Stand-still traffic. I had the windows open and I was breathing in the exhaust from seven thousand cars all trying to get home. There was fruitcake sitting in my passenger seat, glazed in bourbon sauce. A Mark Twain book beside it.
The cake had arrived on my porch anonymously. Along with it, a hardback book, “Life on the Mississippi.” And a card with one sentence on it: “Thank you, Sean.”
So, right there in traffic, I began eating this fruitcake with both hands.
Meanwhile, in my windshield I saw a kid riding a bicycle along the highway shoulder. He was making better time than us motorists in pickup trucks, SUVs, and sassy sports cars.
I waved at him. He waved back. The boy looked so happy compared to the rest of us, and his smile was catching. Soon, I was smiling too. I don’t even know why.
Suddenly, my smile made me hyper-aware of the madness going on around me. It was like someone had peeled open my crusty eyelids and knocked the fruitcake from my hands. Have you noticed how loud our world is?
Through my open windows I could hear stereos blaring adrenaline-fueled political talk radio. The vehicle behind played angry-sounding music with subnuclear bass notes that rattled my molars. A guy in a Pontiac was shouting into his cellphone. It was chaos, I tell you.
But somehow, I was still smiling in spite of it all. All because of some random kid on a bike, and one anonymous thank-you package.
Then I started thinking about how much unthankfulness is in the world, and how I don’t want to be the guy who perpetuates it.
So, while a mass of idling vehicles clogged the Florida interstate system like a kidney stone from hell, I removed a notepad and began making a list.
This is a sacred practice passed down by my mother, who made me list things I was grateful for so she could tack them to the refrigerator and, God-willing, use them against me.
The first item I’m thankful for is the month of November. And here’s why:
About eight months ago, I didn’t think we’d even make it to November. When COVID first hit, I was traveling for work in a big city, and it was like a mini-apocalypse.
Bars and restaurants were boarding up windows, there were mile-long lines outside stores. And my first thought was: “Heaven help us when the holidays come.”
But just look at us. November is here. You’re alive. So am I. And that’s something to be grateful for.
I’m also grateful for books. More grateful than ever. During this pandemic I’ve been reading to pass the time, and I’ve never found so much literary joy amidst the drudgery of self-isolation.
When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was be a maker of books. I adored them. I loved their odor. I loved the way they made my brain feel. Still do.
Surprisingly, the rest of the U.S. still loves books, too. No matter how technological we’ve gotten, Americans are reading the heck out of paper material. About 73 percent of us still read physical books. Which is great news because in this digital age, I get concerned that we are forgetting about all Gutenberg’s hard work. But that’s not happening. And I’m thankful.
I should also restate that I’m grateful for this fruitcake I just told you about. When I found it on my porch a few days ago, along with a hard bound copy of Twain’s book, I got warm and fuzzy all over.
Because here’s the thing. It’s only November. Fruitcake season is still a LONG way off. Which means we still get two more months of this unashamedly premature holiday spirit.
Before I could tear into the cake, however, my wife confiscated it and whipped up a bourbon glaze. This is what my people do for fruitcake. In fact, during my childhood, the only time I ever saw sober-minded church ladies lay a finger on a Wild Turkey bottle was to doctor fruitcake, bread pudding, or to pour it down the sink while quoting the Psalms.
Oh, yes. Bread pudding. I’m thankful for that, too, since we’re on the subject.
My wife is known for having the best peach bread pudding in six countries. She uses a recipe she has been perfecting for three decades. She can make this stuff in her sleep. Literally.
I have been startled awake at 3 a.m. to find my wife in the kitchen, making bread pudding. This is what it’s like being married to a chef.
Which leads me to the end of my list—I’m skipping over a lot because I saved the best for last.
I just read a study that said depression is sky high in America. Not only because of coronavirus, but also because of the glowing screens in modern life. You can’t get away from screens. They’re everywhere. Just when you think you’re finally alone and have tranquility, your phone vibrates and lights up to remind you that the world is falling apart.
I don’t know if I could have made it through this societal depression without my wife. Which is why I wrote her name on my list in bold print. Then I underlined it.
She has kept my head from rolling off my shoulders.
Before I finished scribbling in my notebook, traffic started moving again. So I dusted crumbs off my shirt and reached for another piece of fruitcake. But there was none left. I’d finished the entire thing.
