331: “Fruitcake Chronicles,” a serialized holiday story, Parts 5 & 6

(our gift continues …)

HERE ARE THE FINAL PARTS 5 & 6 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.”)
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The Fruitcake Chronicles:
An Unfortunate Headline

By Doug Bursch
(Part 5 of 6)

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

STEVE FORESTER DESPISED his floral patterned, living room glider rocker as well as its matching glider ottoman. It was a gift from his mother-in-law, but no one sat in the awkward contraption except 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 on the crises 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 gift 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.
    Now, with only two days left until Christmas, he had to admit that 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 of fruitcake like a contagion. Occasionally, someone would politely bluff and fain interest — but Steve would indicate all to clearly that he was going to stick around to witness consumption of the well-preserved loaf.
    Excuses would soon follow, especially, “You know I better not take it; I’m sure someone else would enjoy this more than I would.”
    Along with these woes, Steve’s idea of fashioning handmade gift had taken a tragic turn for the worse. Steve’s youngest daughter interpreted the mandate to make Christmas gifts as a sign the family had reached financial ruin. She had contacted numerous charitable agencies. By the time Cynthia’s appeals were discovered by her parents, the Foresters were inundated with holiday goodwill.

    Gliding rhythmically to and fro in his cat’s favorite chair, Steve searched for an answer to the problems literally piling up before him. The heap of donated presents now was topped with a $1,000 gift card from the local Christian radio station. Equidistant 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 cake.
    “You’ve had it in for me from the beginning,” Steve spoke in the defiant tones of a Spaghetti Western.         “You think your so — so clever.”
    The fruitcake remained silent.
    “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 — just a pastry.” 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 went on: “Forester used his youngest child to prey upon the sympathies of generous holiday donors, police sources say.” His eyes raced down the columns of type, blinking in disbelief at: “Investigators suspect the accused teacher may have been trying to set up a meth lab in his suburban home.”
    An eerie calm ensued. None of them moved — not Steve, not the teetering pile of presents, not the fruitcake. Then, Steve began to glide again.
    “We’re going to fix this,” he told the cake. “And you’re coming with me.”
    Five minutes later, Steve was driving his Accord toward Village Mall. The presents were crammed in the back seat. 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

By Doug Bursch
(Part 6 of 6)

(LINKS TO ALL PARTS: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

PORTIONS OF THE NEWSPAPER STORY read as follows: “The alleged assault on the Village Mall Santa began as the distraught teacher attempted to pile three garbage bags full of wrapped presents in front of Santa’s throne. Several parents present at the scene described Forester as distraught, shouting about ‘fruitcake’ and a ‘crazy Christmas mix up.’
    “When Santa rejected the gifts, Forester became agitated. His agitation increased when Santa refused to take ‘just one bite’ of what appeared to be a large fruitcake. A heated argument ensued.
    “Michael Wagner, who has appeared as Santa at the mall for more than 10 years said, ‘I thought I’d seen everything. This guy clearly has issues. Big issues! Christmas is supposed to be about giving. Well, this guy had gotten way with more than his share, I guess — and lost it all in front of us. I’m just sorry the kids had to see this.’
    “Police converged on Forester and subdued him after he began waving the alleged fruitcake at families waiting to see Santa. Investigators say they now believe it was an ordinary pastry, but tests from the state police crime lab will take several days because — as a precautionary measure — the bomb squad transported the loaf to a vacant field and detonated it.”

    For Steve Forester, it was fortunate that attorneys for the Village Mall could not easily determine who was shouldering the most liability in the incident. The police also were worried that a nasty bruise on Steve’s forehead might lead to a lawsuit.  Eventually, two men in suits led him from his precinct holding cell into a small room with a steel-topped table and two steel chairs. They confronted him with dire legal threats and a thick stack of forms. Too humiliated to object or even ask their names, Steve signed where they pointed, promising among other things never to set foot in the mall or carry a fruitcake in public again.
    The newspaper report ended with a cryptic: “When asked what charges might be brought against the teacher, investigators and the prosecutor’s office declined comment.”
    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 man broken under the stress of the holiday season. 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 more than five miles, and he was in no hurry to stand before his traumatized family.
    The sun had set about two hours earlier. 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, a 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 hesitated.

    Slowly, the front door opened from inside. Before him stood his three reasons for everything: his wife Jenny and their two, resiliently vibrant girls.
    His youngest daughter Cynthia spoke first with a freckled smile, “Daddy, we’ve got a gift for you.”
Lystra, the older daughter, took charge from there. 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 burst full force back into the room. Lystra was carrying a carefully wrapped, thin rectangle. At first perusal, Steve suspected a picture frame. The girls stood at both sides of the rocker, while Jennifer perched on the ottoman.
    “Well, open it! 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 creation. 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 baby Jesus.
    Merry Christmas.
    Peace on Earth.
    And, especially, goodwill to all!


    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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