The Fruitcake Chronicles

(The Following is a re-post of The Fruitcake Chronicles. I first published this six installment short story in the Auburn Reporter Newspaper. Like a good fruitcake, I regift it every year. Merry Christmas!)

The Fruitcake Chronicles: An Old Fashioned Christmas (Part 1 of 6)

“Sir, I’m not going to ask you again. Put the fruitcake down and step away from the Santa.” The officer’s voice was measured and deliberate, unaffected by the disconcerting visual before him.

“I can’t do that officer! If I put it down, no one will eat it. I can’t let that happen.” Steve Forester’s left arm tired under the weight of the five pound fruit laden cake. Unwilling to relent, he waved the loaf defiantly before the growing crowd of officers and bewildered holiday shoppers. Steve’s fruit baton gesticulations increased as his frustration intensified.

“This fruitcake’s tired. It’s tired of being passed around. . . person to person. . . season to season. . . never eaten!” The officers slowly inched forward. “This isn’t a decoration. It’s food!” Steve’s voice rose to angry prophet proportions, “Food is meant to be eaten! And I’m not leaving here until someone takes a bite of this. . . this. . . deliciously fruity cake.”

A young boy moved forward to accept the invitation. His mother quickly pulled him back under her wing.
Steve began to cradle the loaf and whisper words of reassurance. “They don’t understand us. They think we’re crazy. But, we’re not crazy. We’re what Christmas is all about. They just need to taste it. . . that’s all. . . they just need to taste it. . . For the love of GOD! Someone please taste this cake!”

Steve’s reverberating plea silenced the mall. Only the faint, distant scream of an over tired toddler could be heard.

Even Steve was caught off guard by the silence. “Fine. . . Fine. . . If no one wants it, I’ll eat it myself.” With one large bite, Steve’s teeth tore into the homemade fruitcake, plastic wrapping and all. With this bite, the police rushed the platform, shoved Santa to the side and tackled Steve to the ground.

Under the weight of a dozen officers, Steve’s assessment was muffled but audible, “This tastes like crap.”

Every breakdown has a beginning. For Steve the beginning started five days before Halloween. His eldest daughter Lystra wanted to be a fork for Halloween. After a few concerted attempts to dissuade her from her cutlery costume, Steve assented to facilitating his 10-year-old daughter’s artistic vision. He was usually unable to resist her gentle but persistent persuasion. Like her mother, Lystra could change Steve’s plans with a prolonged, strategic smile.

Consequently, Steve found himself alone on a Thursday night, wandering the aisles of Home Depot, unsuccessfully searching for fork costume inspiration. As the minutes and aisles passed by, Steve began to lament his inability to open Lystra to the possibility of being a spoon.

For the most part, Steve tried to go with the flow when it came to life’s little hiccups. However, mild anxiety would eventually surface if going with the flow turned into going down the drain. Steve’s “don’t worry” demeanor could quickly turn into a “ship sinking” panic. As he turned the final corner of the well scoured store, Steve confronted the official start of his breakdown.

Rather than finding an aisle of fork costume options, Steve discovered a long row of Christmas decorations. Before him stood a dizzying array of giant blow up Santas, snowmen, and penguins. These oversized inflatable statues were surrounded by an expansive plastic tree forest, replete with numerous, automated white wicker woodland creatures.

As Steve slowly walked through the forest of faux firs, automated reindeer, and air blown holiday mascots, he soon realized everything was either moving or making noise. A life sized, Santa suit wearing, animatronic bear repeatedly waved his paw while whistling, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” A six foot nutcracker chattered holiday wishes across the aisle towards a row of pint size Rock and Roll Santas. The miniature dancing Santas responded to the nutcracker’s good tidings with syncopated pelvic gyrations.

Model trains aplenty chugged and choo-chooed through the polyurethane snow as a myriad of light displays blinked, flashed, and strobed within the trees and along the walls. Steve’s ability to see distinctive parts blurred into a collective whole. Before him was one big fuzzy glow of holiday excess.

