The Greatest Gift

by Joseph Frith
Illinois, USA

The Greatest Gift

It was the Christmas season, and as I drove home from work I thought how this year was unlike any Christmas I’d ever experienced. Springfield, Illinois, is completely opposite from the Roanoke Valley of Virginia I’d always called home.

My wife and I met on the Internet, and shortly after we married I moved west to her home in Illinois. Two wonderful daughters, Jamie and Audrey, came with the marriage, and I was happy… but still, for the first time at Christmas, my family and friends were 800 miles away.

A few weeks earlier my wife, Betsy, had asked me about my Christmas traditions. I told her we always had ham for Christmas dinner. “What else?” I told her about Mom’s applesauce cake; every year Mom baked at least six cakes, mostly for gifts. Each year she said they were too much trouble, yet she kept making them. The first Christmas after she died there was no applesauce cake — then my sister started making them.

Talking about mom’s cake reminded me of my grandmother, who lived with us while I grew up and was like a second mother to me. I told my wife about Grandma’s boiled custard. If it had been any thicker you’d have had to eat it with a spoon, and it was so rich that a small cup was enough.

Long after she stopped “doing for the grandchildren,” only getting presents for her great-grandkids, she still made custard for me, saying, “I know how much you love it and your Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.” Sadly, she never wrote down the recipe, so when she passed away no one knew how to make it.

When I got home and walked into the house, an aroma and a flood of memories hit me: applesauce cake! My wife came from the kitchen. I started to ask how she knew the right recipe. “I got the recipe from your sister; I hope it turned out OK.” I told her if it tasted as good as it smelled it would be perfect.

After dinner on Christmas day, Betsy asked, “Who wants cake?” Of course we all did. She asked me to go to the living room and the girls would bring the cake in. A minute later Jamie handed me a plate and Audrey set a cup on the tray next to me.

Inside the cup — it couldn’t be — custard! It was golden yellow and almost too thick to pour. Looking up through tears I saw my wife standing in the doorway. She said, “I found the recipe on the Internet; I hope it tastes like your grandmother’s”. And it did, it tasted just like I remembered.

Late that night, after everyone else was in bed, I sat in the living room lit only by the Christmas tree. I realized that the greatest gift I’d gotten that day hadn’t been under the tree: it had been in my wife’s heart.

Originally published as HeroicStories #435 on Aug 14, 2003

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