The Last Christmas by Elaine Cantrell

Okay, I admit it; I was always a daddy’s girl. My daddy was the first person I ever told a story to. I couldn’t write at the time, I hadn’t even started school yet, so I dictated the story to him, and he wrote it down for me. After he died I found that story written in pencil on notebook paper safely packed away in the cedar chest where he kept important papers.

He used to work the second shift and didn’t get home until eleven. I remember begging to stay up until he came home. Sometimes Mama would let me. When she did Daddy and I would watch the late news together while he ate a fried egg sandwich. He always shared with me. I don’t even like eggs, but sharing one with Daddy made it tasty.

Daddy also gave me a marvelous gift when I was eleven. I was horse crazy, but my mother was afraid for me to have a horse in case I should get hurt. Daddy talked her into it, and one icy Christmas morning I got a beautiful palomino mare from Santa.

Years later after I got married and moved to another state I was washing dishes one morning and looked out the window when a car stopped in my driveway. It looked like Daddy’s car, but what would he be doing at my house on a workday? He said he missed me and thought he’d take a day off to drive up and see me.

When I had my first child Daddy and Mama went crazy over him, especially Daddy. After a family of girls I expect that little boy did thrill him. That little boy was Daddy’s best man at his second wedding. My mother died young.

The last Christmas Daddy was alive he baked a fruit cake to bring to my house for Christmas dinner. I know what you’re thinking: fruit cake. Daddy loved to bake. If you’d ever eaten his fruit cake you wouldn’t turn your nose up at it.

Anyway, he only brought half of the cake. He said, “I decided to freeze half of it for you to have next year. I don’t think I’ll be here.”

Everyone pooh poohed him, but Daddy was right. He died in March of the following year.

As Christmas rolled around my stepmother said, “We still have the fruit cake that David baked. I’ll bring it.”

Those words struck terror into my heart. How could we eat the last thing my father baked? Once it was gone there would never be any more. The cherries and nuts that decorated the top had been placed there by his own hands in a pattern of his own design. It wasn’t right to eat it!

But on the other hand, how could we not enjoy it as he had wished us to do? Wasn’t that why he cut it in half the previous Christmas?

I went back and forth in my mind for several weeks, but the issue was decided a week before Christmas. The cemetery in our community hosts a remembrance ceremony right before Christmas each year. They put candles in white paper bags on each grave, and after playing a carol and having a prayer, relatives of the dead light candles in remembrance of their loved ones.

My heart felt like a lump of ice in my chest as I joined my stepmother at the cemetery. This was the first Christmas without my father, and it had cast a shadow over my holiday. As we lighted the candle on my mother and father’s grave my stepmother said, “It’s his first Christmas in Heaven.”

I thought about that for a long time. Wasn’t Daddy’s Christmas far grander and more glorious that anything I could imagine? Wasn’t he singing with the angel choir as all of Heaven celebrated the birth of our Lord?

I looked at that candle, and for the first time since March I saw something besides caskets and felt something other than loss. I felt grateful for having had such a wonderful parent, and even though we were parted for awhile, one day we’d meet again. When we do, I intend to tell him how much I enjoyed that last fruitcake.

I don't have a picture of my father's cake, but the one at the top of the page resembles his work. That photo comes from


  1. Hi, Elaine! I really love this story--so beautifully poignant! I come from a fruitcake-loving family : ) My mom and I had a difficult relationship, but we lived together for almost 50 years. She passed away more than five years ago, and all of my other immediate family is also gone. My mother's birthday was in May, and one year I did something that really surprised her and actually made a good impression! It took a little plotting and planning, but I hoarded the ingredients for fruitcake and saved them to make her a birthday cake. I took her to work that morning on her birthday, and while she was on the job, I was busy at home making a birthday fruitcake. When I brought her home that evening and she walked through the door, she said "something smells like fruitcake". She went out to the kitchen, and there on the table was a great big glorious frutitcake with birthday candles! One of the few things that I ever did that really pleased my mother--she even bragged about it to others! They probably thought that we were both nuttier than the fruitcake, but it was a good shared memory for Mom and me.

  2. I love your story, Virginia. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who has good memories of fruitcake. Actually, I'm going to make one this year using my father's recipe. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

  3. Tears running down my face. My father WAS Christmas, so I "get" it. May you bask in his memories this season!

  4. Lovely post xxx I always find it amazing how dear and cherished family memories are around the Christmas holiday!

    As for fruitcake, yuck! I'm so not a fan.
    However...I do like to indulge in xmas pudding in brandy sauce on Christmas Day :)


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