I hate retirement. It’s boring and rife with marital landmines. You don’t believe me, here’s an example. For the past three months, I have repeated the same morning routine; I wake up, get the paper, and sit down to bran cereal. I hate bran cereal. My doctor told Linda, my loving bride, I needed to lose weight and eat more fiber. I used to eat bacon and eggs, now I’m tortured with twigs. I tried to fight the issue, but it’s hard to argue with a woman crying because she thinks you’d rather die from heart disease than live with her for another 35 years.
One morning, just like all the others, I sat at the table attempting to sink the twigs in my bowl. Then the unexpected happened. The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it, honey.” I said, quickly leaving the table. I opened the front door, to an empty porch. The bell didn’t ring itself. Taking a second glance I saw a small, foil wrapped object with a fluffy, red bow.
“Who is it, dear?” Linda asked as she eased beside me.
“No one.” I reached down for the package. “It’s heavier than it looks.”
“Be careful. I read in a newspaper yesterday about a mailbox bomb.”
I love my wife, but sometimes I think she believes we live in Iraq. “It’s not a mailbox bomb. It’s not even in the mailbox.”
“I know that, but it could be a bomb.”
“Why would it be a bomb? Who would bomb us?”
As we walked back to the kitchen Linda added, “Terrorist don’t care who they harm, dear.”
I took the bow off and gave the parcel a little shake. Nothing. I took that as a sign the house would be fine and peeled off the foil. On the remnants sat a dark, brown cake full of chopped fruit and nuts. The sugary scent filled the kitchen.
“It’s a fruitcake!” Linda said surprised. “Isn’t that sweet, someone gave us a fruitcake.”
“I think I’d have preferred the bomb.”
“Robert, that’s terrible.”
“I hate fruitcake, and this is the third fruitcake I’ve gotten this week. Why does everyone we know insist on giving us fruitcake. No one eats fruitcake anymore. It’s the butt of every holiday joke.”
I stopped mid rant when I heard a high pitched giggle coming from behind me. I turned to see my grandson poking the cake.
“Wow, this thing feels like a brick, pawpaw.”
“It is a brick, a fruitcake brick. You want some?”
“Noooo” he squealed, wrinkling his freckled nose as he laughed.
“You boys have fun, today. I have to get to the library. I’ll be home at two.” Linda gave me a peck on the cheek and hugged my wingman as she left.
“Don’t read any newspapers while you’re there.” I yelled, as she walked out the door.
“What are you gonna do with it, Pawpaw?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we think about it over breakfast.” I looked at the soggy cereal. “Grab your shoes, we’re going out to eat.”
To say the Cafe was decorated for Christmas, would be an understatement. It looked like a mob of elves had attacked the place. Every inch was covered in ropes of garland and twinkle lights. Christmas music played through the sound system and the smell of gingerbread wafted through the air, almost overpowering the smell of frying bacon. Almost.
We hopped into a booth and ordered plates of eggs, grits, and bacon.
“So, Seth what are we going to do with three fruitcakes?”
“You could eat them.” Seth said with a laugh.
“Or I could feed them to you.”
Seth made a choking noise and pretended to faint. “You could always give them back.” Seth added, once his head popped back up.
The logic of that wasn’t lost on me, but Linda would have a fit.
“Pawpaw, how do you get rid of bad luck?”
“There’s no such thing as bad luck.” I said slightly confused by the change in subject.
“Yes, there is and Jenny said I have it.”
“How does she know you have bad luck?” I asked, eagerly awaiting his answer.
“Jenny wrote me a letter and I threw it away.”
“Is Jenny your girlfriend?”
“Yuck! She said I was supposed to send the letter to someone else, but I didn’t. I threw it away. I don’t like to write letters, too much work.”
“I agree, I don’t like to write letters either. Let me get this straight. She sent you a letter, she wanted you to send it to another kid, but because you threw it away, now you have bad luck.”
“That’s what Jenny said.”
“That’s a chain letter, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a trick to make people write letters. I think it was started by the post office.” I took another bite of bacon. “Say, that’s a brilliant idea.”
Seth looked confused. “What idea?”
“I know what to do with the fruitcakes. Come on we have work to do.”
We made it back to the house in record time. I went to the closet and pulled out wrapping paper and bows, and set them on the table.
“I don’t get it Pawpaw. What are we doing with wrapping paper?”
“Listen carefully. We’re going to play a joke on a few people. Jenny gave you a chain letter. We’re going to do the same thing with the fruitcake. Let’s wrap these cakes up as gifts, then early tomorrow morning we’ll deliver them.”
“Just like Santa!”
“That’s right just like Santa.” Except, no one wants what we have. “Now, this is a surprise so you can’t tell anyone. It has to be a secret to work.”
“Ok, but it doesn’t sound very funny. Jokes are supposed to be funny.”
“Trust me, it’s funny.”
