Friday, December 4, 2009

Peanuts and the Poverty Bench Boys

A Christmas tradition that has always occupied a special place in my heart is actually one that isn't around anymore, but the memory of it is still crystal clear. Until I was in college, the question "Where are we going for Christmas?" was never uttered. It was a given we would head to Granny and Grandpa's in their sleepy little mountain town that, to me, encompassed all that is Christmas, and, for a long time, I was sure was the inspiration for the majority of our classic Christmas carols.

As a kid, Christmas Eve was the night to get dressed in our finest and attend the annual Christmas program and party. After the primary children finished their Nativity program and the closing prayer was offered, a distant jingling was barely audible but loud enough to send the children into fits of cheering. A big "Ho ho ho!" and in one fell swoop, the chairs were pushed to the perimeter of the church gym and a line formed to wait patiently (not) to voice our wishes to Santa. Afterward, Santa would send us on our way with our paper sack of goodies: a delectable collection of chewy-sugared-orange-slice candy, little square blue hard candies that were supposed to taste like mints but were more like menthol cough drops, and lots and lots of peanuts in the shell. Too impatient to break open the shells one by one, we found it worked faster to put our paper sacks on the wood floor and stomp. Wallah! Shelled peanuts!

All while this went on, parents looked on and an old-time band called the Poverty Bench Boys plunked away at familiar Christmas tunes for everyone to dance to. Those guys seemed pretty ancient back then, but they managed to come back year after year to strum their guitars, pick their banjos, pluck their base fiddles and play their accordians. This is the only occasion I remember my dad dancing, but faithfully he was there to be my dance partner for at least one song. The photo's pretty fuzzy, but look closeley and you can you see my pure delight in hanging on to my handsome daddy for a short time. This has to be one of my all-time favorite photos.

Sadly, this tradition is one that has fizzled over the years for one reason or another. I haven't made the effort to verify the why's, when's, or who's or to fill in any gaps because I want the memory to remain that of a girl who, for one night, felt the magic and excitement of an old-fashioned Christmas.

And now, something to share. Traditionally, we have bicuits and gravy for Christmas breakfast, so here is the recipe for the biscuit mix, just like my Granny's that she kept up on the shelf in a big blue glass Ball jar. It's super yummy, except I've not mastered it entirely. No matter what I do or how much my biscuits look just like hers, there is some kind of Granny magic she put in there that made them taste better.

Biscuit Mix
9 cups flour
3 TB baking powder
1 TB salt
1/4 c. sugar
2 cups shortening

Mix all dry ingredients well. Cut in shortening to make a coarse meal texture and store in closed container. Take out desire amount of mix and combine with milk to make a soft, sticky dough. Turn out onto floured surface, roll gently to 1/2" thick and cut into round biscuits. Place on greased pan and bake at 400 for 20 minutes until golden brown.


  1. Those are great memories!!! Even though I don't remember as much as you did I still think of that little town as a magical place. And especially at Christmas.

  2. Jen--I am sobbing uncontrollably! I love that you took our memories and put it down so that I could think back and reminisce today. I miss those Christmases so much. You forgot to mention the good chocolates in the bag--usually a white center, mint flavored. Those were the best. I hated those blue ones! Love the picture of you and dad. So long ago.