When he reached the aisle’s end, a blindingly intense luminescence confronted Steve. His eyes strained to determine the form of the radiance before him. When the glowing spectacle came into focus, Steve realized he was staring at a front yard manger scene. Although half size in stature, the plastic manger figurines radiated such fierce light that Steve was tempted to kneel in honor of the strange glory.

As his pupils adjusted, Steve tried his best to discern the visage of the beaming baby Jesus. When the baby finally came into view, Steve had a clear and simple revelation. “Whatever this is. . . I don’t want it anymore.”

With this simple thought, Steve turned left and headed out the door. Surely, a solution for Lystra’s fork would avail itself on the ride home. However, now was not the time for costume concerns. Rather, Steve’s thoughts turned to a very different quest. From this point on, he would give his best effort to making this the best Christmas ever. No more flash, no more gaudy glare, no more over the top, pre-Halloween excess. This year would be different. This year Steve was determined to celebrate a simple, old-fashioned Christmas. Unfortunately, even the purest of intentions can go terribly wrong.

The Fruitcake Chronicles: An Unexpected Gift (Part 2 of 6)

Mildred Lurvy was known for her fruitcake in the same way the Mob is known for organized crime. Unlike the Mob, “grandma” Lurvy’s activity was not yet under FBI surveillance. Consequently, each Christmas Mildred’s neighbors were forced to fend for themselves. This year Mrs. Lurvy and her fruitcake arrived at Steve Forester’s doorstep a week before Thanksgiving. This created a moral dilemma for Mr. Forester.

About a month previous, Steve had realized Christmas in its current cultural form had become nothing short of intolerable. The excess was beyond rational. Someone needed to do something to turn the tide against the progressive corruption of the holiday. For Steve, this meant re-envisioning the entire celebration. Like many revolutionaries, Steve began his revolution by trying to write a treatise full of resolutions. Like many male revolutionaries, he did this without any input from his family.

Instead, he went away to a solitary place and began to contemplate the right way to celebrate the Savior’s birth. Two hours later, Steve emerged from the bathroom with his first Christmas edict. The commandment was straightforward: “Thou shall not do anything related to Christmas until the first of December!”

As a good disciple of his own revelation, Steve placed a Christmas moratorium on his entire household. Nothing Christmas related was allowed within the Forester homestead. In relation to holiday merriment, November was to remain undefiled. Steve’s wife and two daughters greeted this Christmas directive with a fair amount of wait and see skepticism. The integrity of his resolve would certainly be called into question. This came mid-November in the form of a 76-year-old widow and wheelbarrow full of fruitcakes.

“Well, hello Steven!” Mrs. Lurvy did not have the habit of pausing for conversational reciprocity. She had a small frame but a strong diaphragm. “I hope I didn’t bother you, but tomorrow I’m heading out to see my sister in Tempe. I just couldn’t leave town without spreading a little holiday cheer.” Behind Mildred, two steps down from the porch, rested a green wheelbarrow, piled high with brick stacked fruitcakes.

Mildred’s feeble arm lunged a fruitcake in Steve’s direction. The weight of the pastry barbell magnified grandma Lurvy’s hand tremor. Even so, Steve’s arms remained at his side, momentarily unwilling to reach out and receive the first fruits of Christmas.

To the casual observer, this may seem like a rather crass reflex. However, this action must be viewed in a larger fruitcake context. The history of fruitcake reaches back as far as Cain and Abel. The Bible says Cain brought God an offering consisting of the “fruit of the ground.” This displeased God, which has led some theologians to suspect Cain’s offering came in the form of a fruitcake. This may also shed light on the weapon Cain may have used to kill his brother.

Evidence suggests fruitcakes were placed in the burial chambers of the Pharaohs. Some archeologists believe this was done to provide sustenance for the afterlife, while others believe fruitcakes were used as part of the mummification process. Either way, grave robbers left these treats untouched.

During the Middle Ages crusaders traveled with fruitcakes to ward off hunger and to throw at the infidels. In the modern era, fruitcake seems to have entered Christmas lore in the late 1700’s. The English would pass out slices of fruitcake to poor Christmas caroling women. This did little to dissuade the practice of caroling.

