I appreciate the speed and ease of modern technology. Texting and e-mails are great. But there’s something so evocative about the handwritten word. The handwritten recipes in my recipe box are rich with memories—not just of the dishes themselves but also of the people who wrote them.
This is my grandmother’s recipe for fruitcake and seeing her carefully formed handwriting always reminds me of how unhappy she was.
I don’t know what she wanted from her life, but I do know the role of warm loving grandma wasn’t it. She had vague artistic leanings that were smothered by her early life where she was dominated by several bossy older sisters and held a series of brutal, menial jobs until she got pregnant and had to marry my grandfather.
Deeply insecure about her own self-worth, my grandmother tried to raise it by stage- managing the successes of her husband and her only child (my mother) and the emotions of her grandchildren. This made those around her resentful, defensive and, in my case, eager to avoid her company.
Every year when I pull out this recipe, I remember how unhappy she was. It’s like a grim film that clings to this piece of paper. I’m the haphazard family historian, reluctant keeper of photos of unidentifiable, long-dead relatives, chipped Depression glassware and memories.
My grandmother left behind a few sketchbooks, drawings, dress designs, and a box of handwritten recipes.
Each year I make this fruitcake as both a tribute to her painfully sealed-off dreams and a cautionary warning to myself to make sure I’m letting my children find their own way, not MY way, toward happiness. And although fruitcakes are the butt of many Christmas jokes, this one is actually good. Mostly nuts and fresh dates. No chewy citron. A few cherries for color. Just remember to shake your own dreams loose and let them breathe. Because strangled dreams will poison your life and the lives of those you love if you don’t.
Thanks, Grandma. I won’t forget.