by Sara Etgen-Baker
Tears stream down my cheeks, splattering upon the keyboard as I write this. ‘Tis the holiday season, you see, and I delight in the memories of my childhood yuletides. One such memory stands out as clearly as the glittering angel atop my Christmas tree.
November’s blustery winds arrived weaving frost spider webs onto Mother’s kitchen window. “Oh, my,” she’d invariably say, staring at their intricate designs, “It’s fruitcake weather! I’ve much to do!” Yes, ours was a blessed fruitcake house.
I can still see Mother and me driving into town lugging home packages of my favorite things: candied cherries, candied pineapple, figs, walnuts, pecans, raisins, dates, and candied citron. Back in her kitchen, we chopped the nuts, the candied fruits, the dates, and figs, blending them with the heavy batter, and dumping the glorious mixture into fluted cake and loaf pans.
Three hours later, the cakes emerged from the oven only to be wrapped in cheesecloth; doused in peach brandy; then stored in every nook and cranny Mother could find. Every few minutes, it seemed, I pestered her. “Are they done yet, Mother?”
“No, not yet. They must age.”
After what seemed like months (It was really only three to four weeks.), she’d proclaim, “The fruitcakes are ready for wrapping.”
Out came the rolls of wax paper, aluminum foil, ribbon, and the mailing cartons. Having bundled up our packages of cheer, we took them to the post office. On the way home we dropped off mini fruitcakes to neighbors, teachers, and friends then tootled home, warmed with the knowledge we’d brightened the Christmas of friends and family. My head sank into my pillow dancing with visions of folks unwrapping our fruitcakes; sniffing the cinnamon, cloves, and peach brandy; and eating a slice of our dense, sweet fruitcake topped with a dollop of thick whipped cream.
Folks felt blessed by Mother’s thoughtfulness, and soon our mailbox was stuffed with cards and notes of gratitude.
Even now, I love eating fruitcake and don’t understand why they’re underappreciated and maligned, often being referred to as bricks, paperweights, or doorstops. They also bear the brunt of many holiday jokes. I remember the first fruitcake joke I heard. “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and year-after-year people send to one another.”
“Sure, Johnny, considering how long a properly made and stored fruitcake can last, it’s quite possible. The alcohol alone acts as a preservative, allowing people to keep or regift it for years.”
If only I’d known. I would’ve kept some of Mother’s fruitcakes; and when the holiday season arrived, I’d retrieve one from my freezer; thaw it, and re-douse it with peach brandy. I don’t have Mother’s fruitcakes. Instead, I have our fruitcake-making memories. I’m heartened that Mother loved making those fruitcakes, and I’m touched with how thoughtfully she involved me in a decades-old family holiday tradition, a tradition I revisit every year when it’s fruitcake weather.
A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing.
Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.