Christmas is a half-century old fruitcake.
And a jar of jelly, frozen in time, made by my sister in the early 1950s.
We all have Christmas stories of the magic of the season, the joy of the holidays.
So many are of moments with family, now long gone, and of childhood dreams and the beauty and happiness of family.
This Christmas story is about a sweet family joke and a present made by my sister long ago.
Let’s start with the jelly.
When my sister, Patsy, was a little girl, she made a tiny jar of jelly and gave it to my mother and father as a Christmas present.
I think it was when she was in second or third grade. My sister died in 1997 so I can’t fact check about the jelly. My guess is it was a Brownie project or something she made in school.
So, when the jelly was given to my mother, Madge Carney, she put it in the refrigerator and told everybody about it and how happy she was that Patsy had made her such a fine present.
The jelly remained in the refrigerator as my sister and I and my brother, Ralph, grew up.
It was always there, stuck on a shelf, and as the years went on, my mother could not get rid of it, even when the jelly crystallized. She was so touched.
Fruitcakes came into our house regularly at Christmas time as well.
But then around 1960, a fruitcake in a gold patterned box, wrapped in plastic, landed at our house.
That Christmas came and went, and the fruitcake remained in the refrigerator, unopened and not eaten.
The next Christmas, the fruitcake was still in the bottom of the refrigerator, and we all laughed at how funny it would be to eat a year-old fruitcake.
The years came and went, but the jelly and the fruitcake never left the refrigerator.
Each year, my father would take it out of the refrigerator and we would get the biggest kick out of it and joke with Patsy about the jar of jelly she made as a little girl.
The jelly and the fruitcake were becoming like our own Clarence the angel from It’s a Wonderful Life.
When my parents moved when I was 19 years old, the two Christmas icons went to the new house and were put in the refrigerator once more.
As our family got older and the children all moved out and we made our way in the world, at Christmas we would gather together, and always, we would laugh about the jelly and the fruitcake, still chilling in the refrigerator.
When my three sons were little, they were told the stories of the magical Christmas gifts, and they routinely checked on the glass jar of iced jelly and the cardboard box with a very old fruitcake inside.
Fast forward to 1994.
My parents moved again and one more time, the little jar of jelly and the fruitcake moved with them.
The next February, when my mother died, as we remembered her at my father’s house, the jelly and fruitcake were in the refrigerator along with the food friends brought over for my mother’s wake.
And two years later, when my sister died, the family told stories of her six-year fight with breast cancer.
The symbols of Christmas, the family touchstones, stayed in the refrigerator.
My father, Bill Carney, stayed in the house and a few years after his 80th birthday, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
He stayed in the house until 2008 when he moved into Rockynol Retirement Community’s Assisted Living wing.
His illness progressed, and he was diagnosed with dementia as well.
The next year, we sold his house and had an estate sale.
Before the sale, members of the family went through the house, taking a few things that they wanted, and brought my father to the house to show him one more time. It was a very emotional and hard time to say goodbye to so much.
As we were about to walk out of the house, my son Patrick remembered what was still in the refrigerator.
“Don’t forget the jelly and the fruitcake,” Patrick said.
Along with other important family pictures and mementos that my sons and my wife, Katie, and I took, I grabbed the jelly and the fruitcake.
As soon as I got home, I put them in my refrigerator, a heartbreaking changing of the guard.
A year later, my father died and the family once more gathered together but this time at our house.
But the two most important pieces of family lore remained in the freezer.
And this Christmas, one more time, God willing, even with our family spread across the South and Midwest, the symbols of the love of a family and the Christmas spirit will stay put in my freezer.
It is the little things that mean the most in life.
Often, the smallest things, the things that could have been tossed out decades ago, the most unlikely family jewels, the stories that seemed so inconsequential at one time, are the ones that tell the story of Christmas.
And that story of love comes in many shapes and forms.
Even in the form of a jar of jelly made by a little girl so many lifetimes ago, and a fruitcake in a gold-patterned cardboard box.
Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.