When I signed the receipt on his digital device and the Fedex deliveryman handed me the package, the last link of my last remaining bond with the family Christmas traditions of my youth was completed. The package from my youngest sibling, Dave, would contain the Christmas cake he sends me every year without fail. It had traveled the past twenty hours from the Tropical heat and rain of Trinidad, been prodded, probed and sniffed by US Customs, transferred in the dead of night at some snowbound airport somewhere in mid-USA. Now it was in my hands, no longer a package but a bond with long past Christmases and parents and siblings gone or scattered.
Dave has found a way to get this Christmas cake to me every year for decades. It has not always been convenient for him. One of the most memorable episodes was the Christmas when he used his valuable pass he earned by working for an airline to fly most of a day and all night to bring it to my home in California, just about collapse on the sofa in the livingroom for a few hours of sleep and fly all those hours again back to Trinidad to be with his family.
I refuse to call this cake a fruitcake. A traditional Trinidad Christmas cake bears as much resemblance to that often derided concoction we know as a fruitcake here as a Rolls Royce to a battered Yellow taxicab.
It is black or almost black in color from the liquid "burnt sugar" used in the batter. I suppose the culinary term would be caramelized sugar, but it was always called burnt sugar when I was a kid and vied to lick the remnants of batter from the mixing bowl. It was always pure coarse brown cane sugar, burnt in a blackened cast iron pot. The raisins, currants, prunes, cherries, citron and other fruits the cake is made of blend into a heavenly aromatic dark mush after soaking for days in cherry brandy and rum. After baking the cake, more like a pudding in consistency is kept moist until eaten by more infusions of those spirits.
The thorough house cleaning, painting and varnishing, the presents Santa used to leave under the bed and the family under the Christmas tree, the Midnight Mass in the old parish church across the street, the merry crowds of family and friends, the lustily sung Christmas Carols, the toasting and the Christmas cake that signified Christmas, I have been separated from, except for this cake.
This afternoon as I enjoy a generous slice with my tea out here in the Pacific Northwest it will be a reunion of sorts with a joyful Christmas Past.
Thanks Dave and Sandra and a Very Merry Christmas to All.