Trench Cake

Everyone had gone to the party except for Erika, who was stuck babysitting her ancient Grandmother. Erika’s tea was cold and the only edible item left on the little table in front of her was Christmas cake.

“I hate Christmas cake, Grandma. Who eats this stuff, anyway?” 

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Her Grandma looked at her, sadly. “You’d be surprised.” 

“This sounds like a grandma story about the old days,” Erika said, smiling, sitting back in her chair. Grandma Morgan stories about the old days could be interesting.

“So long ago, when I was your age Christmas cake represented hope.”

Erika sat for a moment trying to imagine how a block of stodgy cake with nuts and berries could possibly be considered hopeful.

“Hope? Really? In what way?”

“You have to picture the world I lived in. It was 1944 and we lived on the Prairies after a decade of depression. What have you heard about the Depression, Erika?”

“We heard all about it in school. Dirt storms and a stock market crash.”

“That’s part of it but have you heard what happened to the average citizen?”

“No.”

“We were on the farm and there was very little rain for years. The topsoil that was our livelihood just blew away in the wind. Nobody had any money. Luckily, we managed to have our own little gardens to keep our bellies filled.”

“So, you couldn’t buy any food in those days?”

“We hardly had a penny to buy anything. We traded or grew what we needed. My dad took the engine out of our old car and changed it into a wagon because he couldn’t afford to get it fixed or buy gas for it.”

“So, this is about Christmas cake, right?”

“Sorry. I’m prattling on. So Canada was at War in 1939 and most of the men marched off. Most of them stayed at their overseas posts. Nobody came home very often. We just knew they were out there because the army preacher hadn’t come by to tell us he was dead.”

“Oh Lord…”

“My dad and two brothers were in the conflict. My grandparents looked after us and the farm. My grandmother used to say Christmas cake was hope.”

“Hope?”

“Yes, hope. She’d been through the Great War, World War One. I remember she’d say it’s time to make Christmas cake to send to the men. ‘I’m feeling sad so it’s time for some hope.’ She’d ask me to help make it while telling me a story.”

“Like you’re telling me, now.”

“Yes. She’d scramble around to find glazed fruit, raisins, peel, nuts she’d hidden away and combine it with flour, molasses and any other ingredients she could find. We baked it all and then had to soak it in rum and cheesecloth to preserve it.  It wasn’t easy in those days. She’d spend all afternoon making this special cake. She’d specially cut it into three parts and get it ready to send overseas.”

“Why was it hope?”

“When she was done she looked at me and said, ‘I hoped I could find enough ingredients to make this cake and we did. I’m hoping it will make its way across the Atlantic and the ship won’t be sunk. If it makes it to the port and it makes it to my dad and my brothers, wherever they may be, I hope they are alive to eat it and think of us, standing here in this kitchen baking it just for them.’”

“You were thinking of them and they were thinking of you, Grandma? They could take their minds away from the awful things they were experiencing for a moments to imagine us baking for them at home, here in this kitchen.”

“So, Christmas cake was hope for you and your grandma and your family.”

“Yes, Christmas cake will always be hope for me,” her Grandma said with a tear running down her cheek.

An excerpt from the novel ‘A Gypsy Haunting’ by Patrick. D. Ferris

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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