The fruitcake made its way to the Americas as immigrant families tried to recapture the misery of their homeland. As of yet, no migrant group has been willing to accept full responsibility for the fruit loaf’s migration. Oddly enough it is difficult to find reliable numbers concerning modern fruitcake production. This is primarily due to the perpetual recycling of old loaves and to the unregulated prolific productivity of independent fruitcake producers. However, it remains clear that production has always exceeded consumption. Unfortunately, Mildred Lurvy’s fruitcake output was only exacerbating the problem.

With this in mind, Steve was faced with a moral dilemma. If he took the loaf from Mrs. Lurvy’s trembling hand, he would break his first Christmas edict and perpetuate a cycle of excessive fruitcake fabrication. If he refused the loaf, public perception would most likely place him somewhere between the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge.

Fortunately for Steve’s slowly fraying conscience, grandma Lurvy kept speaking. “Go ahead and take it, Steve. It really is my joy to give these away. You know every time I make a batch, I remember how much Chet loved these things. Every year he’d say ‘Mildred, I don’t think you realize how much people appreciate your fruitcake.’” Mildred’s eyes began to well up.

“It just makes my heart glad to know I can carry a little bit of Chet’s memory with me through these silly old fruitcakes.” Mildred’s departed husband sealed the deal. Steve reached out, grabbed the fruitcake, listened a while longer, waved goodbye, and firmly shut the door. As he headed towards the garbage, the fruitcake weighed particularly heavy in his hand and on his conscience.

The Fruitcake Chronicles: A Rebellious Trash Can (Part 3 of 6)

As Steve walked toward the kitchen garbage, the fruitcake weighed particularly heavy in his hand and on his conscience. Unable to resist a gracious gift from a persuasive widow, Steve had been forced to break his first Christmas resolution. Weeks before he had determined not to allow Christmas to intrude upon his November. Sadly, he found himself a week before Thanksgiving, about to throw away his first Christmas present: a fruitcake from “grandma” Lurvy.

Divine intervention comes in all forms; for Steve Forester it arrived in the form of a uncooperative garbage can. As a public school teacher, Mr. Forester’s acquisition power was limited. Consequently, the Forester’s house was less than state of the art. This created some minor hardships for Steve. For instance, Steve was forced to watch his favorite football team in low definition. The burden of this low-tech life was far reaching.

To compensate for his dearth of expensive technological gadgetry, Steve would, on occasion, purchase a low cost, high-tech gizmo. These bottom drawer purchases included such items as an automatic apple peeling parer, an electric pasta maker, and a fully automated Mini-sausage Factory. Most of these items lasted for many years due to their infrequent use and limited usefulness. Even so, Steve was still perpetually attracted to low cost, high-tech solutions. This led to his most recent purchase, a motion sensor kitchen garbage can.

The idea was simple enough. Instead of being forced to manually lift the garbage lid, one had only to wave their hand in front of the motion sensor and watch the lid magically rise. No more awkward grasping and unnecessary bending. More importantly, there was no way this techno-can would ever be placed in the bottom drawer.

From its inaugural use, Steve’s motion sensor garbage can appeared to be a great success. Each family member took his or her turn effortlessly disposing garbage in the all too eager contraption. Steve’s youngest daughter Cynthia spent the evening feeding the receptacle as if it were a trained seal.

With her six-year-old imagination in full form, Cynthia commanded the can, “Now sit! . . . Good boy! . . . Now catch! . . . Good job. Who’s a good trash can, who’s a good trash can.” Each time the seal opened its mouth, Cynthia’s would reward it with a crumpled up piece of paper. Steve began to question the necessity of ever owning a dog. By week’s end, Steve questioned the wisdom of ever buying the garbage can.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Forester, his contemporary canister had been equipped with NASA strength sensors. As a result, the trash can had a habit of opening its lid whenever anyone walked near the kitchen or even near the house. Even when all seemed still, the lid would suddenly pop up as if haunted by an extremely tidy ghost. Soon the family began to avoid the kitchen for fear of causing the can to unnecessarily flip its top. Consequently, like a neglected pet, the oversensitive waste bucket languished in the corner of the kitchen, continually begging to be fed.

