Category Archives: Family

Thanks x Two

On a recent evening commute, a woman boarded the bus and rushed towards me. Rather than sit, she seemed to fall into the empty seat beside mine, a mound of heavy coat, thick scarf, and several bags. She wedged a bag between her feet and dug through her purse producing a pen and ragged notepad. Flipping frantically through its frayed pages, she peered at me over glasses perched on the tip of her nose.

“I have to make a list of things I’m thankful for.” she said with irritation.

I didn’t ask why, but glanced at her notepad. She was grateful for some important things, with “health” and “job” written so far on her list. She saw me looking.

“I need ideas. What are you thankful for?” She sounded aggravated.

I thought back to when my daughter was small. I told the woman how my daughter’s eyes lit up when we played along a creek in the woods out back. She’d jump with excitement at every rabbit we saw, frog we found, or log we turned over to inspect. As she grew older she learned to identify birds, ask questions about trees, and acquire an honest love of nature. Now as a college freshman down in Florida she sends pictures of giant leaves on plants around campus, marvels at the occasional alligator encounter, and texts pictures of beautiful sunsets over the water. Time has seen that tiny girl grow into an intelligent, inquisitive, beautiful young lady who cares about all that goes on in the world. For those qualities and so many more, I just love her. I was smiling to myself when I realized the woman beside me was staring. I turned to look at her.

“I asked what you are thankful for.” She pursed her lips. “I don’t think you were listening.”

I thought back to when my son was small. I told the woman beside me how he and I pretended to be characters from his favorite cartoons. We used funny accents, acted silly, and laughed. As he grew older he became quite the comedian and learned the humor in gentle sarcasm while sensing naturally what others found funny. Now as a senior in high school he continues to charm. He’s quite the singer and having learned the guitar is a one-man show playing and singing his originals. Time has seen that little boy grow into a sensitive, talented, handsome young man who respects the feelings of others. For those qualities and so many more, I just love him. I was smiling to myself when I realized the woman beside me was staring again. I turned to look at her.

“I asked what you are thankful for.” Her shallow smile seemed condescending. “I don’t think you were listening.”

I went on to tell her that both of my children laugh because I still think of them as seven and eight. I’ve watched them grow into fine young adults who are kind, helpful to others, and appreciate family and friends. They tackle responsibilities with a smile and I’m happy to see what they’ve become and excited to see where they’ll go. I look at them and can’t imagine who could ask for more.

The bus lurched to a stop and the woman beside me gathered her things. Cramming the worn notepad into her purse she shook her head disapprovingly when she stood.

“I asked what you are thankful for.” She hurried away.

“I don’t think you were listening.” I said.

Stuart M. Perkins

If you’d like to see and hear my “little boy” sing and work some magic on his guitar, PLEASE check out the link below? (He’d be thrilled to have a follow!)    https://vine.co/u/985473451186155520

 

Advertisements

251 Comments

Filed under Family, Uncategorized

Finial Moment

Friends and I enjoyed brunch the other day. Afterwards, I suggested we stop by the local antique store to see what was new…

No one got the joke.

Still laughing at myself, because it never takes much, I held the door for the others as we entered and went our separate ways down cluttered and dusty aisles.

We hadn’t been there long when I saw, tucked between Mason jars and wicker baskets, an old Thanksgiving decoration like one Mama used when I was a kid. It was a turkey with a cardboard head but the rest of it was the honeycomb style that opened and latched onto itself, giving the turkey a big round body. Its cardboard head was bent and its big round body didn’t latch anymore, but I held it up to look at it and wondered whose it used to be, where they might have placed it, and how many kids had ever touched it or crunched it.

“You want that thing?” one friend asked.

“No, I’m just having a finial moment.” I responded.

“Ok…” my friend said. He waited for an explanation.

For years and years, the same floor lamp stood in the same corner of the den at home. It was always positioned at one end of the couch regardless of how the room was arranged. Mama rarely rearranged, so the lamp stood in the same spot forever it seemed. The lamp sported three light bulbs and was about six feet tall counting the huge beige shade. As a kid I thought it was “fancy” because as you turned the switch you could opt for one, two, or all three bulbs to be on. Wow! Poking up above the huge beige shade was a tarnished bronze finial about an inch long.

Under that lamp at the end of the couch Mama sometimes worked crossword puzzles or sewed loose buttons. Daddy would temporarily leave his recliner to sit under the extra light to squint at a roadmap or at the faded date on an old coin. My three sisters and I took turns sitting under that lamp to do homework, color, or play games.

We laughed, argued, and watched television under that lamp. Daddy told stories about his workdays and Mama made sure he was caught up on neighborhood happenings, all under the lamp. That lamp saw holidays and birthdays and every day as soon as it was dark outside it was turned on. It was the last light to go out at night. That same lamp had been there forever and would be there forever. Such a thing couldn’t be replaced.

One day Mama replaced it.

I came home after school to see the old lamp standing beside the trash can. The shade itself, admittedly less beige and torn in two spots, had been smashed unceremoniously into the trash can. Poking up above the less beige lampshade was the tarnished bronze finial. I pulled at the finial and realized it could be unscrewed from the shade. I’d gotten it almost off when Mama walked by on her way to the clothesline.

“You want that thing?” she asked as she adjusted the laundry basket on her hip.

“Yep.”  I said. I removed the finial and kept it.

That was almost forty years ago and I still have it.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve come across that finial, but each time, I’ve held it and remembered countless days and nights at home as a kid. That little finial sat in the same room with me and my family as we celebrated happy times, cried over sad times, or did absolutely nothing but be with each other one regular old evening after another.

Photographs are wonderful, but to hold an object in your hand that has the power to bring back so many memories is a gift. We should accept those when they’re given.

I have several boxes full of items like the finial. Sometimes I go to the boxes just to have a finial moment with one object or another.

When I hold a tiny porcelain giraffe I think about Nannie in her chair by the window. She’s crocheting and smiling because someone’s walking up the path under the walnut tree coming for a visit. Her rolls are almost ready in the oven and my aunt Dessie will be over later to fix her hair for church tomorrow. Nannie had a hundred houseplants and for years the tiny porcelain giraffe stood in the dirt under her Christmas cactus. When she gave me the plant I got the giraffe. The Christmas cactus died long ago, but I kept the tiny giraffe and when I look at it I see the plant blooming on Nannie’s table.

Three little magnets I keep in the box remind me of Granddaddy. When I was a kid he used those magnets to show me “magic”. He’d put one magnet on the dining room table and ask it to spin, which it did wildly for him but not for me! I never thought to look for him holding the other two magnets in his hand under the table, close enough to make the third one react on the tabletop. He could make two magnets stick together or make them push apart, all at his command. It was magic to me. Even when I was old enough to know how he did it, I played along. The satisfied grin he gave after each performance was enough to keep me playing dumb forever. One day he called me over to the swing where he sat chewing tobacco. He “taught” me the trick, swore me to secrecy, and gave me the three little magnets.

The jagged little puppy tooth I keep makes me smile. The collie we had growing up was a good friend to us all and I still miss her, my first dog as a kid. We got Mitzi as a puppy and for thirteen years she watched me and my sisters grow up. She walked Mama and Daddy back and forth to the garden and she was gentle towards the many smaller animals that came and went through our house during her time. As a puppy, she lost that tooth in the kitchen one day and before Mama could sweep it up I took it to my room. I remember when we brought Mitzi home and I remember when we buried her. A thousand fun times are recalled when I look at the little tooth that once gnawed my hand while a tiny tail wagged.

My boxes are full of items that spark “finial moments” for me. The hinge from a gate by the barn, a feather from a quail I hatched in an incubator, a pocket knife, and a simple brown rock are just some of the items. All hold stories and images stronger for me than any photograph could trigger. I remembered these things as I talked in the antique store that day.

