Lynn Lastrapes raised three boys and took care of many more children as a schoolteacher. But for a few "stolen quiet moments" before Christmas every year, she became the child again, the daughter whom her mother dotd on, as she did all three of her girls.
It wasn't that her mother showered them with expensive presents. It was simpler than that. "My Mother was very good at doing the little things that mean so much," says Lynn.
When Lynn and her husband would travel from their home in Baton Rouge to Philadelphia to visit their youngest son at college, her mother would leave her home in New Orleans to come babysit. The Lastrapes' children were grown, but their little Yorkshire Terrier wasn't, and could not be left alone. "Mother understood thst," says Lynn. "She would do these things that would put her out, and she did them in such a loving way."
As a child, Lynn was given piano lessons. Her mother finally took up the piano at age 72; she had always wanted to play. She and Lynn sometimes practiced together.
But it was the fruitcake Lynn loved most. Not only the taste but the constancy of it. Every year, the week before Christmas, her mother would send it to her. "I had permission to open it the week before," Lynn recalls. "She understood how hectic my life was and would say, 'This will help you get through the holidays.' "
It became one of their special little rituals, a tradition Lynn knew would be repeated again and again every year, like the notes on the piano her mother would practice.
"I never bothered to interest my husband or children in discovering a taste for it," says Lynn, trying to sound sheepish. "It was the only thing too precious to share with my loved ones. Besides," she adds with a laugh, "I had three big boys. That fruitcake would have been gone in a morning!"
And so Lynn would steal over to "the little tin" of Collin Street Bakery fruitcake, which she kept "kind of out of sight," and have herself a sliver with a cup of tea, and enjoy those few stolen moments of delicious solitude. Except that she didn't feel alone, it was as if her mother were there.
Lynn's mother died in 2002 at age 91. When the week before Christmas came that year, the Collin Street Bakery fruitcake didn't. Lynn couldn't bring herself to order one because she remembered: she remembered the constancy we seek as children and continue to cherish even after childhood is lost. She remembered her mother.
A couple of years ago, Lynn and her family took care of an out-of-town friend who came to Baton Rouge to have some surgery. As a thank-you gift, he sent Lynn a Collin Street Bakery fruitcake. "One of the grat big ones," she adds. "It must have weighed fifty pounds."
No little tin this time that could be tucked away. Nor did Lynn want it to be. "This time," she says, "I shared."
That was when she understood that, even though her mother was gone, this was a way of being with her again. "I now realize that, instead of sadness, my mother would love to see me enjoying that Collin Street fruitcake and remembering a very special part of our love for each other."
The friend who sent the fruitcake hadn't heard about the tradition, and he unknowingly started a new one. Now at Christmas every year, Lynn has a few stolen, precious moments of reunion with her mother.