I’m laughing. Ha, ha, heh, heh.
Lull of silence continues at the other end of the line.
I’m interviewing nationally-known author Debbie Macomber (pronounced like cucumber her publicist informed me). I’m writing a feature article for our local newspaper about an annual festival held in Port Orchard, Washington, which is the real-life setting for Macomber’s novels. At the time of the phone interview, six or seven years ago, Macomber had sold over sixty-million books. A fact the city of Port Orchard celebrates. Thus, the festival. Although I personally hadn’t read Macomber’s books, I had read of her determination to make it as a writer. In the face of financial hardship, she persevered until she sold her first book. I recall her telling me during the interview that it took her twenty years to become an overnight success.
I admire that.
But the silence concerns me.
Maybe she put the phone down and is on her hands and knees searching for a contact lens?
Our conversation began with me asking the usual ho-hum, ice-breaker of how she’s doing. “Exhausted,” she explained and recounted her weekend of judging fruitcakes at an event. “I was a fruitcake judge,” she said in a way I thought she meant in humor.
That’s when I laughed heartily.
That’s when she didn’t.
In hindsight I see how laughing might seem rude if the statement isn’t made with humor intended. And I understood even then that she enjoyed judging fruitcakes. The word fruitcake can spark amusement on its own…nutty as a fruitcake. Even so, she may have wondered if I was laughing at her. Of course I wasn’t. I know the feelings of exhaustion can make humor much less inviting than sleep.
I moved on with the interview and it turned out well. Macomber’s publicist sent me a photo of her throwing out the first pitch at a Mariner’s game.
Life has its fruitcake moments. We say things we don’t mean, we mean things we don’t say, we laugh when it’s not funny, we don’t laugh when it was funny, we trip, we stammer, we stumble, we break our foot, we hobble in a cast for months.
If not for the fact Debbie Macomber’s novels hail from racks in checkout lines and her movies pop up on the Hallmark channel, I would have forgotten about this. But whenever I see her name, I think of fruitcake. Sometimes I think of cucumbers too.
Here’s the deal. I don’t like to dwell on fruitcake. Or cucumbers. Unless I’m making a salad.
A few weeks ago something happened to give me something much better to dwell on. A dark-haired, sparkling-eyed college student named Austin befriended Jerry and me at a restaurant we like to frequent. Austin, one of the servers, always took the time to stop at our table and say hello and briefly chat. He’s from the Seattle area, like us, so we felt a kinship.
On this particular epiphany day, Austin approached our table and explained he would be leaving the restaurant for a better-paying job. I had somehow in my mind adopted Austin as my son, since he was far from home like us. So hearing that we wouldn’t see him ever again made me feel a sudden loss. I said to him, “Would it be okay if I give you a good-bye hug?” He paused for a moment, then grinned and said, “Sure.”
After saying good-bye to Austin, I mentioned to Jerry how much I would miss him. We then continued with our meal. Soon Austin returned to our table and handed me a piece of paper with his name, phone number and e-mail written in pencil. He said, “You are the first customer to ever give me a good-bye hug and I’ve worked in restaurants for six years. That means a lot. I’d like to stay in touch.”
After Austin left our table for the second time, Jerry said, “I often wonder what we’re called to do in life and Austin just made me realize we’re called to help others know they matter. How often do we take the time to care? We ask people all the time, ‘How are you?” And they say, ‘I died today.’ And we say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.'”
That’s when I had the epiphany. Fruitcake doesn’t matter, (unless of course you like fruitcake, or you have a special recipe you whip up every Christmas with your secret ingredient of apricot brandy.) But there’s no need for me to dwell on the past regarding moments I can’t change. But I can dwell on the future and determine to make the moments ahead count for something.
“You died today?”
“I’m so sorry. Would you want to talk about it? I have some time.”
Fantastic uses for fruitcake
- Use slices to balance that wobbly kitchen table.
- Ship to the U.S. Air Force, let troops drop them for the perfect air defense system.
- Use as speed bumps to foil the neighborhood drag racers.
- Use slices in the next skeet-shooting competition.
- Use instead of sand bags during El Nino.
- Use them instead of bricks to practice your karate chops.