The article I wrote earlier this week about holiday tipping left me with a craving for fruitcake. Even though it's become sport to make fun of fruitcake, I love the stuff. But that wasn't always the case. In fact, my passion for fruitcake is a direct result of a holiday tipping story of my own.
As I recall, winter came extra early to northwest Ohio in 1967. It was the week before Christmas, and we already had a solid foot of snow on the ground. Bing Crosby's dream was definitely about to come true.
I was nine that year, and like most nine year olds I had written off the existence of Santa Claus, yet I was still madly in love with all things Christmas. But this year a cloud hung over the holiday, constantly there in the back of my mind, sandwiched between the bubble lights on our Christmas tree and the image of the new bike I was hoping to score on Christmas morning.
You see, this was the first winter I had my Toledo Blade paper route, 54 customers strung out over about a quarter square mile of suburbia, although in my mind's eye it seemed like my route covered nearly all of North America. I normally delivered the papers by foot, pulling a proverbial "red wagon" behind me, overloaded with the wire-bound bundles of papers that were dropped off at our house every morning. But with the snow, I'd retired my wagon until springtime and now lashed the bundles to the family toboggan to make my daily rounds.
The reason for my melancholy mood that Christmas season was fruitcake. While I was still ever so slightly uncertain about Santa, the one thing I knew for sure was that everybody gave their paperboy a fruitcake for Christmas. After all, it's the only thing my mother ever gave our old paperboy (AKA "the poor kid") before I took over his route. And, at the time, I hated fruitcake even more than the first day of school after summer vacation.
So, the week leading up to Christmas I trudged through the snow like a convict headed to the gallows, knowing with absolute certainty that all 54 Blade boxes along my route were packing a one pound fruitcake with my name on it.
Much to my surprise, the box in front of the first house on my route didn't contain a fruitcake at all, but rather a nice card with an even nicer $5 bill inside. And so did the next box, and the next, and the next. Sometimes along with the cash there would be a box of chocolate, or cookies, or Mrs. Tittle's homemade peanut brittle. I was making out like a bandit. Not a single fruitcake in sight.
As the week wore on and Christmas approached, I couldn't believe my good fruitcake-free fortune. Rounding the corner of Whiteford Road with my toboggan full of newspapers, a gust of frigid air nearly knocked me off my feet, and for the first time I thought to myself, "Gee, if there's a fruitcake in that next paper box, that's okay. In fact, a little nibble of that weird tasting candied fruit - even the yellow chunks, the ones that defied scientific identification - wouldn't taste that bad right now."
But nothing. More money, more chocolates, and a weird pair of socks-come-mittens the widow Kriegie crocheted for me, but not a single fruitcake that Christmas, nor the next Christmas or the one after that.
By the following Christmas, I felt so fruitcake deprived I started using most of my holiday tip money to buy fruitcakes of my own, wolfing them down as I made my rounds. And to this day, whenever I bite into a piece of that most despised holiday food, I'm a nine year old Toledo Blade carrier with a toboggan full of papers to deliver.
Happy holidays to you and yours.
# # #
Photo by Matthew Bietz via Flickr.