very morning it’s my job to make the coffee before my wife joins me for some breakfast and conversation. This has been a tradition in our marriage ever since it began over thirty-one years ago. While I was getting the coffee pot ready, I noticed a large jar next to the coffee machine.
It must have had a gallon capacity but was only a quarter filled by some kind of yellowish liquid. The liquid was brewing because its surface was covered with tiny bubbles. When my wife came downstairs to join me for breakfast I asked what this newest of inhabitant of our kitchen counter was.
She told me it was a starter cake. Not having a clue as to what a starter cake is supposed to be, I asked for an explanation. She told me that she received the starter liquid from her sister. She explained that every time one made the cake they would have enough left to give the extra mix to two other people who wanted to make their own Christmas cake.
These people would then make their cakes and have a couple of starter liquids to give to other people, so the same cake starter would spread around our known universe. This intrigued the hell out of me because I wondered where the starter cake liquid had been and where it was destined to go.
I remember last holiday season when my sister-in-law made the cakes and brought some over for Christmas Eve. The cakes she brought were exceptional in that they tasted fresh and were packed full of fruit and nuts. My wife loved them to the point that she asked if she could have a starter cake. She agreed and the starter cake from somewhere in the past and destined to become a part of many futures now rests on our kitchen counter.
Staring into the contents of the gallon jug, that was now brewing on my kitchen counter, I imagined where parts of our Christmas cake came from. My mind’s eye took me back to a time when avocado green was the color of choice in most of our nation’s kitchens. I watched a smiling young woman in a flowered apron and very high hair stirring her Christmas cake, after adding pineapple, cherries, and nuts.
She must have known that, in a few short days, she would be serving the most delicious of all the holiday cakes. At the time I wondered if she was also staring into the bubbling gold-colored liquid, looking through her own mind’s eye imagining another time when the ancestors of her cake had reigned supreme. The colors of her kitchen must have been black and white.
The table and counters would have been made of wood. Even the spoon, that the young woman with the tightly-pulled back hair was stirring the starter cake with, was made out of wood. She was wearing a tan-colored blouse and trousers that made the point where the blouse ended, and the trousers begin, impossible to find. She was wearing a bright white and stiffened apron hoping to produce what was promised to be the dessert of the Christmas season.
As she watched the bubbling liquid move with her spoon she must have imagined what it must have been like for the person who gave her the start of her Christmas cake. The kitchen of her imagination would have been even darker than hers. The stove would have been coal fueled and the woman doing the stirring would have worn an open-collared polka dot house dress. It would have had little need for a belt to break up the monotony of the bleached-out dots that once held their color instead of appearing like old washed-out stains.
This woman was stirring her Christmas cake but did not have the money to buy the pineapple, cherries, and nuts that would flavor the Christmas cakes of her future. She used apples, peanuts, and even pieces of old bread to make her Christmas cake the best the hard times of her present could produce.
She also stared into the yellow liquid, wondering if the woman of the house or her housekeepers stirred the magical yellow liquid like she was doing, on that specific day. She imagined that this house was much larger than hers and was filled with not only the family but also an army of housekeepers and butlers to make the people of the house forever comfortable.
A small woman wearing a black and white maid’s uniform was standing on a chair so as to be able to reach the top of the gallon jar that was laid on a large granite counter top. She stirred in every kind of fruit and nut that was available. She smiled as she stirred the magic liquid hoping that this particular bash would make enough cakes to allow her and her colleagues the tiniest little taste.
On and on my mind ferociously worked up these images as I watched the starter cake begin to effervesce and let go of tiny bubbles that formed a kind of protective skin on top of the golden liquid. My minds eye then decided to go away from where the starter cake came from and dive into the future to where the starter cake was destined to go.
I now watched a young lady in a clean, austere, and basically modern kitchen churning the yellow liquid so that it could take in the oranges, cranberries, and walnuts that she traditionally stirred into the starter cake. She had two young children playing at her feet one holding onto bright crimson apron strings that hung from an even brighter apron that protected the young mother from staining her perfectly-kept blouse and pair of jeans.
Focusing on this young woman’s face it appeared to be a combination of my wife and I. Before my mind was able to go ahead another generation to imagine a kitchen filled with things that haven’t been invented yet my wife woke me into reality by asking what I was thinking about, as I stared into the gallon jug. I told her nothing more than where we have been and where we probably will go.
The meaning of Christmas can be defined by a cake by Jim Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine