It wasn’t even Christmas when Daddy finally made the fruit cake. Every time I’d go back home to visit, Mama and I would listen to Daddy discuss his plan to make it, the vast amounts of ingredients required, and how delicious he knew it would be.
“You like fruit cake don’t you? he asked when he finished telling me the amounts of nuts and dried fruit he would have to add to what I considered a hideous waste of good sugar.
“No.” I answered, making the same face I would make if asked whether I liked road kill.
“If I make it you ought to try it.” Daddy insisted.
“Why would I eat fruit cake?” I asked. “It’s full of unnatural blobs of neon green and red rubber things.”
“You ought to try it though.” he repeated. I pretended to vomit and he laughed as he got up to go outside.
When he left, Mama grinned and said, “You would not believe the production this fruit cake has turned into. If he’s told me once, he’s told me a thousand times how he’s going to make it!”
Weeks passed and each time I visited or talked to my parents on the phone, the fruit cake became the topic of conversation. I’d actually forgotten about it though when I called one night. Mama answered the phone and I asked my usual “What are y’all doing?” She normally responded by telling me Wheel of Fortune was on or my aunt and uncle were visiting. That night though, she whispered into the phone.
“He finally made that dog-gone fruit cake today.” she said.
“Is he going to send out announcements?” I asked.
“I declare I wouldn’t be surprised.” Mama said laughing.
On my next visit home Daddy met me at the back door with a fruit cake tin in his hand.
“Want a slice?” he asked as he wrestled the lid from the tin. “It’s pretty ain’t it?”
“Beautiful. If you like to eat rubber fruit.” I said laughing.
“Want a slice?” he asked again as he shoved the tin under my nose, insisting I smell the cake.
“Why would I eat fruit cake?” I asked with a sigh.
“You ought to try it though.” he said seriously. “I made it.”
I listened as he describe precisely how he had made his beautiful creation, the work he put into it, how delicious it was, and how he didn’t understand why anybody would not eat fruit cake. He bet he could eat the whole thing in a week.
Unfortunately, fruit cakes last for several eternities so it was there every time I went back home to visit. Daddy would go to the spare bedroom where he kept the tin and unwrap the cake for me to see how much he’d eaten and to tell me over again the entire process involved in making one.
All while I fought back nausea.
“You want a slice?” he asked.
“Why would I eat fruit cake?” I responded, hoping I’d finally conveyed my complete disgust.
Daddy grinned knowing he’d turned my stomach. “I made it though, so you really ought to try it.” he said again.
This pattern repeated with each trip back home. Daddy would disappear down the hall to the spare bedroom only to return with his fruit cake to show me the progress made on eating it and to ask again if I wanted a slice. On one occasion he was lying in his recliner and simply looked over at me to ask, “Want a slice of fruit cake?”
“Sure.” I said.
He didn’t hear me at first but as it registered with him what I had said, his head whirled back towards me. “You say you do?” he asked.
I laughed. “No. Why would I eat fruit cake?” I actually detected a tiny sign of disappointment on his face.
“Anyway,” I continued, “I thought people only ate fruit cake at Christmas.” I wondered if I should give in and taste the awful thing, if I could force myself not to recoil at the sight.
“You can eat a cake any time you want, you know.” he said grinning. “But yeah, most people eat them around Christmas.”
“Ok then.” I said. “I’ll eat a piece on Christmas day just to say I tasted it, but don’t worry about saving me any if it seems to start going fast.” I added sarcastically.
“I reckon there will be some left.” Daddy said grinning. “I made it, so you ought to try it.”
We never discussed that fruit cake again. In March of this year Mama had to have knee surgery and she suffered complication after unbelievable complication. Daddy threw himself into taking care of her, the house, and yard. All of these months later, Mama is still unable to walk. Later in the summer of this year, Daddy’s own health issues began to worsen.
He passed away in August.
It has affected the family in ways I’m not sure we know how to articulate and process. In spite of horrible complications from her knee surgery, Mama continues to slowly improve. Losing the man she was married to for sixty years hit her hard but she is tough and will persevere, even with the holidays and all of the memories they will certainly stir up.
I remembered the fruit cake today. I think the rest of it is still in the tin back in the spare bedroom wrapped up just as Daddy would have left it. I told myself I would find it and try a slice on Christmas day.
“Why would I eat fruit cake?” I asked myself out loud as I thought about that silly cake that Daddy was so proud of.
Because I told Daddy I would. He made it and I really ought to try it.
Stuart M. Perkins