(picture courtesy of vegan.sheknows.com)
One of my first clear memories is of standing at eye-level with a glass bowl of mixed unshelled nuts. I’m in the living room, on tip-toe in footie pajamas, my nose clearing the table edge by only thismuch. The bowl is round, about eight inches across, the clear sides “pinked” as if clipped with shears, the rim embossed with gold leaf. This bowl only comes out from Thanksgiving to Christmas and has, in its time, held ribbon candy, homemade fudge (both chocolate and peanut butter), and mixed hard candy (chunks of striped peppermint, absinthe-green spearmint, and round amethysts of grape filled with sugary jelly).
I like the nuts, but not to eat. My joy is in holding them, smelling them. I’m just OCD enough to enjoy organizing them by size, color, or type, and I love their shapes and textures.
The Brazil nuts are hard as stone, their chocolate-brown shells rough with faint texture. They bear a rude and politically incorrect nickname which I’ve heard, but have been cautioned never to utter (although my father’s sister — uncouth as they come — utters it often and laughs when she does).
Almonds are teardrop-shaped, pointy at one end and round at the other, pale as new wheat and dotted with holes like the top of a cracker. When broken, the shells smell like our attic, full of dust.
Hazelnuts (my dad calls them filberts) are copper-bottomed capped with brown, vaguely heart-shaped yet roundly satisfying in the hand, a friendly looking nut if there ever was one, humble as a marble.
Walnuts smell funny, bitter and somewhat coppery. They, too, are somewhat heart-shaped, but their shells are slightly wrinkled, brittle, textured like brains. Sometimes the nuts are loose inside and rattle when shaken, clacking against the interior like the seeds inside maracas.
Pecans are smooth and unblemished, an odd shade between grey and tan, and shaped like a suppository. Next to cashews, they’re my mother’s favorite. I don’t know why.
I reach out, grasp the thick glass knob at the center of the heavy glass lid, lift it, and set it aside. I’ll be yelled at if I’m caught, but I can’t resist. I grip the edge of the table and run my free hand through the nuts, spreading my fingers like the fronds of water weed as I stroke them through the shells. The nuts clack and tumble, moving like rocks along an ocean shoreline and with the same sound. I bend my head and smell the rise of dusty odor, the scent of anticipation. This is special, a once-a-year thing.
This is holiday.