328: “Fruitcake Chronicles,” a serialized holiday story, Part 2

(and our gift continues …)

WE’RE BACK TODAY with Part 2 of our holiday serial, “Fruitcake Chronicles,” written by Doug Bursch, a pastor and an inspiring
writer from the Pacific Northwest. (To read more about him: Check out his new venture: “The Fairly Spiritual Show.”)
    Please, as you find time during this holiday week, read along with
this fun, 6-part series. If you’re away from the Web with friends and
family for a day or two — that’s terrific — just pick up the story as
we go: We’ll keep providing easy links to all parts in the serial.
Please, tell us what you think! It won’t spoil this tale to say it’s a
mingling of Frank Capra’s “Wonderful Life,” National Lampoon’s
“Christmas Vacation” with a good dose of classic pulp fiction sprinkled
on top. And, in the end, if you stay with us, I think you’ll enjoy
where we all land, in the end.
    So, without further ado …

The Fruitcake Chronicles:
An Unexpected Gift

By Doug Bursch
(Part 2 of 6)

(LINKS TO ALL PARTS: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Parts 5 & 6)

MILDRED LURVEY 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 her neighbors were forced to fend for themselves. This year Mrs. Lurvy and her fruitcake arrived at Steve Forester’s doorstep a week before Thanksgiving, presenting a moral dilemma for Steve.
    A month ago, Steve had decided that Christmas in it’s 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 writing a treatise. 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 until the decreed date. 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 skepticism.

    No one suspected that the first real test of his revolutionary integrity would arrive mid-November in the form of a 76-year-old widow.
    “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 her rested a green wheelbarrow, piled high with brick-stacked fruitcakes. Mildred’s feeble arm lunged a fruitcake in Steve’s direction.
    He did not move.
    The weight of the pastry magnified Mrs. Lurvy’s tremor.
    Even so, Steve’s arms remained at his side, unwilling to reach out and receive the first fruits of Christmas. To the casual observer, his reaction may seem crass. However, it must be viewed in a larger fruitcake context.

    The history of fruitcake reaches back as far as Cain and Abel. The Bible says that 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 used to kill his brother.
    Evidence suggests that 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 fruitcake 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 people singing Christmas carols. But 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 homelands. As of yet, no migrant group has been willing to accept full responsibility for the 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. Mildred Lurvy’s fruitcake output was only exacerbating a timeless problem.
    Here was Steve’s 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, Mrs. Lurvy kept talking: “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’s 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.



    FOR HANUKKAH (AND CHRISTMAS): Meet Rabbi Schulweis in a Conversation about his provocative and hopeful new book on “Conscience.” Or, enjoy the remarkable history of “The Bagel.”
    GIFTS? Check out our list for the “young in heart and spirit.”
    ANOTHER KIND OF CHRISTMAS STORY: The Spiritual Wanderer’s Christmas tale.
    SHARE STORIES OF GENEROSITY: Dr. Wayne Baker invites readers to “pay it forward — and backward” this week by sharing heart-warming stories at www.OurValues.org

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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