One person’s first effort at making Christmas cake – and it’s not about cake

It was a lovely, wintry day – perfect for doing anything related to Christmas. My husband Den and I were in the Bulk Barn, excitedly gathering our ingredients. I felt like a kid, again. The anticipation of something amazing was almost too much.

Mixing the dry ingredients

On December 25, 1994, my family and I said goodbye to my mom. She had been feeling unwell during the summer, and, on September 25, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. It was terminal. Three months later, Mom left us for what I can only imagine to be an amazing party, with generations of family members there to greet her.

Pineapple … something so simple adds much

You see, Mom was a genealogist. Her passion was the researching and discovery of generations of ancestors. She did amazing work, all before this thing called Google and the Internet. Her work was done while drinking coffee in the homes of real people, and traipsing through cemeteries, and sifting through dusty archives.

Breaking the nuts makes the cake better

My mom was consumed by her passion, which eventually yielded two books – one that included everything she had found about the Scott family; and one that included everything about the Doran family. (The Doran Family book was, in fact, her Christmas gift to everyone, the day of her death.) Her work also yielded banker’s box after banker’s box filled with documents, photos and notes, which were eventually donated to our local Trent Valley Archives.

How pretty is this!

But, what does all this have to do with Christmas cake, you might ask.

Well, it has taken me 25 years to figure that out. What I’ve determined is that only now am I finally coming to terms with the loss of my mother. I realize that I had lost my mom to her passion many years prior to her death. But, while she was alive, there was always the hope that she would one day see value in the living, rather than only (or so it seemed) in the dead.

Now mixing the wet ingredients

Don’t get me wrong – I am very proud of the work my mom did! Her work is considered to be some of the most detailed work related to the Peter Robinson emigration from Ireland to here, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, in 1825. I’ve heard that people come from all over the world to go through her research, now located in the Archives.

It’s just that I felt I had lost my mom, long before she died, but held out hope of finding her again, and, then, she was gone.

An empty pan waiting for something amazing

Every year, Mom made her Christmas cake. It was a big deal. I remember, when my siblings and I were just wee kids, we were put to work, helping to make the cake. I remember taking my turn, standing on a kitchen chair, leaning over the huge pan of cake ingredients, stirring the heavy mixture, using the special wooden spoon that Dad had made, just for Christmas cake production. (No store-bought spoon would ever survive the batter-stirring process, so Dad made two large spoons, which I treasure, to this day.)

For all of the weddings in the family, Mom would make her Christmas cake, ice it, cut it up into tiny pieces, and wrap each wee piece individually, to be gifted to each wedding guest. That cake was a big deal.

Over the past 25 years, one of my brothers has made Mom’s cake, using Mom’s recipe. I could not even bring myself to eat the cake. Now, I do realize that people either love fruit cake, or they hate it. I happen to be in the fruit cake lover camp. But, for 25 years, I could not even bring myself to taste Mom’s cake, baked with love, by my brother.

Mixing everything together

So, when my husband, Den, said to me, “We have to mark this special date – it’s been 25 years since your mom’s death; we need to do something special,” I never would have thought we would find ourselves in the bulk store, choosing glazed cherries (red and green) and citrus peel. Never!

But there we were. And Den’s excitement, about the prospect of taking on what we perceived to be such a massive task, was contagious. I was soon caught up in the doing of it all – tracking down Mom’s recipe; running from store to store; choosing only the best ingredients; measuring; mixing; soaking; mixing; soaking; mixing some more; more measuring; and stirring. And then, the baking.

I think it was the stirring that did it. It was a memory imbedded deep in my body. Using that spoon – the one my dad had made. Stirring that stiff batter. Having to put my weight into it. All those childhood memories came rushing back. It was visceral. I was a kid again. I could not contain my joy. I imagined my mom being right there. Smiling. Patiently accepting any of our wee mistakes. Nodding with approval when into the oven went the pan. And out came this amazing cake.

Packing it down so we get a good result

This year’s was the first Christmas since 1994 that I did not feel the oppressive weight of the loss of my mom. The making of the cake helped me to realize that my childhood memories are enough. Those memories give me joy. Yes, they are enough.

It takes time!

I realize today that I have finally grown through my grief. A very good friend told me, way back in December of 1994, that I should never allow someone else to tell me how to grieve the loss of my mom, or how long to grieve. That every person’s journey through grief is unique. I have never forgotten her wise words. I am grateful for them.

Enjoying the fruits of our labour

And I’m grateful for Den’s enthusiastic, yet gentle encouragement to make Mom’s cake. I would never have done it, otherwise! With the making and baking and enjoyment of her Christmas cake, I believe I have finally, after 25 years, arrived on the other side of grief.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sharon Davis says:

    Linda,wow what a truly wonderful story.I really enjoyed it so very much.The way you felt about making your MomsChristmas cake recipe.I feel about not being able to watch ‘Joyce Meyer’.My Mom & I use to watch it every morning.Unless I was working (mostly worked afternoons/evenings.My Mom has been gone almost five years.

    1. Oh Sharon, your grief is still so fresh. I’m so sorry for your loss. My prayer for you is that you find your way through your grief … and that it does not take 25 years, as it did me. Just take as long as you need … and don’t feel pressure to “just get on with things.”

  2. Laurie says:

    What a wonderful story, it made me cry!

  3. Lynn says:

    So incredible and eloquently written! Can truly feel the love and your journey through your grief to the celebration of your mom and the peace and joy you now feel at Christmas! Truly a blessed gift!!!❤️💕

    1. Aw, thank you, Lynn! ❤ ❤

  4. AuntJanetC says:

    Amazing story — I am so glad you found your way to peace for THIS season! Cannot wait to feel the same! Love you! ❤️️😍🤗💗

    PS If you still have some, add a pic of a piece of the cake? I want to imagine eating it! 🍰🍒

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