Walking Backwards for Christmas: Christmas Tea & Crackers

Walking Backwards for Christmas, Chapter 6, Part 2 — Between the Walls: Christmas Tea & Crackers

I wasn’t following this at all. “Wot walls?”

“There be a wall, fixed and immutable, between the living and the dead. It be one rare soul indeed as can exist fully formed on both sides of that wall. Some, like our Bethany here, can go back to the living as a ghost, in spectral form – fitfully even fully formed – but only consistently reside fully formed on the wall’s other side, in the spectral realms. Most, like me, can no longer manifest in the realm of the living at all.”

Christmas TeaWe began to walk back to the dining room as he continued.

“But, if the wall be fixed, Reggie,’tis also hollow. Not everywhere, mind, but in places enough. ’Tis a no man’s land, lad. No one can stay there for any real length of time. ’Tis a place where the living and the dead can meet with one another, at least for a short while. And ’tis where we are just now.”

“And the insoide o’ this wall – s’loike this?”

“It’s like whatever we want it to be, Reggie. Just now, you need a familiar place, and I need one where I know how to serve Bethany a proper Christmas tea. In over 300 years, she’s never had one, so I conjured one up, you might say, from my memories You can do that here.”

I looked at the spread on the dining room table.

To call this a “proper tea,” at Christmas or any other time, was definitely an understatement. This was it, the great-grandfather of them all, the Papa-oom-mow-mow of Christmas tea. There were no less than four separate, gigantic pots of tea: Earl Grey, Darjeeling and, in honor of the season, peppermint and apricot, the latter two spiked, I suspected, with peppermint schnapps and apricot brandy, respectively. Gramfer was indeed trying to make up 300 years of missed Christmas tea to Bethany all at one time. Interspersed amongst the teapots were large platters. I knew Gramfer must have tapped a lifetime of memories to come up with all the delights that they carried.

Given Gramfer’s love of pies, I was hardly surprised to see that the first platter was overflowing with tarts with every fruit filling known to humankind (with a particular abundance of berries). But I was surprised to find currant-filled Banbury cakes amongst them, more so to find birnbrot (tarts filled with dried fruit) and carac – carac, of all things – tarts filled with chocolate and cream and topped with fondant. I was astonished to see that the second platter was filled with nothing but Birmingham’s own Kunzle showboats, which I loved but which Gramfer had forbidden in the house when he was alive, although Grammer had pointedly ignored the prohibition and served them on Sunday teas. Each one a delightful dietary disaster consisting of sponge cake topped with flavored butter cream, all covered in a chocolate shell with piped chocolate crowning it all.

I was almost as surprised to find the third platter overflowing with, as Gramfer had called them, “The American Abomination”.  Chocolate chip tollhouse cookies, all sweetened with molasses.

A fourth platter had a candy cane in between each schneeball (snowball), a delicate white puff pastry with a crème filling laced with plum schnapps. A fifth had punsch rolls, cylindrical pastries with their ends dipped in chocolate and filled with cookies, butter, cacao and punsch liqueur and covered in green marzipan, which made Kunzle showboats look like health food. Interspersed between them were Russian teacakes, gingerbread and pfeffernusse. A sixth had chocolate covered orange and raspberry sticks, and a seventh Chelsea buns.

In the center of the table, surrounded by some brightly wrapped Christmas crackers, stood a mountain of croquembouche. Berries and choux pastry balls pressed into a cone and cemented with caramel. It was decorated with pipes of chocolate topped with gold, red and green Christmas ribbons. The mountain was flanked by a pair of Christmas puddings that emitted the tiniest but most constant of flames and were topped with small sprigs of holly.

I shook my head in amazement. “An’ this whole Christmas tea ‘ere – s’real?”

“Real enough,” Gramfer replied. “Every bit as real as you want it to be.”

Then I wan’ it real s’it can be,” I said with all heart I could muster.

“Alright then. You know what to do next, though I’m not sure Bethany does and I’m nearly certain yer young friend doesn’t.”

So I had each of us pick one of the crackers from the centerpiece. They were larger and heavier than they’d first appeared, as if they actually grew once we picked them up. I had everyone stand around the dining room table, cross his or her arms over the chest, each hand at the end of a cracker. We all pulled with both hands on the count of three, though the cracker belonging to each of us was in our respective right hands.


© 2014, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.