t arrived on Christmas Eve. The fruitcake showed up with no return address as usual, on our doorstep. The exchange of this treasured token has been a tradition for years in my lovely wife, Grace’s, family. Every Christmas, it appears at a family member’s home. During visits at other times of the year, it can be tucked away in a linen closet or hidden behind a bookshelf for discovery later. The ritual remains the same: Don’t reveal who has it now or where it is going next. Family folklore has it that this was started by Grace’s mom, Pat, who received the fruitcake as a joke decades ago. It has been handed back and forth, like the “Old Maid” ever since. The gag has since taken on a life of its own—a cult-like status. Each Christmas, Grace and her sisters, Sally and Laura, exchange phone calls, asking, “Did you get it?” Of course, neither the sender nor the recipient fesses up.
When we opened the package and discovered that we were this year’s legatees, I asked Grace, “How many miles would you guess this silly thing has traveled?”
“Quite a few, I’d say.”
“The tin looks pretty banged up. Are you sure you want it under the tree?”
“Of course,” replied Grace. “It’s the custom.”
That evening, after Grace finished putting bows on gift boxes and announced that she was going upstairs to bed, I remained in the living room to read a little. It seemed like a short while later when a voice said, “Around fifty thousand miles.”
“Fifty thousand miles, give or take a bit.”
“Who said that?” I uttered.
“Down here.” The voice seemed to be coming from the fruitcake tin under the tree.
“Grace,” I called. “Come down here.”
“She’s asleep,” the voice replied. “Anyway, this is between you and me.”
“Are you talking to me?” I queried in the direction of the fruitcake.
“Yeah, and I didn’t appreciate the remark about my tin being dented either.”
“You are talking to me!” I exclaimed in astonishment.
“Merry Christmas, Dalton,” cooed the crumpet after a pause. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You… You…” I couldn’t complete the thought.
“It was fun to catch up on the family and see your granddaughters, Brooke, Kara, and Ellie tonight. I see why little ones are called toddlers. Then, one day, those toddling steps turn into a regular gait. It reminds me of the Christmas morning that your son, Geoff, toddled toward the decorated tree and stepped into a hot cup of coffee his Uncle David left on the floor. Christmas morning is no time to be in the emergency room.”
“You were there?”
“Right under the tree. Saw the whole thing, just like now. By the way, are the kids doing well?”
“They’re all fine. Grown up as you can see. Families of their own,” I managed to respond, adding, “How are you?”
“Pretty well, thanks. Not too bad for a forty-five-year-old fruitcake with a banged-up tin, I’d say.”
“I guess you’ve seen a lot in forty-five years,” I remarked.
“Sure have! I’ve seen the addition of newborn faces to this family and noticed the chairs around the dining room table empty because those family members are no longer here. In fact, I miss Grandpa Bob very much—he was the only soul brave enough to have had a piece of me, so to speak. I’ve seen the children grow up and go off to college. I’ve seen times of great joy like the Christmas Eve that Matt proposed to Maggie right under that mistletoe over there. I heard his words and saw her happy tears as she said, “Yes.” And I’ve seen times of sadness, too, like illness and Grace’s cousin, Ed, losing contact with the family.”
“So, who’s your favorite family member?” I teased the torte.
“Everyone has been great and lots of fun to watch, but I’d have to say Grace’s mom, Pat. She had an infectious laugh, loved a joke or prank, and she really delighted in the drama of who had the fruitcake. She loved passing me around. I really miss her. You all do, especially Grace and her sisters.”
“You know, I’ve been held by over one hundred family members,” the fruitcake added after a pause.
“Wow! I couldn’t even name one hundred family members.”
“That’s okay, you have a lot going on. With me, the family is my full-time interest.”
“Who had the most unique delivery?” I continued.
“I’d have to give that one to you, Dalton. Sending me from Santa Claus, Indiana. Nice touch.”
“Where do you want to go next?”
“Glad you asked,” answered the fruitcake. “I have had all year to ponder this, and I was thinking that it would be nice if you sent me to Grace’s cousin, Ed. It might just thaw the ice a little. I am hard to resist, don’t you think?”
I considered the suggestion but then changed the subject. “Sorry about the remark about your dented appearance.”
“That’s all right. Just like people, what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside.”
“Pretty profound for a nut cake,” I responded. “Especially one that has been basting in rum.”
“Hey, I’m the only one of us who weighs less than we did forty-five years ago,” the fruitcake shot back.
“Mea culpa,” I yelled, raising my arms in mock defense.
The motion shook me awake. The book was on the floor. The lights were still on. The room was quiet, too quiet. The fruitcake tin sat benignly under the tree.
“Were we just talking?” I asked.
No answer…must have been a dream…. Some dream, too. I rose and picked up the tin. Forty-five years, over a hundred people. This was no ordinary fruitcake. Nor was it an ordinary gift—especially tonight. This humble tin was a powerful connection of family across time. I buffed the top of the tin with my sleeve and put the fruitcake in the center of the gifts under the tree. I patted it goodnight and went upstairs to bed.
After the children and grandchildren opened presents on Christmas morning, Grace mentioned over coffee that she had had an unusual dream.
“Me, too.” I echoed. “Very vivid. First, tell me about yours.”
“Well,” Grace explained, “I dreamed we mailed the fruitcake to my cousin Ed, and he even called to thank us. That got me to thinking, why don’t we send it for his birthday?”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“What was your dream?” Grace asked.
“It was kind of bizarre.”
“I thought you said it was vivid.”
“Well, it was sort of, like, funny.”
“Dalton Williams,” Grace sighed, “I swear you are nutty as a fruitcake.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I declared.
“Anything else to say for yourself?”
“Merry Christmas, Grace.”
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