My friend listened to me go on as I stood there with the old Thanksgiving decoration in my hand. Several times his eyes glazed over, boredom I’d assumed, so I cut my story short. As it turned out he wasn’t bored, he was remembering…

I leaned over to put the broken turkey decoration back on the shelf as I wrapped up my story but before I could stick it back between the Mason jars and the wicker baskets my friend took it from my hand.

“You want that thing?” I asked

“Finial moment.” he said, and headed to the cashier.

Stuart M. Perkins

286 Comments

Filed under Family

Long Row

A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.

“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.

“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”

He didn’t get it.

With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.

“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began my story.

My grandmother was a master gardener – not certified, but instinctual. Nannie used one green thumb in her flower beds and the other in her massive vegetable garden. It was no garden for the weak as it fed her and the families of each of her five children. All pitched in. On most evenings you could see some combination of aunts, uncles, and cousins pulling, picking, weeding, or watering somewhere along the lengthy rows.

One year Nannie planted more tomatoes than usual. It was work enough to keep vines picked clean on a normal year, but that was a good tomato year and there were additional rows. Somebody was going to have their work cut out for them.

“Somebody” that year was me and my cousin Jan.

I didn’t recall our volunteering for tomato duty. Still, Jan and I ended up on the front lines the morning Nannie called to say there were tomatoes to be picked. We walked casually towards the long rows, empty buckets swinging from our hands, not bothered in the least by a few silly tomatoes. The picking began.

“I’ll never finish.” I moaned.

Sweat dripped from Jan’s nose as she bent to pick another tomato. She seemed to be handling the season pretty well so far. She always loved tomatoes.

“I hate tomatoes.” she stood slowly with a full bucket.

Once tomato vines start producing they don’t stop so the picking was a daily chore. The first week of the season Jan and I met under the grape arbor to have a few laughs before starting. This would be fun. By the second week we weren’t laughing. This wasn’t fun.

We didn’t pick alone. Nannie was right there with us and if she wasn’t it was only because she was shelling beans, pulling corn, or freezing or canning one ripe thing or another. Weeks into the season and Nannie never faltered. Each morning she’d grab a bucket, hum a hymn, and walk methodically down a tomato row. Jan and I limped along behind her.

The rows were so long that I swore green tomatoes I passed at the beginning were ripe before I got to the end. Each tomato became a lead weight and the end of each row seemed farther away than before. Jan and I sweated, clutched our aching backs, and whined that the rows were getting longer when we weren’t looking. Nannie never complained which added to our frustration. How could she be so happy about this? Why wasn’t she tired of it? How did she stay so happy about a chore that seemed never-ending?

We asked her just that.

“Well.” Nannie began. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

Oh. And with that she effortlessly picked up two full buckets and headed back to the house, happily humming all the while.

I wrapped up the story for my friend by saying that while Jan and I did continue to pray for an early frost, we put Nannie’s advice to use for the duration of the season. Our muscles stayed sore and our backs still cramped, but admittedly the burden seemed lighter by looking at how far we’d come and not how far we had yet to go. I thought my friend might apply that notion to his packing and school work, or to any effort really.

He didn’t get it.

He politely thanked me for yet another Nannie-ism and grumbled that he had to rush home to the hassle of more packing and to finish a paper for his graduate class. I assumed that was the last I’d see of him for a while knowing his workload. However, I happened to pass him on the street just a week or so later. I prepared to hear the negative update on the packing and schoolwork, instead he was all smiles.

I didn’t get it.

He casually mentioned the packing he had left to do and although he’d finished the paper for school, he now had one more to complete. Still he continued to smile. I couldn’t help but ask about his new attitude.

“You still have plenty going on but it’s not getting you down as much?” I asked.

I was then afraid I’d given him a reason to sink back into the negativity of all he had yet to finish. I tried to clarify by saying I understood how stressful it was to have multiple things to accomplish and how understandable it was to feel bogged down at times. Knowing he had so much to get done I was happy to see he wasn’t overwhelmed by all he had left to do, which showed in his attitude.

