Dad and I always celebrated the holidays with his parents. Looking back on it I see that there were a few things that I took for granted like that Christmas fruit cake grandparents love so much. Even now, when fruit cake isn’t something that makes it to the Christmas menu in my house I can clearly see the pieces of candied and dried fruit and nuts that always look pretty pebbled throughout the dark cake. I remember that the sweet and creamy white icing on the top makes this dense cake look deceivingly light. However, it is the memory of the taste that crinkles my nose as I wonder what species have taken over the cake and why anyone would enjoy the taste of cheap rum that dances with them.
The black and white photograph captures only the peak of the Christmas tree adorned with small glass balls and a string of white pearly garland. Only the bottom of the angels silk dress is visible, the rest of her is cut off from the 4 by 5 picture in my hand. The twine holding the fresh tree upright sinks back into the depths of the photograph.
The tree sits to the left of the door to the kitchen. The remembered smell of a festive dinner fills my nose as I look at the photo: roast chicken, the starchy smell of potatoes, the sweet smell of corn, and the yeasty smell of fresh buns. However, it is none of these things that holds me. Instead it is the image of the elderly man surrounded by family that draws the fruitcake memory to the surface of mind.
His thinning white hair is swooped to the left in a comb over. It is hard to believe that this man used to spend time dying his hair black to hide his worry over the signs of age. When he smiles now his eyes close involuntarily as if his mind can no longer remember the commands to control both functions. Regardless, it is a smile of contentment even though he is amongst strangers. His plaid shirt has been nicely pressed and it is tucked tight over his round belly. His belt sits skewed to the side serving as more of a decoration then functionally. His grey dress pants show a proper pleat but the top is bunched under the belt instead of caught up by it, and the button has been missed. He sits quietly in a chair watching the action of Christmas as if our Christmases have not progressed that same for the last 50 plus years. So quiet that he was almost forgotten in the bustle of gift activity.
A small pile of open gifts sits at the base of his chair, the only opened gifts, our traditional sequence of opening forgotten. At the front of his pile sits the clear cylofan wrapper. The entire 12 inch by 4 inch fruitcake eaten quietly and with discretion, perhaps an act of failing memory but perhaps a conscious act made to portray the same.
Only a shade of him sits now in the corner with his legs crossed at the knee. The top leg rhythmically rocking up and down revealing a tanned leg between sock and a grey twill pant cuff pulled high. A smile playing at the corners of his mouth as he watches the Christmas bustle of a family he has unwillingly forgotten. His soft mischievous chuckle filtering occasionally through years of Christmas memories.
By Shari Marshall – 2019
**Originally posted on December 8, 2018: Christmas Grandparent Tradition. ***