Vehicles started to creep ahead. I soon passed the kid on the bike again. He was still moving forward. Still pedaling. Still smiling. I waved. He waved back.
I’m thankful for that kid, too.
oldlibrariansshelf - November 7, 2020 7:12 am
Yes, thank God for books that take us on adventures away from the noisy screen–especially your books, Sean!
Christina - November 7, 2020 7:19 am
And we thank God for the daily dose of goodness from Sean of the South, which can only be made better if it came with Jamie’s bread pudding, fried chicken, biscuit… 🤤
Carolyn from Georgia - November 7, 2020 8:12 am
Yes! Thankful for Sean of the South!!!♡♡♡
Te Burt - November 7, 2020 9:03 am
When the school year began in Alabama, my parents bought my books. Brand new books. The first thing I’d do is open a couple and breathe in the wonderful smell of new books and lead-based ink. There’s no smell like it for people sho like books.
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 7, 2020 10:23 am
Every November on Facebook I post something I’m thankful for each day. Been doing it for years. I love on the fbook memories when I can reread them. I’m no writer like you but some are pretty good. So good I can’t top it for thisbyear so I just reshare it with a few more words today. Why I say all that is because yesterday you were My thankful thought when I shared your post about having a nice day. I’m thankful my aunt shared your blog with me a couple of years ago. It’s one of the best parts of my day it makes me smile and laugh and cry. And then this morning at 3:40 am I read today’s and it’s about being thankful. I laughed. I wish I could do my best to keep from crying but we are laying a very good friend to rest in a few hours. The tears have been cranked up all week. I’ve lost several really amazing people this year. But knowing where they are I can remember them and know I’ll be reunited one day so it still hurts but not as bad as it could. Something else Im very thankful for is that knowledge. Thankful for Jesus making it possible for me. I’m gonna share this blog today too. That’s three in a row this week and just maybe someone else will read it and become thankful for you too. Have a nice day, Sean!
John Hickman - November 7, 2020 10:40 am
Yes, on the fruit Cake, my Mother would make the Fruit Cakes, and then wrap them in cheese cloth and wet the cloth with Mogen David Concord Wine and let it set for two weeks. After a week she would come back and make sure the Cheese Cloth was still damp. So I’ve purchased a “store” cake and I’m going to see what happens.
Marsha Robins - November 7, 2020 12:23 pm
Sean, I so enjoy reading your blog every day. I met you in Birmingham when you spoke at the Trussville Library right when the pandemic started. My hug with you was the last one I received for a very long time. I have only received three hugs since then. Man do I miss hugs! I think that Jamie’s peach bread pudding might help me😀. I love peaches and I love bread pudding. I don’t know if she shares recipes or not. Sounds like your chef/wife needs to publish a cookbook. Would love the recipe if she shares. I also look forward to the day when you can return to Birmingham and entertain us in person once again–and give out big hugs.
Heidi - November 7, 2020 12:27 pm
Thankful for so many things this year but I must admit this whole covid problem is getting old and stress eating of baked goods has set in. Please get Jamie to share her Peach bread pudding recipe because really, at this point, that’s what I want for Christmas.
Barbara - November 7, 2020 12:59 pm
I adore fruitcake! I have an ancient recipe which makes a massive cake. I soak mine in peach brandy. Even people who don’t like fruitcake enjoy this one. Thank you for another great column!
Greyn - November 7, 2020 1:26 pm
Sitting here in awe of a man eating an entire fruitcake by hissef. On the road. Operating the vehicle. You have singular talents that go beyond the writing.
Jean - November 7, 2020 1:35 pm
You had my attention at fruitcake and bread pudding. YUM!! Ungrateful people are abundant now…but if you sit down and think about it…we all have a lot to be grateful for!!!
aleathia nicholson - November 7, 2020 1:40 pm
My daddy’s mama made fruitcake starting in the late summer and you never struck a match near it during the process unless you didn’t want eyebrows anymore. Long after she died they found wine bottles under the house. I have no earthly idea who put them there nor who got them from under there for the fruit cake.
