When I was a child, my family gave the best Christmas presents. In fact, we were famous for our gifts. On the days my brother and I would walk through our school and church giving out boxes, suddenly we became popular! Eyes would lighten up and mouths begin to water because the famous Gewe Christmas candy was making its rounds.
Ever since I can remember, my family made candy to give out to others. It began with a couple types of candy, given to our pastors and Sunday school teacher. Likely no more than five boxes and two or three types of candy. By the time I finished 8th grade, at the peak of our candy enterprise, we were handing out about 30 boxes of candy filled with homemade peanut brittle, butterscotch fudge, chocolate fudge, marshmallow caramels, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, and butterscotch brownies. We never seemed to drop names from our gift list. After all, former teachers were still good friends at the small school where my mom also taught. We just added the names of our new teachers and Sunday school teachers.
One of my earliest candy memories was giving a box to my kindergarten Sunday school teacher, who took her box home, which was across the street from our church, before Sunday school and had to run home before the service to grab another nibble of the butterscotch fudge. She had no idea what it was but knew it was her new favorite treat! My brother always delighted in delivering a box to the church director of facilities, a wonderful, funny now-deceased man who made a big deal over his box of candy, which he was so excited over.
My best memories of the Gewe candy making tradition was the time my parents, brother, and I got to spend together. I can remember our assembly lines to dip the peanut butter balls in chocolate and the rush to get to the caramels as soon as the candy had cooled down enough that we could possibly touch it in order to wrap it around the marshmallows before it cooled too much to be malleable. We were making presents for others, but we received the gift of lifetime family memories as a result.
In addition, we learned that the best gifts come from our heart and not our wallets. By making our gifts, we showed others we cared enough about them to give them a gift of our time and not just a quick run to the mall. This is a tradition I continue today in making most of my presents for loved ones instead of purchasing them. People seem to cherish these handmade, personalized gifts more than anything I might buy.
But the memory I cherish the most is from my high school biology teacher. With 7 different teachers each, it was too much work for my family to give candy to each of my high school teachers. However, my biology teacher was having a particularly bad Christmas. Her husband was dying of stomach cancer that had spread to his bones and was in extreme pain. So to express our love towards this special woman, my mother and I put together a bag of caramels for Mrs. Smith. She didn’t return until February because her husband finally passed in January, and she made a point of stopping me to thank me for the candy. She told me that in his final days, her husband could not eat. But there was one exception. The caramels were so soft and gooey that he could manage to chew them, and the delicious taste was enough to get him to eat this treat. This touched me so much to know that our gift eased the final days of a beloved teacher’s husband.
This is one family tradition that impacted me, teaching me the value of gifts from the heart and hands instead of just the wallet, and also giving me many happy memories over the years of time spent with my family making our famous candy and getting to give it out to those we loved.