This story from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank, is one of the favorites of readers of all ages.
I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas -Curt
Of all my Christmas memories and traditions, Christmas jelly is one of my favorites. Each year I receive this special gift from a very special lady in my life. Before I share what Christmas jelly is, let me share about the special person who gives it to me each year.
Eleanor Andrews is my neighbor in Dry Creek. For all of my life she has lived in the same house along Highway 113. Her house is easy to spot across the highway from the camp. It has the prettiest yard in our community. Her beautiful garden, flowers, and shrubs are examples of her love of gardening.
But Mrs. Andrews is more than just my neighbor and a lover of flowers. She is also my all-time favorite teacher. Mrs. Andrews taught fifth grade at Dry Creek High School and later at East Beauregard High. She taught practically every young person in Dry Creek for a period of a quarter century.
Now Eleanor Andrews was from the “Old School.” She was stern and took no gruff or lip off any student. Everything was rigid and “down the line” in her classroom. In her class there was no doubt that she was captain of the ship. She possessed a stare (made complete with her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek) that would stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks.
Her reputation preceded her; And she was just as strict as the older kids on the bus had described her to be when I sat in her fifth grade class. But I also saw something else: Beneath that gruff exterior were warm smiling eyes. She loved watching students learn and leading young people to new knowledge. During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. And now thirty years later, she still is.
Now let me get back to that Christmas jelly- Eleanor Andrews has been retired for many years and is much older and frailer than when she ruled the fifth grade at East Beauregard. Because of her health she doesn’t venture out much anymore. She lives alone in her house surrounded by her flowers and memories of a life filled with teaching and touching lives.
Each year a few weeks before Christmas I receive a phone call from Mrs. Andrews. She tells me “to drop by her house.” I know that the best Christmas present of the season is now complete- Christmas jelly is ready.
Before going I cut one of the Christmas trees from my farm. I’ve already tagged it weeks earlier. I have carefully chosen one that will meet her exacting standards. After loading this tree in my truck, I nervously drive to her home. I hope she will approve of my tree. Once again I feel as if I’m in the fifth grade waiting to hand in an important assignment.
As I enter her living room, she greets me with that special smile I’ve known over the years. Always when I’m in her presence she makes me feel as if I’m the most important person in the world- That’s why she’s always been my favorite teacher.
Into my arms she thrusts a basket of eight jars- all filled with homemade jelly. There are all of my favorites- muscadine, mayhall, even crabapple. Included are several jars of hot pepper jelly, and to top it all off, a Ziploc bag of chocolate “Martha Washington’s” sits on top of the basket.
I look at this assortment of homemade jelly and my mouth waters thinking about all the biscuits it will top off during the coming year. Oh, the joys of homemade jelly. As Mrs. Andrews happily examines her Christmas tree, she insists on paying for it. Laughing I say, “No way, the best deal I ever make each year is trading a tree for the best home- made jelly in Dry Creek.”
After we visit for a while, I leave with my arm load of jelly jars. As I get in my truck, I think about the art of giving. Emerson said it well when he stated, “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.” As I look at the colorful decorated jars of jelly, I’m once again reminded of what Christmas is truly about. It is all about giving- Giving of ourselves and sharing what we have. I’m so glad to live in a place where gifts such as Christmas jelly abound.