The Perils of Fruitcake
By Joy Corcoran
When I was 10 years old, I only wanted on simple thing for Christmas: a Schwinn sting ray bike with a banana seat and high riser handle bars.
I had been so good, at least, since Thanksgiving. I did all my chores with minimum complaint. I shared a room with my brother and sister, so I wasn’t about to keep the whole thing clean, but my bed was made and my toys were put away.
My parents gave every indication that Santa would bring me a bike. On Christmas Eve, I was so excited that Mom had to give me two pieces of fruit cake to get me to go to bed.
Now, the fruitcake in our family was not that dry little brick you find in the grocery store this time of year. Our fruitcake was an old family recipe that had been refined and perfected by generations of alcoholics – each year a little more rum and sugar was added to the recipe. By the time it got to my generation, it was dense moist slice of heaven. Just opening the tin that it came in was an intoxicating experience. I loved it. It was filled with chewy sweet fruits and nuts. It made me warm and happy, and calmed me down enough to go to sleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night thirsty and needing to pee. When I finished my business, I heard my parents on the back porch laughing and talking. It was a sweet sound to hear. They had been fighting so much lately, mostly about money. I peeked around the doorway to see what they were doing. They were painting an old used 1950s clunker bike pink with yellow daisies.
I was crushed. I wanted to run into the room and yell that they got the wrong bike, but they were so happy, I just couldn’t. I trudged back to bed but didn’t sleep well. When my sister and brother got up, they had to drag me out of bed, which never happened before on Christmas morning.
My mom was so happy about the bike. The yellow daisies she painted on it were small and out of style. She’d painted “Flower Powered” on the chain guard, but it didn’t have the right kind of mod over-sized flowers of the 70s. Nothing shined or glittered. It looked like the kind of bike she would ride. I pretended to like it.
I pretended to like the other gifts, too, but in our family, you had one big gift and the rest were just necessities wrapped up – pajamas, socks, underwear.
For Christmas breakfast we got to have anything we wanted. I wanted fruitcake. As I ate, I began to get a little hot and flushed. I started thinking about how hard I’d worked and how good I’d been only to wind up with that awful bike. My sister never made her bed and she got her easy bake oven. My brother threw a major fit every time he had to take out the trash, but he got his GI Joe with the kung-fu grip.
They were both eager to go outside and brag about their gifts. They had on their coats and were out the door while I was downing one more piece of fruit cake.
My mom asked if I wanted her to help me carry the bike out. I said no and put on my coat.
“Don’t you want to ride your new bike?”
“I hate that crappy bike!” I yelled. “It’s an old ladies bike!” And I ran out the door.
The girl in the neighborhood who was closest to my age was Sissy Manjialardi. Her father was actually able to keep a job and she had all kinds of great toys and cool clothes. And what was she showing off to all the neighborhood kids? A brand-new, fire-red Stingray with a gold banana seat, and high rise handle bars with glitter streamers.
She rode it down deadman’s hill, half a block from my house. It wasn’t really that dangerous, it was more like a rise in the road and she stayed on the sidewalk. None of us were allowed to ride in the street. She would speed down the hill, and fly off the curb and do this quick turn and brake and skid sideways on the asphalt leaving a mark on the asphalt.
Then she would let one of us neighborhood kids take turns pushing the sacred bike back up the hill so she could ride it down again.
I stood in line with the rest, but when my turn came, instead of waiting for her to mosey up the hill with her friends, I jumped on the bike. I flew down deadman’s hill. After all, in a fair world, the bike would be mine. Besides, I knew I was cooler than her. I knew I could do that skid thing way better than she could.
What I didn’t know is how wide those handlebars were. They got caught on the street sign. The bike stopped and bucked and I flew over the handlebars out into the street, skidded across the asphalt, and skinned my hands and face.
Sissy and the other kids screamed and ran over to the bike to make sure it wasn’t hurt. Sissy said that no one would ever be allowed to touch her bike again and she took it home. I lay there dazed waiting for the other kids to beat me up – kid justice is swift and direct. I started crying like a big baby, and I thought I probably deserved a good pounding.
But before anybody landed a punch, my mom appeared. She picked me up and did that mom thing of fussing at me and hugging me at the same time. “Can you move your arms? I can’t believe you tried to ride in the street! How many fingers am I holding up? I knew those bikes were dangerous! I never want to see you on that bike again! You could have killed yourself. You kids be careful, bikes like that’ll break your fool necks.”
She whisked me home and cleaned my wounds, which turned out to be minor.
Later she and I went for a bike ride together. She rode my dad’s bike, because, as it turned out, the bike was hers, painted up for me.
And that very day, my mom taught me how to ride in the street. She said I was old enough and since I was so hard headed, I was probably going to do it anyway. She showed me the hand singles and how to look all the way back before going around a parked car. She made me promise to be careful. And I was. And it turned out to be a great bike for me. I liked to wander, but no matter how far I went or how rocky the road was, that bike held up and brought me back home.
And that next Christmas, I did NOT have fruitcake for breakfast.