Random dinner conversation rumbled on all sides of the table. Uncle Buck discussed barbecuing beef tongue. Cousin Hortel hitched, "Bless their hearts," to each commentary she undertook, in confidential whispers, on absent relations.
And Grandmama Tyce tolerated her daughter-in-law, Ammaretta, screeching, "Can I gitcha somethin' to drink Mama Tyce? Do you need me to take you to the potty Mama Tyce? Let me wipe your mouth, Mama Tyce."
I don't know who said it, but, remarkably, the table silenced when a voice inquired, "Have y'all heard about the ban on fruitcakes in flight?"
I immediately thought of Ammaretta, until someone asked, incredulously, "People are using fruitcakes to take over planes?"
"You know," butted in Hortel, taking center stage, "we had a serious fruitcake infraction of our own in Botumsup, Ala., last Christmas. A case of domestic violence, sure enough. A woman didn't appreciate the hair curlers her husband put under the tree for her and cracked him over the head with his own mother's homemade fruitcake. Near 'bout killed the man, bless his heart."
"I heard terrorists are planting explosives in them," offered another cousin. "Those red and green petrified cherries would penetrate flesh like holiday shrapnel."
"Cool," chimed in the children's tables.
"The Air Marshals would have to take me down before I'd give up a Bud McNeace fruitcake," my father-in-law challenged, rather heatedly.
"You still have one of those?" a surprised uncle asked. "How long has Bud been dead?"
"God bless him, he passed over 11 years ago, after a terribly long illness," my mother-in-law sighed.
The uncle started, "So, that would make the cake..."
"Nearly 14 years old," finished my proud father-in-law.
"Eeeewwww," gasped the card-table tykes.
This did not dissuade my husband's pa. With a gleam in his eye and fond memories of old Bud, he waxed forth about his holiday routine:
Each December, like an archeologist unearthing ancient artifacts, he digs the frosted fossil from where it sifted to the bottom of the freezer. When his fingers finally find the hunk enclosed in a Tupperwear container and wrapped in foil, his soul rejoices and joy abounds.
Gently he places the goody on the counter to thaw and pours himself a glass of brandy. (A spoonful of sugar they say...)
When the moment is right, he begins the unveiling, slipping the dessert first from its plastic tomb, and then carefully peeling away the aluminum mask. Beneath that lies the port stained cheesecloth cloaking the remains from the previous year.
He gazes lovingly at the beauty beneath the folds, knife poised to slice the annual sliver. Ceremoniously, the cut is made. The fork falls, and a decadent (his word, not mine) dollop, chased by a swig of brandy, satisfies his palate (and sucks up his saliva, my words not his). Finally, he pauses to ponder which heir he shall will it to, should he meet his demise prior to consuming the last crumb.
By the time my wistful father-in-law finished his account, we all sat, mouths agape - except for the children, who squawked a collective, "That's so gross."
An impressed Uncle Buck broke the awkward moment, asking, "How many years you think you got left in that baby?"
"Oh, I'd say about a dozen, depending on how I carve it."
"If we don't have a fruitcake incident of our own, first," warned my mother-in-law.
Storing all this delectable data into her encyclopedia of family oddities and misfortunes, Cousin Hortel breathed, "Bless his heart."
I'm just glad my father-in-law didn't have to travel by air to come for Christmas.
Lucy Adams is a Columbia County native and McDuffie County resident. E-mail comments to lucy.adams at lifeslittlelesson.com.
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