We took the fruitcakes, wrapped them in foil, and then in wrapping paper. Seth was in charge of putting bows an each cake.
“Aren’t you going to put a tag on them?” Seth asked innocently.
“No, we don’t want people to know who it’s from. Remember it’s a surprise.”
To make it easier to deliver our gifts, Seth spent the night in the guest room.
“Seth, wake up. It’s time to go.” I said as I shook his arm.
“What time is it?”
“It’s 5am. Come on, we have to go.”
Seth swung his legs out from the covers, still wearing his jeans and sneakers.
“Why did you sleep in your clothes?”
“You said we needed to leave early, this way I don’t have to change.”
The logic of an eight year old is a dangerous thing. We walked to the shop and picked up a box labeled hunting clothes.
“Pawpaw, what are you doing with hunting clothes?”
“It’s not hunting clothes, it’s fruitcake. I had to hide them somewhere your granny wouldn’t find them. Come on let’s go.”
We loaded up the car and headed to the back of the neighborhood. I knew exactly who should get the first cake. My doctor, it’s his fault I have to eat bark for breakfast. We drove up to his Creole, and parked on the edge of his yard.
“The plan is to leave the fruitcake on the porch, ring the bell, and leave.”
“Mama says it’s not nice to ring doorbells and leave. That’s like crank phone calls.”
“Normally, your mama would be right, but we’re leaving a gift, so it’s ok.”
“I thought this was a joke.”
The boy was obviously confused. “It’s a joke but it’s also a gift.” I explained, exhausted from the conversation.
“It’s not a very good gift.”
“I know. Listen, just sit in the car and watch.”
I crept out of the car, leaving the door cracked a little and the motor running. I scurried up to the door and sat the fruitcake down on the front step. My heart was beating faster than it had in years. I felt like a kid again. I wondered if this would count as exercise. I rang the doorbell and dashed back across the yard to the car. I jumped in, slammed the door, and drove off.
“Whew, that was fun. Who’s next?”
“Oh, I know. My teacher, she gave us a project to do over Christmas break. Let’s give her a cake.”
“Homework over Christmas! I can’t think of a better person to get a fruitcake. Where does she live?”
“Next to Uncle Joe.”
We drove the short distance and arrived at a pink Victorian house. It was a nice house, but the color was sickening. What man would let his wife paint the house pink?
“Remember, walk up to the door, leave the cake, and ring the bell. Leave your door open, for a quick getaway.” His eyes lit up like sparklers, at the idea of playing a prank on his teacher. I couldn’t wait for him to be in high school and graduate to rolling houses. I knew quite a few tricks to teach him about that.
He quietly opened the door, fruit cake in hand, and tip toed across the yard. He looked like a cat stalking his prey. He placed the cake at the base of the door, rang the bell, and ran as fast as he could across the yard. His arms waved uncontrollably in the air. He jumped in, slammed the door, and we sped off. My heart was bursting with pride for the boy. He had the makings of a great prankster.
The final house belonged to the president of the neighborhood homeowners association. She was trying to force me to take down my bottle tree. She said it looked tacky. I put a new one up covered in beer bottles.
We pulled up to a beige, ranch house. All the bushes were perfectly trimmed. The grass was lush and green, even in December. Not a single leaf was out of place. It was picture perfect and soulless. It gave me the creeps. Seth eased out of the car. As soon as his foot crossed the property line a siren sounded. Seth jumped and ran in circles. He tossed the cake onto the porch and ran back to the car. I waited just long enough for him to close the door before I sped off, squealing tires as I went.
In the protection of the car, Seth broke into hysterical laughter. Needing a reason to be out this early, we bought a jug of chocolate milk and doughnuts before heading home. Our adventure was over.
On Christmas Eve morning, I sat down to my bowl of twigs and coffee to read the paper. The front page read, Fruitcakes Take Over. I laughed at the picture. Our esteemed mayor was holding a wrapped fruitcake he had found on his porch. According to the article, fruitcakes had been showing up around town. The police attributed the phenomenon to misguided youth, since the culprits rang the doorbell and runaway. The police chief stated the cakes appeared to be safe. However, they seemed to disappear from one house and reappear on someone else’s doorstep later. The police asked residents to throw the cakes away if they were unwanted. One local mentioned, taking the fruitcakes to a local shelter for the homeless, no need to waste food. Why torture the homeless?
Christmas morning arrived in glittering splendor. Our kids showed up bright and early for brunch. Seth excitedly told about the gifts Santa brought him. Just as we sat down to eat, the doorbell rang. I should have realized that was odd on Christmas morning, but the jovial nature of the day got the best of me.
I opened the door. No one was there. Dread crept through me. I looked down. There on my porch sat, not one but twelve festively wrapped fruitcakes. All neatly stacked like a little tree.
“The blasted things have multiplied.” I screamed into the house. My beautiful family erupted in laughter. I had been pranked.