There are some traditions that begin with the birth of a child and some that end. The last time we held our annual Chili and Fudge party, Kim was six months pregnant with Elena. The year that Elena was born we just couldn’t get things together to hold it. I don’t remember – the kids were sick or something. The year after that went by and the tradition was gone.
Years ago, when I first worked under the name Fudge at WDMT I just loved coming in to work. Radio was one of those jobs where most of the talent was treated badly by management, most folks didn’t make a lot of money, but there was just something magic about it. I stood at a microphone in a little studio out in the middle of nowhere playing music for friends I’d never met.
By Christmas time I’d worked my way off of weekend overnights and was working the Saturday night club-style shift and the Sunday afternoon shift. Club-style was fun. Local club dj’s would come in with their stack of records and do some incredible live mixing on the air. Dean Rufus had come up with this as a way for us to broaden the music we played and to reach out to the community – it worked great.
I subbed Christmas morning to give the regular host the morning off to be with their family. I think I pretty much did that every year I worked in radio. This year I brought in a big tray of fudge I’d bought at Malley’s. I figured that all of the people who worked Christmas deserved a treat.
A year later I was working the morning shift with my partner Matt Morgan. Christmas was coming up and I’d worked under the name Fudge for long enough that there were people who didn’t call me anything else. I wanted to do something special for my friends but the Malley’s fudge had been pretty expensive and it wasn’t very personal.
I decided to make a couple of batches of fudge for my friends. I got the Kraft Marshmallow creme with the recipe on the back and made three pounds of plain and three pounds with nuts. I bought little gift boxes and wrapped up the fudge for a handful of friends and for my family and made a little card that I signed “Santa Fudge.”
Early Christmas morning I drove to each of my friend’s houses and left the little box by the front door. And then I went in to work.
And then I worried. What if they didn’t find the fudge. I’d left it by the front door but what if they went out their back door or went directly to their cars and just left? What if the paper boy thought it was for him and picked it up and took it with them?
One by one each of my friends called me at the station and thanked me for the fudge. My mother was the most surprised. How had I gotten the fudge out there? Who had I given it to? That year I had driven it out. It was my Christmas gift.
The following year, and for many years to come, I made six or more different kinds of fudge. In addition to plain, and nuts, I tried mint, orange, rum raisin, and a variety of other flavors. My favorites were always the mint and the orange. I added a Christmas poem to the tradition.
Each year, early early early Christmas morning I would load the fudge into my car and turn on Handel’s Messiah while delivering my homemade presents. Once I met Kim I would end at her parents house and then drive down to the GE Nela Park lights display before the sun came up.
After Kim and I were married for a year it became clear that I couldn’t leave her Christmas morning to deliver the fudge. She suggested a party. We thought about it a bit. You can’t just have people over for a party to eat fudge. You have to serve something substantial.
We decided to serve chili and put out all the fixings so that people could have it seven ways. We made a good beefy chili and served it with spaghetti, cheese, onions, peppers, olives, sour cream, oyster crackers and a host of other toppings. I cooked gallons of the chili ahead of time and froze them in plastic bags. People can’t come to a party and not bring food so the table was always overflowing with things to eat. No one ever had room for the fudge but there were to-go boxes for them to pack and take with them.
On Maggie’s first Christmas with us, people brought her gifts as well. That was the Christmas she received “meow one”, the ratty see through stuffed animal that she has loved to within an inch of its life. The next year Kim remembers her sitting all night in a brown chair looking wide-eyed at all of the people in her house.
The year after that Elena was nine months old. But no chili and fudge party.
We talked about bringing it back after we moved houses. But it seemed that everyone had a Christmas party and it was too hard to schedule yet another one. We talked about doing one for the Chinese New Year. We did a small one with some friends but never the big open house we’d had with the other party.
I’m told that my parents kept kosher til the day I was born. It probably would have happened a year or so later when we moved away from Boston to a small town in Ohio. Family traditions begin and end with births and deaths.