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Granny's secret ingredient
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"Is your Granny making her fruitcake this year?" was a question that began in mid-October.

Even for a chubby kid, fruitcake was one cake I wasn't going to touch.

First of all, it had the word "fruit" in it. I have never been a big fruit eater unless it was apples and only when they were dipped in caramel and rolled in nuts.

Secondly, those long Claxton fruitcake logs were not exactly appealing.

They were long loafs of dried out cake with these waxy looking fruit niblets in them.

"Why would anyone give this to someone as a gift?" I asked one day.

"Because they hate the person they're giving it to," was my Pop's wise response.

Even he, with his infinite sweet tooth, would not eat fruit cake.

At least not the Claxton kind.

But Granny's was different.

She started at the end of summer, asking the grocery store manager when he was going to get in the tubs of the dried fruit.

I can't remember what all went in this gluttonous fruit monstrosity, but I remember there being green and red cherries and some other bright multi-colored tub of fake looking fruit that would be used.

And let me tell y'all - those dried fruits were disgusting.

I know, I tasted them one time. I was hungry and I figured she wouldn't miss a few from her stockpile.

But she did and I got a scolding.

I assured her, the taste or coating on my tongue I couldn't get rid of was punishment enough.

There was some kind of nuts, too, not sure what kind she used and, if I am not mistaken, there were raisins and maybe even dates she had chopped.

Basically, it was a bunch of stuff she knew was safe from me eating it, especially after my first taste of the nasty wax-like cherries.

She had her horizontal freezer stacked high with her ingredients. Except for one.

One was not always on hand, and she had to continually check to see if it was available.

Each week, Granny made her pilgrimage to the Piggly Wiggly or the Winn-Dixie to see if they had her prized, secret ingredient.

She wouldn't even check the shelves, she just went up to the manager's booth and raised her chin towards him, awaiting his response. A shake of his head let her know whatever it was, was not in yet.

"They gotta get it in," she would fuss, leaving the store. "I can't make my fruitcakes without it."

"Can't you just skip the fruitcakes this year?" The question slipped out like a blasphemous swear falling off my lips.

She stopped in the middle of the Piggly Wiggly parking lot and looked at me, her face full of shock and fury.

"Not make my fruitcakes? Are you outta your mind? People count on my fruitcakes. Their Christmas will not be the same without my fruitcake. This is one of my sacred traditions!"

I wasn't sure how she thought a fruitcake was a sacred tradition but she took it seriously.

And maybe the people she made them for did count on it.

"Has Granny started her fruitcake yet?" was the question in mid-November.

I had no idea what to tell them; it was a process I was left out of for the most part.

And all I knew was her weekly trip in pursuit of the prized ingredient was not yielding her the outcome she wanted.

Granny was so distraught. She had to have this ingredient.

"What is it exactly?" I asked as we exited the store again empty handed.

"Don't you worry about it," was her haughty response.

A few more weeks passed and the old gal was wringing her hands. "If I don't get this, I won't be able to make my cakes," she said distraught.

One night, we happened to go to the grocery store. Pop wanted some ice cream and I was in the mood for something wrapped in cellophane filled with cream.

"While we're here, why don't you go check and see if they got it in?" he suggested, wanting her out of sight of how much ice cream he really wanted to get.

"It wasn't here the other day," she said.

"Maybe it is now. All I'm saying is, go check. You took the manager's word for it and he may not know. Go look with your own eyes."

Granny was desperate so she actually took his advice and pointed her buggy towards the other end of the store.

The end of the store she never went to.

The end that had the big, huge words "Beer & Wine" on the wall, like the welcome sign at the gates of Hades.

"Why is Granny going there?" I asked.

We were Baptist; Granny said we couldn't go over there or we'd burn forever.

Pop silenced me with a hand on my shoulder.

I watched my Granny stealthily push her buggy down an aisle. It felt like an eternity - had she already been pulled under? - before she emerged, her buggy clanking with the sound of glass bottles bumping each other.

Her jaw was clenched tight and she looked for the nearest cashier to check out.

I said nothing as we crossed the parking lot and Granny careful hid the brown bags of wine in the trunk of her Oldsmobile.

"Granny, is that? -"

"Hush," she cautioned.

"But Granny...is that..."

"Hooch?" my grandfather interjected. "Yup. Your Granny's secret ingredient in her fruitcakes is booze."

She didn't say a word.

"You're sending people to Hell with your fruitcakes," I said.

"I am not either," she said. "And I ain't one to gossip but if you had seen who I just bumped into in the wine section, you'd know people taking care of that on they own. At least Jesus turned water into wine; he didn't say nothing about Schlitz in the New Testament. Especially not three cases of it."

The secret to Granny's fruitcake - and why people really liked it - was finally out.

It was wine. Lots and lots of blackberry wine.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."

 

 

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