“Well.” he grinned. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

He got it.

Stuart M. Perkins

373 Comments

Filed under Family, garden, grandmother

Just Some Vanilla

I’m no fan of snow, but as my eyes roll in disgust at weather forecasts I concede there were times when snowfalls thrilled me. Not due to missing school, sleigh riding, or building snowmen, but because Vicki and I would go to the store for Nannie.

At an unknown point in our youth, after one snowstorm or another, my sister Vicki and I decided we must plod across the field through snow, no matter the depth, to see if our grandmother needed anything from the store. Nannie lived in a huge old farmhouse, had always cooked for many, and could have at any point in time prepared a meal for forty out of what she had in her cabinets and refrigerator. Not even touching what was stored in her cellar.

Still… Vicki and I were sure Nannie needed something and we’d save the day by trudging through snow to ask, trekking through snow to the store, then slogging back through snow with the precious items we knew she needed badly but was unable to get out and get. Proud of our impending usefulness, we stomped snow from our boots and headed inside for what was sure to be a massive grocery list from Nannie. How else could she make it to the spring thaw if not for our efforts?  It was important to her that we helped, we were sure. We waited for her to list all of the things she needed desperately from the store.

“Well,” Nannie began as she watched snow pile against the window, “y’all could get me some vanilla.”

She did a lot of baking, we knew, but no milk? No bread? Coffee even? A side of beef? Anything? Just vanilla? Still, if it was important to Nannie, it was important to us and this vanilla was apparently very necessary. How fortuitous that we were there! Off to the store in the foul weather, vanilla purchased, and back to Nannie’s. We returned cold, soaked, red-cheeked, and tired… but mission accomplished. We had value.

That pattern repeated for a few years after every snowfall of every winter. If there were two heavy snows in a winter, Nannie somehow needed two bottles of vanilla. Our timing was uncanny. How relevant we were. It was important for Nannie to have that vanilla and without us her hopes would have been dashed. We felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride after helping. We were just kids, but we mattered!

Years later as adults, actually during the heat of summer, Vicki and I sat talking with Nannie on her back porch. Somehow conversation worked around to those long ago winters. I laughed and asked her why she needed so much vanilla. She thought for a minute about what I’d just said, then grinned.

“I didn’t need vanilla, but it was important to y’all to help, so that’s what I asked for.” Nannie said.

She followed up by saying she didn’t remember exactly but there were times she probably could have used something else but she’d never have asked us to haul groceries in the snow. She only “needed” vanilla because she knew it mattered to us to be of help – and it was easy for us to carry!

Some years after that conversation, with Nannie gone and her house being emptied, I stood in her kitchen and absent mindedly opened a cabinet. Pushed into one corner were several bottles of vanilla, some still in their original tiny cardboard boxes. I didn’t know if any of those might have been purchased in a snowstorm of the past, but I slipped one into my pocket just the same.

I still have that reminder.

By trying to do something we thought important to her, Nannie allowed us to feel that we were important.

I often sent my kids for vanilla when they were little. Not literally, but when I recognized in their faces that need to please by doing right, to feel important, to matter, I made sure I needed vanilla and I made sure they knew I couldn’t have gotten it without them.

Every kid should be sent to get vanilla, and often.

Stuart M. Perkins

283 Comments

Filed under Family, grandmother, lesson

Write It For Her Anyway

My grandmother, Nannie, died over twenty years ago but I still tear up at her memory. At the time she died I had never written much at all, and certainly not attempted poetry, but the urge to express what she meant to me kept surfacing. Her love of God and her insistence that we would all be together again were on my mind as I thought about writing a poem. Nannie was a second mother to all of her grandchildren, helping our mothers raise us, watch out for us, worry over us and pray for us.

Just after Nannie died I mentioned to a friend while she and I were at lunch that I had a poem in mind about Nannie, one that kept surfacing when I least expected it. I wished I’d written something for Nannie before she died so she could have read it. My friend had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

And so I did.

Today, that same friend called to let me know her mother died. In discussing what the family intended to do for a service, my friend said she wanted to write some things to say about her mother but she wished she’d written them while her mother was still here. I had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

My friend had long forgotten that she’d given me the same suggestion, one that would encourage me to write the first poem I’d ever written. Nannie wasn’t there to read it, but I wrote it for her anyway.

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

292 Comments

Filed under Family, family faith poem, Nostalgia, poetry

A Dog Wouldn’t Eat It

My family and I talked a lot over Christmas about Daddy’s fruit cakes. His yearly project meant we would hear many times just how he was going to make it, we would have to admire the ingredients as he laid them out on the counter, and when his edible work of art was complete we would have to sample it. And we did.

Reluctantly.

But Daddy was not the only cake baker in that house. Mama’s pound cakes are well-known to family and friends. Because of recent health issues she hasn’t made one in a while but she will and we’re waiting. Mama never needed a holiday to prompt her to make a pound cake, although production ramped up during special occasions. There always seemed to be a half eaten cake on the counter and another in the freezer, usually heavily wrapped and labeled “okra” to keep us from getting into it.

A few years ago I asked Mama for her pound cake recipe. I love those cakes and thought it might be a good idea to learn to make them. Mama gave me the recipe and admirably hid her shock that I would attempt to make a cake of all things. Just scrambling an egg presents me with a challenge.

“Follow the recipe and you can’t go wrong.” Mama said.

Daddy asked, “You never made a cake before?”

“No.” I said, “But I’ve eaten enough to consider myself a professional.”

“I bet a dog won’t eat that thing when you’re done!” Daddy laughed.

I listened to Mama’s baking advice, bought all necessary ingredients, went home, and began to follow the recipe.

No I didn’t.

I can’t remember exactly how I altered the recipe and I didn’t plan to, but those tiny details became so tedious. My first mistake was to say I even wanted to bake a cake at all. More mistakes followed.

I thought if a little sugar was good then a little more was better. Butter is nice so extra butter should be nicer. The notion of needing to add the eggs “one at a time” (which the recipe noted and which Mama stressed) just seemed silly. In they all went together. I don’t recall how long the cake was to bake but I thought if I increased the temperature by just a little bit then it should cut down on the cooking time. Finally, I learned that there is a difference between baking powder and baking soda after all.

When the cake was done, or so I assumed, I took it out of the oven and realized immediately that it didn’t look just like Mama’s. I was sure it would still be delicious.

It wasn’t.

The few parts that didn’t stick to the pan slid onto the plate rather nicely. I eagerly tasted a piece of my first pound cake.

Once I stopped choking, I called Mama. Daddy answered the phone and I described my results.

“I told you that thing wouldn’t be fit for a dog to eat!” He laughed again.

“Did you follow the recipe?” Mama asked when she got on the phone. I could hear Daddy still laughing in the background.

“Mostly.” I lied.

“Well bring it over here and let me look at it.” Mama said.

I pieced the cake back together in the pan to make it “pretty”. When I got to Mama’s, she and Daddy were sitting in the yard. I walked up to Mama and held the pan full of butchered cake out in front of her.

“Here it is.” I said in a tone that I hoped would make her believe I had faithfully followed the recipe and was still baffled by the finished product. “What could I have done wrong?”

Mama looked at the cake, made a horrible face, and asked, “Do you want a list?”

Daddy, in very colorful language, gave his opinion of my cake and laughed as he added, “I told you a dog wouldn’t eat that thing when you were done with it!”

Mama decided she didn’t want to taste it because it “didn’t look right”. Daddy, once again in very colorful language, told me just why he didn’t care to taste it either.

In spite of the mess in the now ruined cake pan we all had a good laugh. I walked to the end of their yard and threw the cake out into the garden where I assumed birds, if desperate, might eat it. As I walked back to where they sat, Mama and Daddy were joking about whether or not birds might soon die by the flock.

“I told him even a dog wouldn’t eat that mess.” Daddy said to Mama as I sat down with them.

As we talked about anything other than cakes, my aunt Noody walked from her house next door to join us. On the way, she stopped to let her dog Maggie out for an evening run. As the four of us talked, I noticed Maggie making her way to the edge of the garden where I had dumped the cake.

“Well Daddy.” I said smugly. “Maggie is about to prove you wrong.” I pointed to the dog as she approached the cake pile and gave it a sniff. I bet a dog would eat my cake. I awaited my minor victory.

They all turned to watch the dog. Maggie approached the cake pile and sniffed. She raised her head and paused, adding to the mounting tension. She lowered her head to sniff the cake again. That’s when it happened.

Maggie lowered her front end, leaned slightly to the side, and dropped to roll in the cake. Not just a light roll, but a full grinding-the-cake-into-the-shoulder roll. She stood, sniffed the cake again, and rolled on her other side. Adding insult to injury, she walked away from the cake pile, stopping just long enough to kick grass over it with her hind legs. She then trotted away never having taken a bite.

The wheezing sound I heard next was Daddy laughing. “You do know what dogs generally roll in, don’t you?” he asked through the laughter.

Mama made the horrible face again and looked at Noody. “You’ll never be able to get that smell off that dog.”

I laughed too and stood up to walk towards Maggie and the cake pile. I wasn’t going to let Daddy win this one!

“Come here Maggie!” I called as I picked through the cake pile to find a piece I thought she might find edible. It wasn’t easy.

Seeing something in my hand, Maggie came running. I leaned down and handed her the piece of cake as Daddy, Mama, and Noody watched from the other end of the yard. Maggie took it from my hand! I was about to declare a victory when Maggie backed up, raised her head slightly as if to sneeze, then threw her head forward spitting the cake onto the ground. She stared at it.

So did I. She still hadn’t eaten any of it.

Maggie looked at me, wagged her tail, and barked at the piece of cake.

I gave up and walked back to where the others were sitting. They were laughing and appeared to be looking past me. I turned around just in time to see Maggie getting back to her feet after a second roll in the cake.

Daddy was right. Even a dog wouldn’t eat that cake. But she certainly enjoyed it just the same.

Stuart M. Perkins

92 Comments

Filed under baking, cake, dog, Family, Humor

I Had a Slice of Fruit Cake

Mama grinned when I brought up Daddy’s past fruit cake project to her a few days ago. She instantly recalled the many details he had described to us before, during, and after production of his masterpiece.

“My lands.” Mama said. “That fruit cake was all he talked about for a while.”

She also remembered my promise to Daddy that I would eat a piece of his fruit cake on Christmas day. The sight and smell of fruit cake are enough to make me retch, but Daddy had been so proud of his cake and so eager for me to taste it that I finally gave in and promised a Christmas day tasting. At the rate Daddy was already eating his culinary work of art, I was sure the thing would be gone by the holidays and I could then shake my head and tell him I was sorry to have missed it – while silently cheering.

When Daddy suddenly passed away a few months before Christmas, the fruit cake and all of our inside jokes associated with it were soon forgotten and replaced by the sad details of the loss. It was only a week or so ago that I remembered my insane promise to taste the awful thing and reminded Mama.

“Mama,” I began, “I know Daddy had some fruit cake left. Do you know where it is?”

“You don’t want it do you?” she asked. Her eyes widened as she looked at me and grinned just imagining my reaction to tasting the cake.

I reminded her that each time I visited them Daddy asked if I wanted a slice. He and I would joke about what I considered to be a downright awful cake. My answer to his question was always an emphatic “no” until I finally broke down and agreed to taste a piece on Christmas day. Daddy has been gone for four months now, but for what it was worth I intended to keep my promise.

Mama said what remained of the fruit cake had been put in the freezer. My sister Vicki soon presented me with a large chunk of Daddy’s masterpiece, still wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil, and tucked inside a fruit cake tin.

