Fruitcake for Martha Stewart
I’m dreaming of a Christmas; no visions of sugar plums, but if I knew what a sugar plum was, I might envision dozens of them. My Christmas is full of domestic bliss like baking cookies and making marmalade for friends and family. I like to pick a new cookie recipe every year, and spread them around, along with pomanders, which are clove-stuffed apples. This is what makes me feel Christmassy. It only happens this time of year; I actually clean things. Mind you, I am not a complete slob, but I do not suffer from any delusion that getting rid of a little dust will solve my problems. When guests come to visit, I have them read a disclaimer and sign a form releasing me from responsibility should they fall victim to a dust monster, or get lost on the way to the bathroom (which is clean), so it’s easily distinguished from the other rooms in my old house. Domesticity is a seasonal disease for me, but I give it my best.
Unfortunately, Martha Stewart is here to remind me how inadequate I am. My attempts at home-making are acutely underwhelming in comparison to her hand-made snowflakes, knitted afghans, mittens, scarves, etc., and the unbelievable meals she prepares by the hundreds, while standing on one foot, blindfolded, balancing a Linsertorte on the tip of her nose. The only thing I’ve not seen her do is car repair, and she probably won’t because it would ruin her spotlessness. Of course, she has a gazillion assistants, her assistants probably have assistants, and I’m sure that she is not perfect. However, she exists solely to make people like me painfully aware of our shortcomings, and for that reason, she should be quarantined; and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Christmas is a busy time for most people. I was driving around the other day, en route to fetch some marmalade materials, cookie fixins, and a few thousand other things when it started to rain; a sudden reminder that I need new windshield wipers. It isn’t a top priority; in fact, the one on the passenger side is dangling by a rubber thread, which drags across with each stroke, waving a sinewy black tail. I’ll get around to it, just not today. I have windshield-wiper karma.
One Christmas Eve, I was driving my ’69 Ford Fairlane home from Lenox Square. In those days it was my habit to buy gifts at the last minute. It was sleeting, and my car had no heat, but I was in my twenties; you don’t need outside sources of heat in your twenties. There in the holiday traffic, my wipers stopped working. So, I drove with a toweled hand out the window, wiping off the ice periodically, all the way home. I once lost a wiper on the expressway in the rain. It just flew away. Tragic as it was to watch it skitter into the unknown, it was absurdly funny, and I found a roadside parts place a few minutes later; Karma.
Once upon a Christmas Eve, I joined my friend Eddie to pick up a tree at the state farmer’s market in Forrest Park. They had a wide assortment and it was a great reason to travel. While wandering through the firs, I spotted one little tree with a sparse sprinkling of needles. It was awkward and forlorn, and I commented to Eddie that it was a “Charlie Brown Christmas” tree. Eddie bought a magnificent blue spruce. The tree dealer had noticed me eyeing the pitiful “Charlie Brown” tree, and gave it to me. It stood in a corner of my apartment, skewed a bit to one side, skinny arms drooping with lights and balls—my nearly-naked waif of a pine, but it was loved just as much as any tree I might’ve paid for.
Daddy made a very big deal of the holidays, which was appropriate because it was the only time he would ever reach a paw into his glued-shut pockets and spend some money on us. He once scraped the ice build-up out of the old Frigidaire, put it on the porch, walked through it, and told me that’s where Santa had been. He even invented “New Year’s Claus” to ease the inevitable letdown of January; presents and everything. He wasn’t hard to buy for. He loved the Old Spice cologne kits I gave him year after year—he really did.
I spent one or two Christmases with my grandmother, here in Demorest. She was a grouchy old thing, but she lightened up for yuletide. Some nice man would deliver a tree and set it up in the bay window—where are those nice men these days?—and she would give me hot chocolate or Sanka, and we’d trim the sticky branches with mismatched old ornaments from falling-apart cardboard boxes. In a special box, she kept my favorite decorations; pale milky-blue-glass glow-in-the-dark icicles. One had to be very careful while hanging these delicate gems, lest one should get one’s little behind kicked for breaking them.
I enjoy all the illusions of the holidays; the post-rehab-Scrooge Christmas of Dickens. I’ve always wanted to amble through the London streets, wearing old-fashioned clothes and mittens with holes for the fingers. I would buy some wassail from a street vendor, and later take a ride through a snowy forest in a horse-drawn sleigh. When I got home, there would be a cozy glow in the fireplace, and carolers would stop by singing gleefully for figgy pudding, which I would graciously give them. Then I would have to wash all the dishes from the pudding and clean the ashes out of the fireplace, and maybe get some sleep. Like I said, illusions.
Reminds me of the terrible fruit cake that goes around this time of year; who eats it? Who makes it? Everyone knows it’s a mistake that keeps resurfacing year after year to be used for doorstops. The stuff would be great for clubbing baby snow seals, or obnoxious neighbors. It should not be taken internally. It’s glued together with tar, and filled with colored latex blobs disguised as fruit and it’s probably illegal somewhere, or should be. Maybe I could send some to Martha as a token of my appreciation.