On Making Memories and Fruitcakes

For some it’s The Night Before Christmas, others go with the Grinch or the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. When I want to get my holiday on, Truman Capote’s evocative short story, A Christmas Memory always delivers.

fruitcake weather

Photo © Nik Kleinberg

One of the most memorable moments comes when the narrator’s elder cousin heralds the season in her own unique way. Glancing out the window on a frosty November morning, she alerts the then 7-year-old narrator in a voice filled with happy anticipation:

“Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

Thus begins a yearly tradition, shared with Buddy the dog, of the intricate process of generating fruitcakes–30 of them to be exact. These are earmarked for distribution to a ragtag assembly of “friends” that includes everyone from the local bus driver to President Roosevelt. The details of this annual experience–gathering the materials, shelling pecans, baking and delivering the cakes in a rickety wagon–creates an indelible bond and a memory that will outlive their physical relationship by many years. (If you’ve never encountered the story it’s well worth the read.)

Touchstone moments, such as that simple proclamation, have a way of transporting us.

Some my happiest memories were made during the holidays. Favorite moments come back with great clarity: My father in all his robust glory cooking sausage and eggs for family and friends for a Christmas Eve “breakfast” that began after midnight services and lasted through the dawn hours; Learning to bake “S” cookies and other traditional Sicilian goodies from my mother, working from recipes recorded on yellowed  index cards in her flowery longhand; Singing carols in harmony with my sister Fran, whose exuberance could light up a room.

Coincidentally, the three greatest losses of my life occurred in that same time frame: My father died suddenly of arrhythmia on November 27th 1983, three days after sharing Thanksgiving dinner at my house. My mother succumbed to the complications of diabetes on December 22nd, 1997. A warrior to the end, Fran lost a three-year battle with cancer on December 24th, 2010.

One might think that all of this tragedy would sour me on the holidays. In truth, it would be less than honest to say that I haven’t entertained the notion of retiring to a tropical climate on November 15th and staying put through President’s day to ward off additional heartbreak.

But my practice leads me to a different conclusion.

Knowing that every moment is impermanent and irreplaceable, both high points and low, reminds me to be present for and cherish all of it. And to remember what is important and enduring.

I’m foggy on the details of so many Christmas Eve’s gone by: What I was wearing, if I was at my “skinny weight,” even gifts received or given. But I do remember trees adorned with ornaments and beautiful lights that I’d helped to decorate with the people closest to me. And raucous laughter, copious amounts of delicious food, and a feeling of belonging, of being truly “home.”

Wishing you many memories in the making this holiday season. Being present is the present!

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