To this over zealous trash can, Steve Forester brought Mrs. Lurvy’s fruitcake offering. As Steve reached the garbage can, something rather unexpected happened, or more accurately, did not happen. The garbage lid refused to open. Steve waved the fruitcake in front of the sensor as if it were a lure to be swallowed. The trash can would not take the bait. Instead, it sat quietly, defiantly, closed lipped.

“Come on! Open up, you stupid can.” The can would not step down. Steve waved both hands in front of the stubborn can like a frantic mime, hailing a cab. His efforts came to no avail, the lid remained shut. Steve was about to manhandle the hand sensor when suddenly the word “intervention” popped into his head. Like a divine whisper, “intervention” interrupted Mr. Forester’s quest to trash the first fruits of his premature Christmas.

Steve’s thoughts immediately responded to the word. “Intervention . . . That’s what this is. . . it’s an intervention. This garbage can is trying to tell me something. This fruitcake. . . this fruitcake is what Christmas is all about. Something handmade, from the heart, genuine.” His rapid fire cogitation continued. “This is a sign! We don’t need less fruitcake, we need more fruitcake. . . . Well maybe not fruitcake, but more of this!” Steve paused in his mental soliloquy, stood up straight, and raised the fruitcake to eye level. “This is Christmas! This is what we need. More of this!”

The line between inspiration and madness has much to do with who writes the biography. From Steve’s autobiographical perspective, he had stumbled upon the best path to redeem Christmas. Those around him were less certain. Regardless, Steve resolved to pursue a dual course of action. First, he would make it his quest to find someone who actually liked fruitcake. Second, he would prevent his family from succumbing to the commercialization of Christmas. This year, instead of buying presents for his family, he would make them handcrafted gifts.

In theory the idea had merit. In reality it verged on disastrous.

The Fruitcake Chronicles: A Terrible Misunderstanding (Part 4 of 6)

“So what do you guys think?” Steve’s loud tone and exaggerated gestures conveyed his lack of faith in his audience’s receptivity. “Let’s do this thing! Instead of wasting a bunch of money on a bunch a useless stuff, let’s make this Christmas memorable. This year. . . let’s make our own Christmas presents!”

Steve Forester’s fourth grade daughter Lystra burst into tears, ran up the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door. On the way out, Lystra had the last word, “I hate this stupid idea! You’re killing Christmas!”

Cynthia, Steve’s remaining progeny, sat quietly on the living room rug, legs crossed, head in hands. Steve hoped his youngest daughter might forget this memory; however, he was certain someday a therapist would help her remember.

Steve was reluctant to look towards his wife. Even so, he could feel her disapproval. When conflict greeted the Forester household, it was almost always three to one. Finally he looked in her direction. “What do you think, Jenny?”

Jennifer was a minimalist at heart. Her measured response said enough, “You really want to go through with this?” Steve bobbled a nod as Jenny continued. “Well. . . at least it will be memorable. I certainly will not forget it.” With oh well certitude she rose from the couch and reached down for Cynthia’s hand. “Come on little miss. Let’s go rescue your sister.”

In the initial stages, there is little difference between a true visionary and a bull-headed moron. Unfortunately for the Forester family, Steve saw himself as a visionary. His passion to rescue Christmas from its commercial crassness was too great to be thwarted by a temporary family rebellion.

As Christmas drew near, Steve began to question his visionary status. This was primarily due to his inability to make at least one viable Christmas present. With a week left until Christmas, Steve’s hand-craftiness had produced three wooden dolls with eerily misshaped torsos; a dozen smog hewed, lopsided votive candles; a pile of oddly variegated pot-holders; and two immobile, asymmetrical fiberglass wagons.

