JUST A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR
Siblings shared a sweet secret about the school basement.
Rex Ashby, my dad, was a hardworking man in blue overalls who raised nine children—seven girls and two boys—during the Depression. In his prime, he was an inventor and jack-of-all-trades. At one time, he was the custodian at the high school in Hover, Washington, on the Columbia River, about 12 miles east of Kennewick.
But what I remember most about my father is his passion and skill for candymaking. Divinity, penuche and cocoa sour cream fudge were his favorites, and Dad’s reputation as a candymaker lasted his whole life.
While stoking the coal furnace in the basement of the redbrick schoolhouse where he worked, he would wait for the fire to die down, pull out a bag of ingredients he’d brought from home and, just before the furnace needed stoking again, start cooking his confections.
He held the mixture over the hot coals using a pot with a long piece of wood attached to the handle.
When we sniffed the aroma of fudge or popcorn coming through the ventilation system, my siblings and I knew Dad was busy mixing up a treat. We would sneak down to the basement between classes, sometimes bringing guests with us.
We moved when Dad worked in the Portland, Oregon, shipyards for a time, eventually returning to Kennewick. Here, Dad graduated to bigger and better candymaking techniques. He bought an enormous marble slab and a candy thermometer so he could gauge the temperature of the boiling mass of candy. Once it reached the critical stage, he would throw his concoction onto the cool slab and swirl it until it cooled and set up at just the right consistency.
I have to admit there were times when I tired of homemade fudge and yearned for the store-bought candy bars we got at Christmas. But over the years, my feelings changed.
As my sisters and brothers and I had children of our own, we often visited Grandpa Rex and Grandma Martha, and a tradition was born. The first order of business—find the fudge. That memory still rests warm on my heart and the hearts of my children.
REX AND his dog, Lucy, unwind on the front porch.