My mom could do almost anything. If she didn’t already have the skill, she learned from her Extension Club, or she got a book from the library, or she looked it up in the encyclopedia. Sometimes Mom just plain rolled up her sleeves and gave it her best shot. One thing she never mastered was fudge. We called it “Spoon Fudge” or “Freezer Fudge”, when I was a little girl. That fudge and a mystery helper got me and my sisters in big trouble one evening. It was enough to make a saint say “Oh, Fudge.”
The recipe for Rich Cocoa Fudge was on the back of the Hershey Cocoa box. Hershey Cocoa is super-bitter, not good and chocolaty sweet like Nestle’s Quik, which makes the very best chocolate; you can put that stuff straight in your mouth, and hold it there for a couple of second and then blow chocolate smoke out of your mouth. Hershey’s Cocoa is for making things, like brownies and cake and fudge, so you have to add your own sugar. Anyways, Mom showed me how to mix all the ingredients together and bring it to a boil, always stirring in a figure eight. That’s important, otherwise the milk part gets scorched to the bottom; milk scorches easy. I had to be super-patient for the next part: getting to the soft ball stage. You gotta let one drop go in a cup of cold-cold water and a soft ball forms in the bottom. Sometimes we got it right, but most the time, even Mom, who could do everything, misjudged exactly what a soft ball looked like. Maybe after all that stirring, blobs on the bottom of a cup of cold water started to look like balls, when they were really just blobs.
Next, the fudge cooled in the pan to 110°F and then beaten to a pulp. Mom didn’t have a candy thermometer, so that part was a guess. She poured the cool, beaten mixture into a pan, and in the fridge it went to harden up, which was mostly never, so eventually the fudge pan went into the big chest freezer out on the back porch. That’s where Mom kept all the meat wrapped in white freezer paper that used to be one of our cow and the frozen raspberries from Grandma’s and the bread from the day-old place in the City.
Mom told me to leave that fudge alone and let it sit quiet until Mom took it out of the freezer. Still, lots of times, I gave it a quick check, just to see if it was ready. I was on the way out the door anyways, so it was no big deal to just give that freezer door a quick up and down, poking my finger in the fudge quick as lightning. It was never ready. Sometimes the fudge was all grainy with sugar crystals; sometimes it was stretchy like melted plastic. Perhaps Deanna showed me how to test the fudge; for sure I showed Bonita, maybe she showed somebody else; maybe Vickie and Julie knew how.
The evening of the troubles, Company was over: Dad’s good friends Hal and Rosalind from way back in the olden days, before Mom and Dad got married and their two kids, Janet and Gordon. It was summertime. We played Piggy-in-my-Pen outside waiting and waiting for somebody to call us in for watermelon and some of Mom’s fudge. There’s nothing better than eating watermelon outside in the hot summer ’cause you can taste green at the same time you smell it all around, coming out of the grass and blowing off the clover and timothy field. All those shades of green had different tastes, too: watermelon rind is juicy sweet, and alfalfa is bitter-sweet, and of course clover taste like honey.
Just like most times, Mom had the fudge setting-up in the freezer. That’s what took so long to get our treats. Finally, finally, a spoonful of fudge and a piece of watermelon. The fudge never did set-up and for some reason, it tasted kinda plasticky; well, it was more of a plastic feel than a taste, but sometimes a certain feel can make me smell and taste things. I never knew there was trouble brewing inside Mom, until Company went home and all the little kids were in bed. The Big Kids got put in The Line-up. That’s when I knew Mom was getting to the bottom of something.
“Who spilled the fudge in the freezer?” she asked all calm. Four sets of eyes got super-big and round, and every one of us said, “Not me.” Next we had to prove we could reach where the fudge sat. Of course I could, so could Deanna, and Bonita could just reach it, if her feet were sticking straight up out of the freezer. Vickie’s eyes got those tears standing on the edge of the lid, which made them look ten times bluer and at least twice as big, and her mouth made that super-sweet, rosebud pout.
“I can’t reach.” she said, and the tears spilled out in little rivers. She got released from The Line-up.
“Okay, one more chance to tell the truth,” Mom said. No one fessed up, ’cause none of us tipped the fudge.
“All right, every one of you gets a spanking,” Mom said. “Because somebody did it.” She went through the line a couple of times, each time begging the guilty girl to confess their sin, and spare the others.
“Maybe it was Julie,” somebody said. I don’t even remember that part, but Julie does, cause she was a Little Kid, way littler than Vickie. Julie just about disappeared into that freezer before she touched where the fudge mess was all sticky and frozen like strips of plastic against the white butcher paper. Back to The Line-Up we all went. Still no confession.
“Okay, go to your room and talk it over. We’ll do this all night if we have to.” Mom said, crunching down hard on her back teeth, so it sounded like she was chewing on gravel. The four of us went upstairs, ’cause now Julie was in The Line-up. Nobody did the deed. So back downstairs we went again for another round of spankings.
“Okay, I did it.” Deanna said. Dad got hopping mad, ’cause we all got so many spankings before the guilty person confessed. He grabbed the paddle, and lit into Deanna’s behind with all his might. Me and Bonita and Julie just stood there afraid to even cry.
Back upstairs we went. “Did you really do it?” I asked Deanna, ’cause just a few minutes ago she said, “no-way,” to me and Bonita. She was kneeling beside the bed saying her prayers, and taking an extra long time at it.
“Shut up.” was all she said to me. She got into bed, turned her back to me and said, “No.”
That’s when we got our thinking caps on to solve the mystery. It must’ve been Janet. She saw us check the fudge. She must’ve done it and never told about the mistake, ’cause she could just go home and no one would be the wiser.
We figured out a plan for The Line-up. If we all agreed no one did the deed, someone volunteered to confess. Lots of times that was Vickie, ’cause she got in the least trouble, anyways. Sometimes Mom and Dad even forgot she was a Big Kid. Of course if I did the deed, I confessed, ’cause lying is a sin, and if you lie and do something wrong, double-trouble, even if it’s not a mortal sin, extra time in Purgatory is no good for anyone’s soul.
As a child, I was spanked. Not often, but yes, my parents believed in corporal punishment. I suppose “freezer fudge” is one reason I understand that torture is ineffective. Mom says she learned some things that night: Trauma creates an indelible memory, she hears this story way too many times; truth can be elusive as all get-out, the stories gets better each time; and love outweighs a whole lot of mistakes and misjudgments. Still, us kids learned how to do a little problem solving and we learned how to implement some active prevention. Skills that still serve me well.
As for Janet, I can’t think of fudge without thinking of her. Maybe she was guilty, and maybe she was a convenient scape-goat.
“Oh Fudge,” I guess I’ll never get to the bottom of it.