Steve knew he was in trouble when the craft store ladies started greeting him by name. Not only were his crafts poorly executed, they were also extremely impractical. The phrase, “it’s the thought that counts” was formed under such conditions. Shaken but still undeterred, Steve finally settled on a craft that appeared doable in the remaining time frame. He decided to make homemade perfume. This too was a terrible idea.

The internet site where Steve found his perfume recipe purported the fragrance would evoke the essence of Chanel. Steve’s stovetop implementation of the recipe produced a smell akin to Meth Lab. The oder was so pungent he closed all the windows of his house for fear of raising suspicion. It was at this moment Steve received a knock on the door from Sandra Lock, the Superintendent of schools.

Superintendent Lock’s wide smile turned slightly towards concern as she gazed upon Mr. Forester’s attire. Due to the caustic, splattering nature of his aroma alchemy, he was wearing protective gear in the form of a shower cap, safety glasses, chemist’s gloves, waist high waders, and a plastic apron. As Steve removed his glasses and opened the screen door, Sandra Lock turned her head to the side to temper the impact of the pungent wall of fumes.

“Well, hello Steven. I hope I didn’t interrupt you.” Mrs. Lock inhaled with a slight gasp. Her thoughts raced back to the drug awareness seminar she had attended in the fall. This, however, was not the reason for her visit. After some awkward small talk, Mrs. Lock diplomatically introduced the purpose of her house call.

“Steve, there’s no easy way to say this. So I’m asking that you just hear me out before you respond.” She paused and entered into more rehearsed remarks. “A few weeks back, your daughter Cynthia started crying in class. She told her teacher how you guys were making each other presents because you couldn’t afford to buy gifts. When we heard the news, we just felt we needed to do something. So a bunch of us got together and bought you and your family some Christmas gifts.” Mrs. Lock turned and pointed to the large bag of presents sitting directly behind her.

“You did what?”

Steve’s confused question turned to lament as he leaned out the door and caught a glimpse of the extensive pile of donated gifts. The confusion left him at a loss for words. Before he could bring reality into the equation, Superintendent Lock quickly closed the conversation and headed for the car. She had mistaken Mr. Forester’s shocked silence to be an expression of profound gratitude.

When the dust settled, Steve Forester and the entire Forester family found themselves confronting an issue that went far beyond the Forester homestead. Steve Forester’s desire to implement a homemade, non-commercial Christmas had not been motivated by a lack of money. Unfortunately, he failed to properly convey this reality to his six-year-old daughter Cynthia. She suspected the family to be destitute.
Accordingly, Cynthia had taken it upon herself to communicate the plight of the Forester family to numerous charitable organizations. After a fair amount of gentle interrogation, Steve discovered she had contacted at least 20 social service agencies as well as numerous holiday wish contests. As Cynthia was finishing her confession, the local Christian radio station called.

“Is this Mr. Forester?”

The Fruitcake Chronicles: An Unfortunate Headline (Part 5 of 6)

Steve Forester despised his floral patterned, living room glider rocker as well as its accompanying gliding ottoman. It was a gift from his mother-in-law, but no one sat in the awkward contraption but the family cat. Even the cat would have preferred a recliner. Still, the rocker was the first piece of furniture to greet visitors as they entered the Forester household. It sat near the front door as a memorial to his mother-in-law, to be removed unceremoniously at her death.

On the day of Steve’s holiday breakdown, he chose to sit in this unpopular oscillating rocker to gain a clearer perspective of the crisis at hand. Mr. Forester had entered the Christmas season with high hopes and grandiose plans. From the get go, he had resolved not to succumb to the prevailing commercial corruption of Christmas.

This resolve was strengthened when Steve received a homemade fruitcake from an elderly, widowed neighbor. Even though Steve hated fruitcake, Mildred Lurvy’s handmade potent pastry had inspired him to create his own homespun Christmas. Consequently, he spent the larger part of December making gifts for his family as well as trying to find someone who actually liked the taste of grandma Lurvy’s fruitcake.

