Holiday Stories: Sharing the Sweetness

Red Velvet Cake© iStockphoto/Thinkstock
On the 25th of December, my mother expects her children to be present and accounted for, exchanging gifts and eating turkey. When she pulls on that holiday sweater, everybody better get festive. Of course, I would be the first Jones sibling to go rogue. As the middle, artist child, I was going to strike out and do my own thing, make some new traditions. From a biography of Flannery O’Connor, I drew inspiration — I would spend the holiday at an artist colony!

No one took the news very well. From the way my mother carried on, you would think that I was divorcing the family. Still, I held my ground and made plans for my winter adventure in New Hampshire. The MacDowell Colony was everything I could have wished for. About 25 to 30 artists were in attendance, and it was as, well, artsy as I had imagined. It felt like my life had become a quirky independent film.

By Christmas Eve, I had been at the colony more than a week. The novelty of snowy New England was wearing off, but I would never admit it. Everyone around me was having too much fun. Sledding and bourbon! Deep conversations by the fireplace! And that guy with the piercings. So cute! What was wrong with me? This was the holiday I’d always dreamed of. No plastic reindeer grazing on the front lawn. No football games on TV. Not a Christmas sweater anywhere in sight. People here didn’t even say “Christmas,” they said “holiday.” Utter sophistication. Then why was I so sad?

Finally, I called home on the pay phone in the common room. My dad answered, but I could barely hear him for all the good-time noise in the background. He turned down the volume on the Stevie Wonder holiday album and told me that my mother was out shopping with my brothers. Now it was my turn to sulk. They were having a fine Christmas without me.

Despite a massive blizzard, a large package showed up near my door at the artist colony on Christmas morning. Tayari Jones was written in my mother’s beautiful handwriting. I pounced on that parcel like I was five years old. Inside was a gorgeous red-velvet cake, my favorite, swaddled in about 50 yards of bubble wrap. Merry Christmas, read the simple card inside. We love you very much.

As I sliced the cake, everyone gathered around — the young and the old, the cynical and the earnest. Mother had sent a genuine homemade gift, not trendy or ironic. It was a minor Christmas miracle that one cake managed to feed so many. We ate it from paper towels with our bare hands, satisfying a hunger we didn’t know we had.

• Tayari Jones is the author of three novels, most recently Silver Sparrow.

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