.
3. Carefully beat with an electric mixer at high speed until icing reaches spreading consistency, about 15 minutes. Yikes!
4. Stir in vanilla. Spread on cooled cake.
Frosts 2 (8-inch) round cake layers or one Bundt cake.
Jargowski writes from Court House.