Christmas Spirit.

021A friend of mine brought around some Christmas spirit in the form of little chocolate bottles filled with liquor. They probably hold less than half a teaspoon so not enough for even the lightest of weights to get vershnickered, but still the perfect combination for toasting the season. It made me think of the chocolate rum balls my mother used to make at this time every year. My grandfather loved them which made my teetotaler grandmother furious. “It’s all right,” he’d say. “The alcohol bakes out.” And then he’d wink at my mother because he knew damn well she put the rum in after they were baked.

And it made me think of my other favorite Christmas story, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory about how he and a much older cousin would make fruitcakes every winter and give them out for Christmas. My favorite part is when they go to buy whiskey from the intimidating establishment of Mr. Haha Jones, so named because he never laughs.

Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It’s Mr. Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn’t smile. No, he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: “What you want with Haha?”

For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: “If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”

His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. “Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”

“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking. ”

This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.” Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. He demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: “Two dollars.”

We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. Suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. “Tell you what,” he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, “just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”

Fruitcake is one of the most maligned signs of the season, but I bet that the ones Truman Capote and his cousin made were so good even my grandmother would approve.

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10 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I approve of this post, Chris, as usual. And you’ve given me another great Christmas Story to discover. Many thanks, in the spirit of Christmas.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      As a fellow English major I would have thought you were already familiar with it, but it makes me even happier to think of you reading it for the first time.

      Reply
  2. Gina

    I’ve only had fruitcake one time that actually tasted good to me (I think it was made my Trappist monks or something like that). I work with an older woman who loves fruitcake. The home-made kind of her youth that she said would take a long time to make because you had to keep adding whiskey for it to soak in. Anyway, I saw a “real” fruitcake” for sale online with free shipping so I sent her an email entitled “Saw fruitcake and thought of you!” only to realize how that sounded. Her mentally ill daughter lives with her and I think she has her own issues as well. It’s really a shame that fruitcake has become cruel slang for mentally ill.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      As a kid I didn’t understand the hostility toward fruitcake until I realized what I thought was fruitcake was really pineapple upside-down cake, which is also cake with fruit in it so…Anyway, yeah, it is a shame that fruitcake has become slang for mentally ill. Sometimes I’ll hear “nutty as a fruitcake” which I guess gets shortened sometimes to just “fruitcake”, but it still bothers me because I really like nuts. And fruitcake and nuts are two things I associate with Christmas.
      Anyway surely that woman knew what you meant.

      Reply
  3. Tripping

    I love this story and I love a boozy fruitcake.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes! That’s why I think most fruitcake gets a bad rap: it’s store-bought and is completely booze-free.

      Reply
  4. Spoken Like A True Nut

    One of my old coworkers said his wife made a fruitcake he swore was guaranteed to get you plastered on half a slice. That’s how you do baking right.

    Now I’m kind of wishing I made rum balls this year. My mother and I used to make them together every Christmas when I lived at home. The recipe made a LOT, but for some reason they never survived into the new year…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yeah, the holidays just aren’t the same without some spirit. I love the idea of fruitcake that requires you to show ID before you can have a slice. Although it’s only once a year, right?
      Well, there’s also New Year’s Eve so I guess technically there are two times of year when we’re allowed to indulge. And you don’t want Christmas treats hanging around until the new year when everyone’s making a resolution to lose weight.

      Reply
  5. Sandra

    Even though Christmas has come and gone, I won’t feel like the holidays are complete until I have a fruitcake…and now I’m totally craving it. And just for the record I think the picture at the top of the post is not of a tiny chocolate liquor bottle but rather a giant tape holder….just sayin’ 🙂 I’ve missed so many of your posts with the business of the season. I’m looking forward to your wonderful stories in the new year my friend. Belated happy holidays.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Hey, the holiday season is year ’round. Okay, maybe it isn’t really but it should be. Anyway the giant tape dispenser is a throwback to my childhood when my parents would put rolls of tape in my stocking. I loved to make things and tape was like glue but with instant gratification.
      And welcome back. I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

      Reply

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