Jo Ann - November 7, 2020 1:57 pm
I’m grateful for you & your writing, Sean. It’s a good practice to make a gratitude list. I thank God every morning & evening for all those blessings He gave me. I’m not a fan of fruitcake, but do love bread pudding. I’ve never heard or tasted peach bread pudding, but I’ll have to look for a recipe. It sure sounds like another thing to be grateful for.
Carmen Manning Robinson - November 7, 2020 2:06 pm
Sean, you brighten my day with your words. The way you capture my attention and mood with your stories. I’d give anything to be able to “story” like you do.
Keep on taking me back to the past like you often do. The times were much simpler, slower, and more fun.
HT - November 7, 2020 2:28 pm
And WHY did you not top this piece with the peach bread pudding recipe??!!
Phil (Brown Marlin) - November 7, 2020 2:28 pm
Please keep pushing that attitude, Sean. You and Norman Vincent Peale would have made a great team.
BTW, I like fruitcake, too. I don’t think there are many of us left. Maybe that special glaze that Jamie applies would create more interest.
HT - November 7, 2020 2:30 pm
Need Barbara to post her PEACH Brandy fruitcake recipe too!!!! Sure cure for covid depression‼️
HT - November 7, 2020 2:31 pm
How do I get your recipe or a prepaid care package?!
Gale Smith - November 7, 2020 3:18 pm
I cut off my cable and high speed internet 5 years ago. I recently dropped time-draining Facebook.
My friends can text, call, or email. So can family since we don’t get to see each other any more. I have a dog and read an average of 300+ books per year. I am the most content person I know.
I have zero drama in my life. I make cakes, pies, cookies and candies to give to my stressed out neighbors. Life is good.
Margaret - November 7, 2020 4:03 pm
I don’t know how you do it, Sean, day after day after day, rain or shine…but I am so grateful you do!
Linda Moon - November 7, 2020 5:10 pm
Yes, I’ve noticed the loudness of our world. But books bring back the silence and solitude. Books, I tell you…books. I’m not a fan of fruitcake, but I do love the glaze. Bourbon, that is. Then, Sean, you mentioned bread pudding and your wife. I’m so thankful for her and thoughts of her bread pudding! She’s kept my head in a good place, and tell her “Uma” said that!
nebraskannie - November 7, 2020 5:42 pm
That gratitude list is something I make time for every day….looking for the silver lining….
MAM - November 7, 2020 8:06 pm
I love your positivity! it’s so refreshing in our “loud” lives these days. It’s one reason why I really don’t mind the staying at home. I have my husband and a dog and Sean to read. And I can hear and listen to the wind whistling in the trees and I can see the brilliant stars in our dark sky without lights outside at night. It’s actually a great life!
walter buehler - November 7, 2020 8:16 pm
I am grateful for your daily message of thanksgiving and acknowledgment of pain. As in Job’s case, we do not understand the reason for pain, and It is a special ministry to deal with pain, whatever its source.
JC - November 7, 2020 10:14 pm
Thank you, Sean, for that memory, both good and bad. My mother made fruitcake every fall to give at Christmas. Yes, it got doused in liquor! My family of 4 was always the recipient of one. The only problem – none of us liked fruitcake, except for my son. So for many years it stayed in my refrigerator until next year’s was received – unless my young adult son discovered it. So the good memory is the memory of my son. When my mother passed, my sister decided to continue the tradition, even though we explained we did not like fruitcake! The bad memory is the wreck he did not survive when he was 23 years old. Yes, on the seat beside him was a partially devoured fruitcake that he had helped himself to and he had picked at it as he travelled home (but he never arrived). Good memories and bad ones. Life is full of each.
MyPlace - November 7, 2020 10:22 pm
Here is what I am thankful for, Sean… YOU!
When I first saw this title I was a little worried that you might just be getting ready to Down Fruitcake, speak against it, call it awful or unappetizing or just generally malign this jewel of a creation, as so many people are wont to do nowadays, I should have known better!
I love fruitcake!
My mother’s recipe for fruitcake is so good it’d make you slap your grandmaw!
I don’t know many people who will even agree to taste a fruitcake, however almost every single person I have talked into tasting Mother’s New Orleans Dark Fruitcake has been shocked that the have lived as long as they have without ever having a slice of this.
