24 December 2007

The Fruitcake

My grandfather died in 1988.

He was a formal sort, nearly always wearing lace up boots and a three piece suit. And for Christmas, he had gift giving traditions - every year we got a fruitcake and a box of pecans. I can still remember sitting around shelling pecans with my mother's antique metal nutcracker, the kind that works like a vice with a screw. There's an exquisite delicate violence to the shelling, with the resulting simple pleasure of extracting the two halves of the nut intact.

The fruitcake was another story. It was always one of those commercial fruitcakes from somewhere down South, the kind that gives fruitcake a bad name. We'd duly put the fruitcake out for consumption at the big chaotic annual Christmas Eve party, and no one ate it, save a few ornery types, and children picking out the glacée cherries. Eventually, it would end up in the compost heap. But my mother always saved the tins - reusing them year after year for storing the dozens of Christmas cookies we made each December. After the cookies were gone, the tins went back into the pantry, to wait atop the freezer until the next December.

One year, round about 1992, my mother was rattling around in the pantry looking for a tin for a batch of cookies. She grabbed one and was startled to find that it wasn't empty. She opened it. Yup - fruitcake. Never opened, its cellophane wrapper intact, it looked perfect. It looked brand new. It looked like it had the the day it arrived, which, given the death of the giver back in 1988, meant it had arrived no later than Christmas of 1987. We oohed and aahed and put it back on top of the freezer. It seemed the only proper thing to do.

Since then, every year we have the unveiling of the fruitcake. For a number of years, it remained perfect, unchanged within its protective film. Then one year, we opened it and discovered that it was covered with a feathery white mold, inside the cellophane. The following year, the mold had transformed into a greyish feltlike covering. One year, we discovered that the plastic wrap had decayed and the fruitcake was oozing out. Sometime thereafter, it began eating through the tin and the tin had to be confined within a plastic bag.

We haven't yet had this year's unveiling - sometime later today, we'll retrieve it from its resting place and see how it's doing. We'll toast it with a glass of sherry, and gently return it to the top of the freezer. And Christmas will have come once again.

23 comments:

Julia said...

Oh, wow, what a story. I am sure a few biologists would like to get their hands on the thing, to see what kinds of organisms are thriving therein.
Hope it's a good holiday for you and yours.
Let us know how the fruitcake is doing, ok?

Awesome Mom said...

That is hilarious!!! I have always wanted to try something like that but mine always get chucked by my fridge cleaning husband. Maybe some day your fruitcake will grow a new and very tiny civilization of strange beings.

painted maypole said...

THAT just may be the craziest Chrismtas tradition yet.

Merry Christmas!

Teryn said...

That is too wonderful. I love it!

Merry Christmas!

flutter said...

This is SUCH a great piece of writing.

katiez said...

That's hilarious! The thing is at least 20 years old! Next year it can vote....

Kelley said...

Sounds like your Christmas traditions are as um, unusual, as mine.

I love it.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

wheelsonthebus said...

That's the wackiest Christmas tradition I have ever heard of!

Isis said...

What a brilliant story and tradition. Merry Christmas!

Eva said...

Ah, like all relics, not incorrupt in the end.

liz said...

Ummm...hilarious, but still I'm gagging a little.

Julie Pippert said...

That is disgustingly sweet and silly, LOL.

I'd probably do the same thing. You know, it does sound familiar, actually. LOL

Julie
Using My Words

BipolarLawyerCook said...

I can't think of a better reason to enjoy a glass of sherry. Merry Christmas!

hsbff said...

ok ok. I get not wanting to throw away useful things...like your neighbor who passed away and all of her things. But I sense a pattern here. Let go....Let go of the fruitcake. Sometimes a fruitcake, is just a, well, fruitcake. LOL

MotherPie said...

Great story. I don't know anyone who likes fruitcake, but what a fun way to share the strangeness of it.

Lisa said...

What a sweet story. Memories of family members are much on my mind right now -- well, probably on most people's, I imagine. Anyway, I lift my sherry glass and say, happy holidays!

jen said...

what a lovely story about love and tradition and generosity.

Aliki2006 said...

You know, I might be weird, but I find that tradition heartwarming! What a lovely post--the right mixture of humor and poignancy...

niobe said...

I think this story, charming as it is, is causing me to feel just a little queasy. You're making this up, aren't you? Or at least exaggerating a tiny bit?

Melanie said...

I love this story. This sounds like something my own family of nutters would do, except our tradition involves an ancient box of chocolate kiwi slices and a vintage Shriner fez. I don't know.

(Also, kudos on "exquisite delicate violence." Gave me shivers.)

MadMad said...

OK. You definitely have the BEST stories. Ever.

adaufiero said...

My sleep has been undisturbed, but that sort of relic does really creep me out.

When I was young, maybe five?, my mother took away my worn out rabbit. She told me that she put him on the woodpile and he became a "real" rabbit, like in The Velveteen Rabbit.

Much later, I found him in the attic, a petrified rock in threadbare chenille. Every time the house creaked, I imagined the rabbit stealing down the attic steps to punish me for letting her take him away. If nothing else, the experience ensured I'll never be a pack rat.

pinknest said...

this is spectacularly hilarious!!!

ps i LOVE fruitcake.