Mom’s fruitcake was legendary or infamous depending on who you asked. It was about five and a half hefty pounds of candied fruit, currants, almonds, rum, and a little flour – substantial enough to use as a capstone, my brother and I called it “fruit brick.” Mom absolutely loved making it. She’d start weeks ahead of time, making sure to give it a drink of liquor every day. Each Christmas she’d give them to people she loved. Jeff and my memories of the cake are inextricably intertwined.
Walking straight through from the front door to the kitchen, I sidled over to Jeff who stood by the sink. He was smiling when he saw me until his gaze dropped to what I was holding and his face fell. I gleefully pressed the tinfoil covered building block into his unwelcome hands and said, “This is from my mom.”
“No, Hezer.” His thick Russian accent punctuating his displeasure, “No! Give this back. Tell Máiread, no more. Don’t do this. Take it back.” It was a running joke between our families. Every year since my mom had made me go speak to the new girl at age six, she had given them a fruitcake. Julie’s mom watched me when the daycare kicked me out – a deadly bee allergy was not something they wanted to deal with. Nona and Jeff were like my second parents and Mom was like a second mom to Julie. And, because of that, fruitcake.
Jeff HATED fruitcake. They loved my mom, but they were not fond of the dense rum and fruit filled confection. More often than not, I was the one who ate the fruitcake she gave to them when I came over.
Mom didn’t make friends easily. She was very kind but rough around the edges, fiercely loyal, determined, and particular. She was never the syrupy sweet kind of person who oozed politeness and grace; if she didn’t like you-you knew it. The fruitcake was an expression of her love for their family. Julie was my best friend, we shared sleepovers, mishaps, vacations, graduations, marriages, and the births of our children. Mom loved Julie, her brothers, and her parents and would visit with them each time she drove me to their home. Sometimes she’d indulge in one of Nona’s amazing apple cakes, and if Jeff didn’t offer her “Wodka” she’d teasingly ask for it – Mom didn’t drink. They forged a long friendship, perhaps because they were all immigrants, the three understood the strangeness and opportunity in this country, perhaps they simply shared the love of each other’s daughters. But, at the end, when Jeff was dying, the only outside person he allowed to visit was Mom. I understand why. Mom was a lot like her fruitcake, tart, sometimes a little too strong for people’s taste, a bit nutty, and filled with love.
In honor of Jeff and Mom, I’m making a fruitcake this year. Perhaps I’ll give some to Julie 😉