I have so many wonderful memories of seeing Mother put this cake together and then letting it sit for weeks and dripping some sweet wine (probably Mogen David also, J. H.),or even wild turkey over the cheesecloth it was always wrapped in, (with two outer layers of tinfoil), and I just could hardly wait for her to cut it.
I was never disappointed, and as a matter of fact I am going to the grocery today to gather up the ingredients to make my own Christmas Fruitcake. (red candied cherries, pitted dates, pecan halves, and eggs, flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Oh and Vanilla!)
Can’t tell ya her directions or the measurements of these ingredients, but I can bake one for you to try, if you like… Let me know… (and ya might want to tell Grandmaw to keep a distance from you when ya taste it…)
We fruitcake lovers may be a dying breed, but we are hanging in there the best we can!
Harriet - November 7, 2020 11:45 pm
Jamie REALLY needs to write a recipe book. I would buy it. Love your writing Sean
Caroline Montgomery - November 8, 2020 2:39 am
I’ve never met a fruitcake I liked,
When I was teaching, a dear, sweet, financially challenged woman with a heart of gold who was raising her beautiful niece became a regular volunteer helper. The Little Niece had big blue eyes, white-blond curly hair, skin like milk – she really looked like a little porcelain doll. Unfortunately, it appeared that no light was on and nobody was home, much like her Dear Aunt, except in Dear Aunt’s case there was at least a light on. Dear Aunt was also,taking care of her daddy who “didn’t got no teeth.” Dear Aunt really knew little more that the students in the class, but I had her help a couple of students who were still learning to count one to one by gluing the correct number of dyed shapes of dry macaroni next to the number written on the paper.
I had one student, bless her heart, who weighed close to 300 lb. and this was kindergarten! Dear Aunt took Little Niece and a little boy and the Very Large Student to a center where they worked with their colorful macaroni, glue and numbers. After they finished, they all came over to me to show me their work. Her niece and the little boy had accomplished gluing the correct number of noodles next the correct number. Very Large Student had nothing next to her numbers but partially dried glue. I asked Very Large Student what happened to her noodles. Dear Aunt said, “She ate them. I told her they might not be good for her with that glue on them, but she kept right on eating them.’
Dear Aunt was a talker and I never saw her without a smile on her face. One day, she told me she had found some little baby mice in a drawer in the kitchen. “They wus naked and pink. Their skin looked like a new born baby’s. They wuz so cute, I didn’t have the heart to kill them. I picked ’em up and helt them in my hands and their little eyes wuz shut and they was so soft. They even felt like a little baby.”
Right before Christmas Holidays, Dear Aunt brought my Parapro and me fruitcake she had made. “The fruit and nuts is all ground up , since Daddy ain’t got no teeth, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. I ain’t got much money, so I just made y’all both a little fruitcake. I hugged her and thanked her and even broke off a pinch and ate it and told her how good it was. My Parapro was gathering up stuff to go and threw her fruitcake in the trash can. I said, “What are you doing! Really, it tastes pretty good.” She said all she could think about was those baby mice and her toothless daddy gumming mushy fruitcake.
I may have swallowed a mouse turd or two and definitely felt that one bite swelling in my stomach, but I waited until i got home before I tossed mine.
I have to say, though, it wasn’t so bad all crushed up.
Gay Ippolito - November 8, 2020 2:42 am
I love the way your columns make my brain feel . . . & my spirit . . . & my heart! Thank you.
Julia Crittenden - November 8, 2020 1:27 pm
Great article on being thankful for everything! I love bread pudding AND Claxton Fruitcakes. My daddy used to buy them for us every Christmas! It’s a great memory and I now buy one for my family-just because of tradition even though I’m the one who eats most all of it! It seems not many people love fruitcake as they had been the butt of many a joke. Do you think you could possibly get Jamie to Share her recipe for peach bread pudding with us? If that’s not asking too much? Our entire family loves bread pudding. My daughter in law also makes a deliciously sweet rum bread pudding made with donuts. Would love Jamie’s recipe! You may have opened a Pandora’s box by mentioning this! LOL. Maybe, Jamie could just make a recipe book to sell or share? She sounds like a marvelous chef!
Tina M Kilgo - December 16, 2020 10:17 pm
Yep, the only thing that could make Sean’s musings more appealing is if he threw in one of Jamie’s good recipes every once in awhile.