It’s five in the morning. I press my ear against the bedroom door. Are there sounds? Is my beloved awake? Today there are no sounds. He is asleep for a change.
This week has been tough but it is balanced with a few wonderful events. Maria Ressa won a Nobel Prize! It was announced the day after my deadline, two days before my column came out. I was astounded, so proud I could have burst. Now I’m just floating with joy. Congratulations, Maria, my old friend!
We met sometime back when I appeared on TV shows that she was helping to direct. Then, much later, she enrolled in my writing class for a short while. In truth, she already knew how to write very well. After that we had lunch to introduce an old friend who, ages ago, was a newscaster. That didn’t work out well. To be honest, I got embarrassed by my efforts.
That was the last time I saw Maria. But it didn’t mean our friendship ended. I am just so proud of her winning the Nobel Peace Prize!
All the people who criticize her winning it are simply envious. I am proud of her, not only because she is the first Filipina to win a Nobel Prize, but because she is herself: Maria Ressa, principled, a worthy believer in truth and facts. She deserved it after all the hard work and survival skills she continues to put in.
The next reward for me came from poking into my old refrigerator. In a back corner of one of the lower shelves I found a red and green box. A fruitcake made by one of my cousins, Malu Diokno Unson.
Technically, Malu isn’t a blood cousin. But my mother’s older sister, Caring, was the godmother of Malu. Tita Caring Syquia once lived in a mansion in Pasig. She loved being a guardian to her friends’ children. As we were growing up, the Pasig mansion was filled with the Locsin girls, at some point the Tapales girls, and Malu. We grew up seeing and loving each other as cousins, though not by blood.
Malu and I must have met when I was 13. Now I’m 77. That gives us 64 years of closeness. Every year I found myself on Malu’s Christmas list. She makes the most delicious traditional fruitcakes I have ever tasted.
Sometimes when life is harsh, God sends us wonderful surprises to heal our hearts, revive our palates, remind us of the simple joys of childhood, of Christmases long past.
Anyway, I found this unopened box of fruitcake. It still had a card that read: “2014” then “Merry Christmas 2014!” It’s now 2021! Whatever possessed me to forget about this fruitcake? I brought it out of the fridge, then put it on my bedroom counter and even forgot about it for two more days. Then I noticed it again, brought it to the dining room, and carefully opened it.
First I took the cake out of the box. Then I tore off the red and green striped wrapper. After that, the cake was further wrapped and taped in thick foil. I expected it to be covered with mold, but no: I opened it and found a perfect fruitcake. It was very slightly dry. Age will do that to most things. Imagine — seven years in the refrigerator! If it were a dog it would be 62.1 years, according to Google.
I could have poured some brandy into it but that would require more aging. I decided to have it for breakfast. It was delicious. I will have it for breakfast until I finish it all by myself.
Malu’s delicious fruitcake brings back memories of the first time I tried fruitcake when I was small. It was Christmas. The house was redolent with the fragrance of Baguio pine, our Christmas tree. It was after Dec. 15 when my mother and I had trimmed the tree with her collection of Christmas balls that would come out once a year. Mommy would untangle the big multicolored Christmas lights because I was still too tiny to untangle them.
Then, after decorating the tree, Mommy would probe into the old, chunky refrigerator we had and bring out one of the fruitcakes received as gifts. It was then fashionable to send fruitcakes for Christmas. They were delicious, similar to but not as good as Malu’s.
We would have fruitcake with good, salty, oily queso de bola that my grandmother had bought, not like the queso de bola at supermarkets today. How I long for those good, delicious old days of my childhood!
I am profoundly grateful that I forgot about Malu’s fruitcake but discovered and enjoyed it alone seven years later. Sometimes when life is harsh, God sends us wonderful surprises to heal our hearts, revive our palates, remind us of the simple joys of childhood, of Christmases long past, to make us feel happily alive again even if we are — to begin with — as old and forgotten as the found fruitcake itself.