My feelings were mixed. The sight of the fruit cake reminded me of the crazy conversations and silly jokes that Daddy and I shared about his making the thing. The sight of the fruit cake also struck me with shivers of disgust. But, I had promised to taste it, so taste it I would.

But maybe later…

We all knew Christmas would be odd, sad, and definitely not the same without Daddy. Unfortunately it turned out to be all of those things. Although Mama knew I was going to taste the fruit cake, I didn’t want it to become a big production so I didn’t mention it to anyone else. I would just discreetly fulfill my promise before the day was through. Admittedly, I planned to put it off as long as possible. Fruit cake is not fun.

Mama’s house filled with more and more family members as the day wore on. Periodically, she grinned and asked me, “Have a slice of fruit cake?”

“Later.” was my standard response, usually accompanied by a dry heave.

The first holiday after someone passes away is hard on any family. Each of us had to again process losing Daddy when faced with his absence. We missed the jokes he would have told, the snappy one-liners he would have had ready, and the simple sight of his empty chair was enough to upset some. In spite of the void, everyone tried to make it as normal a Christmas as possible, especially for Mama who is still struggling with major complications from her knee replacement surgery earlier this year.

I was afraid that memories stirred up by my fruit cake tasting might upset Mama, but she seemed fine. In fact, she found humor in knowing that the last thing in the world I wanted to taste, regardless of the day of the year, was fruit cake.

As the day wound down I summoned the necessary courage to remove the lid from the fruit cake tin. I began unwrapping the cake and wondered how I might be able to cut a tiny slice without actually having to look at it. The sight of those unnatural neon colored fruits was not appealing. A particularly ugly red one fell out just as I finished unwrapping.

I took a deep breath and tried to cut a paper-thin slice, not easy to do with a heavy cake chock full of bizarre fruits and too many nuts. For fear the smell alone would cause me to lose my courage, I quickly popped a piece of the cake into my mouth and chewed as rapidly as possible. Just as I finished swallowing the hateful concoction, I heard Mama call my name.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she asked, laughing when she saw the look on my face. She continued grinning as I washed the cake down with several gulps of water.

“I had a slice of fruit cake.” I confirmed as I exhaled and wiped the vile crumbs from my face.

I have never mixed turpentine, cake batter, and a splash of Drano together, but I believe it would taste exactly the same as fruit cake.

Daddy would have enjoyed the look of misery on my face and would have compared my rapid chewing to “a possum eating briars”. Mama got a good laugh out of the tasting in spite of the emotional reminders. I felt good that I had fulfilled my promise to Daddy and was glad that Mama had not gotten upset.

That came next.

The family made it through the day with only a few spoken comments about Daddy’s absence. Even Mama had been able to talk about him some without completely losing control – until my sister Donna gave her a gift.

A few months ago Donna asked Mama if she could take some of the flannel shirts Daddy had always worn. Donna planned to make a quilt from the material. Even though Mama knew the plan, she hadn’t expected it would be her Christmas gift.

Mama opened the box Donna handed her and saw the quilt. Naturally, she was instantly upset. It was a beautiful quilt in its own right, but as Mama examined patch after patch that came from shirts she had seen Daddy wear on a daily basis, it was more than she could handle. She cried heavily as she held the quilt, occasionally touching one patch or another and softly saying words most of us couldn’t understand.

“I love it.” Mama said through her tears, “But I can’t look at it anymore right now.”

Everyone understood and after a few silent minutes the conversations slowly began to flow again. A grandchild or two gave Mama a hug and we all continued opening presents.

I can usually manage to make Mama laugh, or at least smile, regardless of the situation. In this case I knew there was nothing I could say that would give her any relief or distraction from her upset, so I thought I’d try being practical rather than comical for a change.

“Mama, do you want some water?” I asked. “Is there anything that’ll help?”

Her eyes were still teary and her face was still red but a partial grin showed itself when she responded.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

71 Comments

Filed under death, Family, fruit cake, fruitcake, grief