MOTHER was 80 years old when she stopped making fruitcake for the holidays.
She had been making it and our family had been eating it every Christmas forever.
The tradition had always meant so much to her and the rest of the family. I, the youngest child, felt something of sorrow when she informed us of her decision to end it.
But, let me confess something here. I was not immensely saddened. Although I had eaten fruitcake every Christmas, I had never particularly cared for it. In fact, I couldn't stand it. Not Mother's. Not anyone's. Still can't.
One makes sacrifices in a family situation. If he is the youngest child and he is confronted with a tradition older than he is, he eats the fruitcake whether he wants to or not. The secret is to eat the one thin slice slowly as if to savor it, never failing to praise the flavor, never ready for a second piece.
The fact that Mother is a very good cook made it less difficult to conceal my dislike of her fruitcake. I could gladly accept second and third helpings of everything else, and then explain that I had best decline more fruitcake, thank you.
At some point, I was encouraged in this deception by my father.
In a moment of extraordinary weakness, he revealed to me that he didn't particularly care for fruitcake.
* He also said that Mother need not be told about this.
I can't recall whether I, in turn, confessed to him. Initially, I was disturbed to learn that a man of principle and courage, the loving husband of my wonderful mother, would engage in such devious behavior. I did adjust to this new knowledge, however. In the end it was comforting.
Father and I went on eating fruitcake at the holidays, as did my brother, my sister and Mother, of course.
This continued after my brother and sister and I had homes of our own in places far from Mother's kitchen. It even continued after Father's death. We gathered for the holidays; we ate Mother's fruitcake.
Then something astonishing occurred.
In a period of some 18 months I learned first from my sister, and then from my brother, that they . . . don't like fruitcake.
This was most disconcerting. Loyal brother that I am, I assured them that their secret was safe with me. They would not be betrayed.
The family tradition survived.
One year the fruitcake was different. It tasted . . . almost . . . good. I nearly asked for a second piece. Some ingredient, citron or some such disgusting essential, had been left out. It was back in the next year.
Finally came the year that Mother informed us all by mail that we shouldn't expect fruitcake when we arrived home that Christmas. She obviously regarded this as an important event, and I was prepared to discuss it and demonstrate appropriate sadness at the moment she chose to confront it.
I arrived home before the others that year. We were chatting, Mother and I, dusting off memories of fun and family at holidays through the years.
"Son," she said, "I hope you won't be too disappointed that I'm not making the fruitcake this year. Dad always loved it, and you kids did, too. But he's gone now, and you kids have your own homes. We don't seem to get it all eaten when you are here, and then you leave and there is a lot of it left for me to eat. And, Son, I've never told you this, but I've never much cared for fruitcake."
John J. Scholz is a copy editor for The Evening Sun.