It was Stevie who came up with the plan and for the record, I resisted at first. But never in a million years did I imagine that giving in would one day come back to bite me in the butt.
"Let's ding-dong-ditch Old Lady Swazee's house. But let's not just ditch, let's leave her a present," Stevie, my fearless ten-year-old friend, suggested.
My eyes bulged practically out of their sockets. "Nooooo way. Not crazy Swayzee."
Rumor had it that "Crazy Swayzee" kept her twelve-year old grandson locked up in her basement. We had no way to know whether or not it was true. But back then, we were convinced of it.
"Anyway…why would we leave her a present if we don't even like her?" I asked.
"Not a nice present, dummy - a fruitcake," Stevie said. "We'll set it on her doorstep, ring the doorbell and bolt."
"Why a fruitcake?" I asked, thoroughly confused. Everyone knew that fruitcake was gross.
He rolled his eyes. "Because that's what she is, Carrie." Stevie twirled his finger in a circle around his head. "You know… a little fruity? Plus," he added, "my mom bakes a ton of them for the holidays. She totally won't notice if one is missing."
So that's how it began. For eight straight years on Christmas Eve, Stevie and I left a fruitcake on Crazy Swayzee's doorstep, rang the doorbell and ran. And each time I thought I'd have a heart-attack and die right on her front porch - that's how scared I was.
It had been ten years since I thought about Crazy Swayzee or the fruitcakes. And it might have been ten more if it wasn't for my boyfriend, Patrick. After dating for six months, I was about to meet his grandmother, the godly woman who raised him. Patrick spoke so highly of her I just knew we would hit it off. But the moment he pulled into the driveway, a chill trickled down my spine.
We waited at the door, my heart racing. When she answered, I was shocked to see a little old lady who barely reached my shoulders. I smiled hesitantly and held out my sweaty hand but instead she pulled me into a warm hug. Then she stepped back and looked at me. I swore I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes but then it was gone.
Over dinner, Mrs. Swayzee explained that she had agoraphobia and was afraid to leave the security of her home. I felt ashamed of myself for being so judgemental - and fearful - of this harmless old woman, soft-spoken and kind, that was suffering from a mental disorder but was clearly far from crazy.
By the time we'd finished eating, I adored Patrick's grandmother and felt terrible about the pranks I had pulled as a kid. At God's prompting, I started to come clean and confess, but Mrs. Swayzee abruptly interrupted.
"I see there's something on your mind," she said. "But if you would wait just a moment, we'll talk more over dessert." She disappeared into the kitchen and returned moments later with a tray that she set on the coffee table.
I looked up at Mrs. Swayzee, who smiled sweetly.
"You know, I received several fruitcakes as gifts over the years," she said as she sliced a piece for Patrick and me. "I think they were meant as a joke but I never saw it that way."
I swallowed hard and wiped my hands on my pants.
"The year I developed agoraphobia, I refused to go out even for groceries. The delivery service was overbooked with the holiday season and on Christmas Eve our cupboards were pretty bare. Dinner that night consisted of oatmeal and biscuits," she chuckled. "But Patrick never complained. He was a trooper." She patted his knee and went on.
"I knew dessert was on his mind and I so wished I had something to serve him. When the doorbell rang and I saw that fruitcake on the step, I knew it was an answer to prayer. God used someone's evil intentions for our good. Isn't that just like the Lord?"
There was no need for me to speak. The twinkle in her eye said it all, releasing me from my intended confession.
I was deeply humbled but my pride wasn't the only thing hard to swallow that night. The fruitcake was, indeed, gross!
I ate it anyway. It was the least I could do.
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What a delightful story, beautifully and honestly told. How well it ended with you loving the old lady who certainly demonstrated wisdom, forgiveness, and everything to command your respect. The change of mood from the first part to the last is most poignant. One can feel the emotions behind the events. It is certainly well worth the telling.