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Fruitcake Magic

ornamentsMom says we’re late taking down our Christmas stuff. Past January 6, she says.

But I like a lingering Christmas. The reds and greens. The goofy kitsch. Peruvian decorations and Tolkien’s Christmas book and an Elvis mouse who sings “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Mom’s right, though. The holidays are past. I know this because the final scrap of the most important Christmas tradition disappeared into Bob’s stomach a week ago. I speak of Mom’s annual masterpiece, the Christmas fruitcake.

FruitcakeMouse gets a bum rap. The Science Museum of Virginia just celebrated its fifth “Fruitcake Science” exhibit. “Watch fruitcakes stand up to blowtorches!” No thanks. My Mom is English. She knows from fruitcakes. Nuts, fruit, dark batter. Drenched in brandy and set to age a month or more. My Mom made TWO fruitcakes this year, carefully divvying them up between her four adult children, because otherwise all hell might break loose.

Mom baked them clandestinely. She blanched and slivered almonds, gently folded nuts and fruit into batter. She greased and floured the angel food cake pans. By the time I offered to help, the cakes were already wrapped in foil and aging in the fridge.

To paraphrase Gandalf, mothers “are amazing creatures. You can learn everything about them in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.” And when I try to figure out why an 87 year-old with bad knees would tackle this huge job alone, I remember a song made famous by Mercedes Sosa. “Like birds in the air,” the song goes, “my mother’s hands arrive early. Wood and flour, and the oven heats up, and the ordinary becomes magical.”

At 87,Cake Mom’s still the white wizard at the heart of our Christmas traditions. Thank God for that!

(And yes, Mom. We’ll take down the decorations today.)

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