My family is Italian; tradition is life for us. Every family has them: certain candlesticks Grandma only uses at Christmas, a plate used for generations to serve the Thanksgiving turkey, stealing all the chocolate from trick or treat bags after the kids go to bed. The day before school starts, we go to Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner. On the Bunny’s birthday, we go to the movies to see the new Pixar film. But there is one that stands out among all others in my family; that is the Christmas fruitcake. Back in the early turn of the century, a young Italian woman was on her way to America. She had heard of the streets paved in gold and handsome young men. What she found was piles of laundry and my Irish grandfather. In December of 1918 my grandmother, Elizabeth, went to open a bank account with two dollars and eighty seven cents. As part of the bank’s new account promotion my grandmother received a fruitcake in a tin. I’m a fan of the free gift. I signed my fair share of credit card applications just for the free shirts, hats, frisbees, coffee mugs, pens, towels, bobble head dolls of various sports players, and even a free pizza. It’s genetic. Our family motto is, “If it’s free it’s for me.” But even I’m confused why they gave out a fruitcake. My grandmother, not wanting to appear ungrateful, took the tinned, baked monstrosity home. This was no easy feat. It weighed as much as Santa, his reindeer, and his sleigh filled with toys all packed into an 8×13 inch tin. Using a pulley hanging from the dining room light, Grandma hoisted the cake onto the table where she tried to figure out what it was. She had to work fast, the table was moaning and cracking under the weight. She opened the tin, poked at it, and looked at it under a magnifying glass. The ingredients were unrecognizable as anything edible. She poked at it again; it absorbed the pen and its weight increased exponentially. She slammed the lid back on and decided then and there the fruitcake was far too dangerous to just throw it out in the trash. Who knows what terrors it would unleash on the city? When my grandfather got home from work, he helped my grandmother push it off the table and across the floor. They made it to the bedroom door where it stayed for about sixteen years residing as a door stop and occassional breaker of toes in the middle of the night. Over the course of the years, my great grandparents had three children, Joseph, Diane, and my father’s mother, Florence. As they grew up in that apartment they often tried to guess what the tin in front of their parents room was. Dares were made on summer days to open it. The growling from the tin defended the cake from prowling eyes. Attempts to move the box were futile. Joey pulled a groin muscle that prevented him from pursuing a professional sports career. He went into insurance sales instead, The kids grew up and started their own lives with their own families. But the fruitcake remained. Until one year at Christmas dinner, Florence’s children, my aunts, uncles, and father, came up with an idea. Every year they would all put their names in a hat. They would draw a name from the hat and that person would become the keeper of the fruitcake for a year. My great grandfather, Joseph, loved this thought. He may be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to splint his toes for a two weeks after. It took a full year to ensure the proper safety precautions were in place. The unlucky family member had to figure out how to get it home. Then they needed to ensure the fruitcake would not escape. Some bought fireproof safes. Others bought heavy duty chains and locks. My father, having worked for the Department of Defense, had access to retinal scanning and cryogenic theft detractors. He made sure he even had motion activated alarms that would give you two minutes to deactive or it would explode by lighting the oxygen in the air on fire. Soon, the time of the choosing was upon them. Everyone gathered at Florence’s house. The fruitcake stayed outside with guards around it. Al the Snitch, Jeff the Menace, and Senesio the Rat kept watch while the family waited for the right time. Every Christmas Eve, my grandfather Peter goes to midnight mass. At this stage in his life he could steal the priests clothes, give ass in Latin, and not need three by five cards to keep track of what he’s saying. At my grandmother’s house we waited and waited and waited. It was the most agonizing thing ever. Not just because of the fruitcake terror waiting for its new home. No. Because to be pure as the driven snow for the birth of the baby Jesus we fast. All Christmas Eve. Not one candy cane, Hershey kiss, or clam. Yes, I said clam. Because not only can we not eat all Christmas Eve but waiting for my grandfather’s return from church at one in the morning Christmas Day is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Clams, mussels, octopus, squid, shrimp, eel, and anchovies in various forms of fried, seared, baked, broiled, grilled, roasted, and smothered and covered in sauce. When finally my grandfather returned from church, all names went in a Flyers cap. My Uncle Keith got caught trying to cheat by writing my father’s name instead of his own. So my grandmother put his name in twice as punishment. The family held a collective breath as the first victim was chosen. I was only five at the time so I was the most trusted. I put my chubby hand in the hat and pulled out a name that made the family laugh for years. Florence aka my father’s mother aka my grandmother. My aunts yelled out the kitchen window to the guards to bring in the fruitcake. They used an engine hoist to transport the abomination to the place set forth by my grandmother. In the basement, there was a closet. In the closet was a gun safe capable of withstanding the winds from an F4 tornado, the shaking from a 6.5 earthquake, and five foot flood waters. The salesman made mention of being too heavy for aliens to suck it up with a tractor beam but that was too much for even my grandmother to believe. After all she was talking about fruitcakes and he was talking about aliens. Too far fetched. It’s been thirty years since that first drawing. My mom says they haven’t done in it years. The whereabouts of the fruitcake are unknown. We think my Uncle Keith took it to California and dropped it in the ocean. This would explain the earthquake that caused the tsunami that destroyed the nuclear powerplant in Japan. You see how diabolical this thing is? The family still refrains from eating all day on Christmas, except for the kids because that’s just cruel and unusual punishment. My cousin and I look at them as weak. We did it. We survived. That’s why our present piles were always bigger and better than their’s are now. Grandpa still goes to midnight mass and everyone still waits for him to get home before eating and opening presents. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is still laid out on the table next to the spice drops, walnuts, and pizzelles made with Great Grandma’s cast iron, imported from Italy pizzelle maker using her recipe that has just a touch too much Anisette. My great grandparents have been gone over twenty years now but I am grateful for traditions they passed down to us while they were here. And I’m grateful to that bank for giving a confused Italian woman a story to pass on for generations. And to you, Demonic Fruitcake, where ever you may be, I am grateful for you as well. Because no one believes this story where I live now in Jomo. So they will never know it was my family that did our best to protect the Earth from you and your wave of destruction. Where ever you rest now, Fruitcake, I wish for you a silent night and peace on Earth. And thank you for giving my family this tradition. For you and for this tradition I am grateful.
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