In years past, I've always managed to come up with a wildly ambitious gift-making project that has me knitting, sewing, painting and other modes of crafting-busy up until the midnight hour. I think it has been my way of plodding forward, my crazy way of finding a path in the midst of the holiday frenzy. When I am overwhelmed I either toss up my hands or get busy.
But this year, I have nothing. Well, what amounts to nothing for me. A skein of yarn awaiting the needles, a promised strand of prayer flags to sew ... I am eyeballing an embroidery piece ... but nothing of the scale from years past.
I know there are good reasons for the current state of affairs. Certainly the state of my heart has left me little time or energy to cook up some creative fun. In all honesty, getting up and dressed (in grown up clothes, not my shuffle about clothes) is cause for celebration. I am grateful for the years of practice - running, yoga, teaching - because if nothing else, the muscle of discipline is strongly developed. Even when I don't know what to do, I know to do something. Anything. A gesture, an action, a move that acts as my commitment to forward, to hope, to what is possible when I stand in The Now.
Problem is, the past is like a vortex sucking me down down down.
Ironically, I share some of my best moves in a lovely holiday offering by Karen Caterson of Square-Peg People called Support Stories. The series is a lovely offering of encouragement for finding stable footing during the whirlwind of the holiday season. I agreed to Karen's invitation before my mother passed away. Knowing I was going to submit something to this series was a form of support or awareness for me as events unfolded. I am grateful that I stuck it out and made this video offering.
Today I found a way to bring the past into the present. The means of that alchemical feat? Fruitcake.
I had given up hope of finding any sort of secret message left by my mother for my eyes only. I found lots (and lots) of wadded up kleenex, cough drops and tooth picks in the pockets of her jackets, in purses and nightstand. I found notepads filled with lyrics to old songs and lists of books or movies she wanted to read or watch. But nothing hidden away for me to discover. My mother didn't think that way. Unlike me, she never liked mystery novels or movies ... she preferred nonfiction, historical stories, crossword puzzles and trivia.
But my mother did leave me her recipe box and in it, the recipe she used to make a holiday fruitcake (more accurately, applesauce meets fruitcake meets spice cake) which was a holiday tradition.
In fact, it was our tradition ... yes, our special secret exchange of love via dried fruit, spices, nuts and sugar.
|why I will always prefer the handwritten & the paper version to anything digital: marginalia
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mother made a version of this cake. She varied the ingredients from year to year, so it was never the same cake twice. When I went away to college, she would mail me a loaf double-wrapped in tinfoil. She continued to send me a cake every year and part of the tradition was my phone call home and our evaluation of that year's cake: extra gooey, too cakey, good spice, not enough fruit.
As I look at the recipe card, I realize the yearly ritual of baking those cakes was done for me ... and for her. Year after year, we were the ones who ate those cakes. Year after year, I was the one waiting for her cake, and year after year she baked it.
Except for last year. I hadn't realized until today the break in our tradition. The previous year, she brought all the ingredients over to my house and I helped her mix and bake the annual loaves (her recipe makes 2 8-inch loaves). The batter gets pretty stiff, the mixing a task for strong forearms and wrists. For whatever reason, she skipped last year and I suppose I could consider that lapse prophetic. More likely, she asked and I told her it was okay to miss a year.
As I make my way back onto familiar ground, I reach not only for the things that steadied me in the past - painting, writing, family activities - but I embrace new roles. Today, I took on the task of cake baker.
This year's cake I deem too cake-like, not enough fruit. I like mine dense and moist. Belatedly I realize I never paid much attention to my mother's explanations for each year's batch; all I had to do was receive it. It never occurred to me that I would bake it.
As I sifted and stirred, chopped and mixed, I was aware not only of picking up where she left off, but of carrying forward our story into a new one. Not only is the recipe mine to reinvent and pass on, its' secrets await my discovery.
And once again, my mother deftly slips past me ... leaving me to answer my own questions, seek my own counsel, make my way. Still, her example will inspire and guide me.
I just wish I had listened more closely to the details of her experimentation. (I am thinking, in the end, she doubled the amount of dried fruit ... which means, I must bake some more.)