Up to this point, two days before Christmas, nothing had gone as planned. First, Steve had been entirely unsuccessful at pawning off Mrs. Lurvy’s fruitcake. For the most part, individuals treated the offer for fruitcake similar to a contagion. Like a bad flu they either had already been infected by a fruitcake or had no desire to catch one.

Occasionally, someone would politely bluff and feign interest in the pastry. When these cases arrived, Steve made it clear that he was going to stick around to actually see the individual consume the well-preserved loaf. The excuses would soon follow. “You know I better not take it; I’m sure someone else would enjoy this more than I would.” Translation: “Why don’t you find your own garbage can!”

Along with his fruitcake woes, Steve’s handmade gift idea had taken a drastic turn for the worse. Steve’s youngest daughter interpreted the mandate to make Christmas gifts as a sign the family had reached financial ruin. Consequently, without Steve’s foreknowledge, she had contacted numerous holiday help agencies throughout the community. By the time Cynthia’s requisition plan was discovered, the Forester family was being inundated with holiday goodwill.

This came in the form of a pile of donated presents and a $1,000 gift card from the local Christian radio station. Unable to find the necessary words to explain such a misunderstanding, Steve received the gifts with stunned silence.

While gliding rhythmically to and fro in his cat’s glider rocker, Steve tried to find an answer to the problems that were literally pilling up before him. In the opposite corner of the room stood a large mound of unopened Christmas presents. Equidistance between Steve and the mound sat a lone fruitcake upon a barren coffee table.

Steve fixed his eyes intently on the neatly wrapped cake. As Steve narrowed his vision and anger towards the pastry, the rest of the room began to blur. Unable to find a solution that would leave his pride intact, Steve began to focus his rage on the all too resilient fruitcake.

“You’ve had it out for me from the beginning,” Steve spoke to the defiant fruit bread in spaghetti Western tones. “You think you’re so, so clever.” The fruitcake remained silent, “But, I got you figured out. You’re not going to break me. . . Every problem has a solution. This one just requires a fair amount of cre-a-tiv-it-ty.” Steve enunciated each syllable to drive home his point.

“That’s the difference between you and me. I’m the creative one. . . You’re just a pastry pawn.” Before Steve could continue, the doorbell rang. This time it was the paperboy.

“Mr. Forester. I think you might want to read this.” Steve murmured the front page headline aloud: “Local Man Feigns Poverty for Christmas Loot: Bah Humbug Mr. Forester!” Steve read on while shutting the door on the somewhat perplexed paperboy. The front page article was full of flattering fare such as, “Mr. Forester used his youngest child to prey upon the sympathies of generous holiday well wishers.” The expose continued with an unsubstantiated inference that “the Forester home may also be a make-shift meth lab.”

Steve read the article within earshot of the fruitcake. As he reached the end of the allegations, Steve was overcome with an eerie calm. He paused, looked towards the still stoic fruitcake and finished his previous conversation.

“We’re going to fix this. And you’re coming with me.” Five minutes later Steve was driving his Accord towards the Village Mall. His recently acquired stack of presents was crammed in the back seat, while Mrs. Lurvy’s fruitcake rode shotgun. Steve looked over at the fruitcake securely buckled in the passenger seat.

“Are you excited? We’re going to see Santa!”

The Fruitcake Chronicles: A Visit with Santa (Part 6 of 6)

Portions of the police report read as follows: “Mr. Forester gave many fruitcake related reasons for accosting the Village Mall Santa. It appears Mr. Forester attempted to give Santa three garbage bags full of wrapped presents. Mr. Forester stated that the presents had been mistakenly given to his family because of a ‘rather crazy mix-up.’”

“When Santa rejected the gifts, Mr. Forester became agitated. This agitation increased when Santa ‘refused to take just one bite’ of the assailant’s fruitcake. Following the refusal, a heated argument between Santa and Mr. Forester ensued. During this dispute, Mr. Forester called Santa’s pedigree and beard into question.”

“Santa stated that Mr. Forester made many ‘wild and threatening movements’ with the fruitcake. One of these wild gestures struck santa “in the belly.” Mr. Forester accused Santa of having a ‘potty mouth’ and of exaggerating the impact of the fruitcake on his belly.”

