A 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.