“Fortunately, for Santa and the mall patrons, Mr. Forester was unsuccessful in persuading individuals to take a bite of the item purported to be ‘fruitcake.’ After several tense minutes, officers were able to subdue Mr. Forester and disarm him of the suspicious loaf. For precautionary reasons, the loaf was detonated.”

For Steve Forester it was truly fortunate that the Village Mall santa was indeed a “potty mouth.” Otherwise, mall management would have pressed charges. However, the negative press that would have accompanied the less than saintly reactions of Saint Nick was enough to limit punitive damages to a lifelong ban from the Village Mall and its subsidiaries. All criminal charges were dropped as the police determined that waving a fruitcake wildly in a crowded mall was certainly disconcerting behavior but currently not a crime.

As far as the undeserved donated gifts, collective community embarrassment would eventually sweep that mess under the rug. Until then, Steve promised to do his best to return each gift to its original donor. Every gift except for the detonated fruitcake.

By the time Steve left the police station, he had engendered a fair amount of sympathy among the ranks. Steve Forester was not a criminal, just a very disheartened, disillusioned man. The discharging officer gave him a pat on the back and an admonition to “be good now.” Steve smiled and returned a “thanks.” Unfortunately, it had been his failed attempt to be good that had precipitated this mess.

Too embarrassed to call his wife, Steve chose to venture home on foot. The journey was five or so miles, and he was in no hurry to stand before his traumatized family.

The sun had set about two hours previous. During the day the temperature had been playfully hovering just above freezing. This led to an occasional, brief snow flurry in the foothills. Moisture was heading into the region. However, as the cloud cover increased, the temperature would most likely rise just enough to produce sloshy rain intermixed with the occasional ice crystal.

As Steve slowly trudged home, light, frozen rain began to fall. Most of the slushy ice pellets melted on impact. Occasionally, a thicker, more resilient crystal would land on Steve’s jacket, pause, and melt into rain. The effect was the same as rain, just colder and slightly delayed. By the time Steve reached his front door, he was soaked.

Steve paused before entering the Forester homestead. As he hesitated, the front door opened from the inside. Before him stood his three reasons for most everything: his lovely bride Jenny, and his two, resiliently vibrant girls.

His youngest daughter Cynthia spoke first, “Daddy, we’ve got a gift for you” Her freckled smile revealed the pleasure of anticipation. Lystra, the older daughter, took charge from here. She grabbed her father’s hand and led him to the glider rocker.

“Sit down! We’ll be right back.” The two girls ran down the hall while Steve plopped down in his least favorite chair. He looked up at Jennifer as her eyes followed the girls down the hall. When she turned back in his direction, he caught her unfiltered grace. Jennifer reached out and caressed Steve’s shoulder. Before he could respond, the girls entered into the room at full force. Lystra was carrying a carefully wrapped, frame thin, rectangle. At first perusal, Steve suspected an eight by ten to be enclosed. The girls stood by both sides of the rocker, while Jennifer perched on the ottoman.

“Well, open it up! We made it just for you.” Lystra’s command required an immediate response. Beneath the wrapping was an elaborate configuration of popsicle sticks and emory boards formed into the shape of a manger scene. Cynthia immediately chirped in, “I ate five popsicles today, just so we could finish it!” The red markings around the corner of her lips should have been a dead giveaway.

Steve looked down with amazement at the simple, creative gift. His obviously gifted girls had turned fabric scraps, magic markers, and popsicle sticks into an elaborate nativity replete with the prerequisite cast of characters.

The next twenty minutes or so, Steve gave detailed praise for the various nuances of the gift. When he reached the kneeling wise man, he had a question. “What’s he holding in his hands?”

Cynthia responded first, “Oh, that’s a fruitcake!” With those words, the temperature dipped just enough to transition the falling slush into a gentle flurry. Steve paid little notice as he gazed intently at the tiny popsicle stick baby Jesus.

Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth, goodwill to all!


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