Several years ago I turned my beautiful friend, Cathleen, on to the Mitford series written by Jan Karon. If you’ve never read the series about the delightful Father Tim, you really must. When my friend Stephanie gave me book one, she said, “give it 80 pages.” Well, I didn’t need 80 pages. I had just finished a series on the apocalypse, so the light, refreshingly comical and sincerely poignant characters of Mitford were just what I needed! I’ve read the entire series twice and some books a third time (Because you know, heading out the airport, so you grab an old favorite off of the shelf and stuff it in your carry on. 4 hours later, you’ve read it for a third time or fourth time!)
Anyway, I gave my friend Cathleen the first book for her birthday. Her husband emailed me a few days later, “Cathleen is on her way to Montana to see family. She asked me to tell you that she loves the book and she has instructed me to go online and order the rest of the books for her so she will have them up on her return home.” Yep…I knew she would love Mitford!
So, that Christmas I wanted to do something special for Cathleen but struggled to find the right gift. Then it dawned on me… Cathleen treated sweets very carefully. Being a very healthy and successful lifestyle coach, she only had sweets once in a while; birthdays, holidays, etc. And when she had a sweet, she HAD sweet… none of this hold the whip! She enjoyed every moment of her indulgence. So, I knew that for a very special day like Christmas, a sweet it had to be. And not just any sweet… it had to be…
Edith Mallory’s Orange Marmalade Cake!
A quick search online yielded the famous recipe from one of Jan Karon’s most adorable characters, Edith Mallory. In the stories, Edith is known for creating this masterpiece… and for baking many at a time… and her famed cake almost put the hero of the series 6 feet under with a terrible sugar coma (Father Tim is diabetic). The cake is legendary to Mitford and it’s gentle readers.
So, I baked the cake. I managed to put a flower of some sort on top of it and put it in a clear plastic cake box. But I couldn’t just “give” Cathleen an orange marmalade cake. I mean… I had to do something else to make it even more special, right? I wanted her to KNOW it was Edith’s cake. So, I did the unthinkable. I actually wrote Cathleen a letter from Edith Mallory to go with the cake. Why is that unthinkable? Well, because no one can write Edith Mallory like the incomparable Jan Karon. But, I had to try.
So, that night before the cake was revealed I gave Cathleen her gift. A simple, handwritten note. She opened it and began to read aloud. (I wish I could put my hands on my copy of the letter but I have no idea where to find it. Should I actually find it some day I’ll update this post with it.) Anyway, I remember that it went something like this:
Dear Mrs. Frank,
I cannot tell you how delighted I am that you have come to live in Mitford. The cottage on the corner of Church Street has been vacant far too long for my liking. I wondered when anyone would ever have the courage to take over the crazy rhodendron! I like what you have done with the yard so far, and I can’t wait to see the rose beds in Spring.
Lord’s Chapel is blessed to have you as a congregant. Though, I’m not sure why you sit on the pentecostal side, but I understand to each his own, and all that. Wasn’t that Christmas potluck a humdinger? Did you make the Swedish meatballs? I thought those were wonderful, but could never figure out who brought them. I had plenty of that, as well as Father Tim’s scrumptious ham. I heard that you make amazing Heavenly Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. Will you be making those for the Primrose Tea? I’m partial to a lemon square, myself, but something with oatmeal can’t be half bad.
Well, I’ve gone on long enough. I don’t know how I have time to write such a lengthy note whilst there are Orange Marmalades to bake and deliver! Which brings me to the purpose of this letter. Please accept this Christmas gift of one of my Orange Marmalade Cakes (… cue my husband Todd, who walks around the corner with an Orange Marmalade Cake)… I originally made it for Lew Boyd, but I dare say he seriously overcharged me for a break job a few weeks ago, and well, I’m not over it. Anyway, this cake is lovingly yours. Enjoy.
As Todd rounded the corner of the kitchen with Edith Mallory’s Orange Marmalade Cake in hand, Cathleen started to cry. I can’t remember if had EVER before (or since) given a gift that evoked such emotion. I was surprised and touched. She went on to say that it had been a very hard Christmas (no, I had not known that) and she felt like her holiday had somehow been hyjacked and that she was feeling so tired and grieved upon arriving at our home. And that this gift… this cake… made her feel that Christmas was restored. She too, had fallen in love with Mitford. And this cake- this little thing- made her feel connected to something and someone she loved. Imagine that a gift so simple could make someone feel restored. Wow.
And then… WE ATE CAKE! HA!
Oh yes, she didn’t want to “save” it for Christmas day or home… she wanted to eat it right then and there, to share it with us. That is Cathleen’s beautiful style. And so, we ate cake. And yes, it was AMAZING!
Many years have passed since the “Cake Christmas Eve”. And, actually, I do not spend time with Cathleen now. Not for any reason whatsoever that has to do with anything, but simply because life has moved us on to different places, and so being together is not easily accomplished nowadays. And that’s okay. I still feel deeply connected to her and her family. I would still bake her an Orange Marmalade Cake in a heartbeat if she asked me to. I miss her, but I know our lives are going in two different directions and some day we will reconnect, as true friends always do.
But, back to that gift. What I wrote a few paragraphs back grabbed me… “Imagine a gift so simple that can make one feel restored.” Well, no need to imagine it.
A simple gift…
a tiny baby…
in a manger.
He was sent to give us life. To bring us restoration to God. A simple gift CAN and WILL restore.
All you have to do is receive the baby.
He can and will give you back what you have lost. That’s His promise.
“He was a wise man and a king,
adorned in finest gem,
Yet he travelled from the East
through the desert to Bethlehem.
And as he knelt before the baby,
He knew that what he saw,
Was the very presence of our God
Lying in the stall.”
(Natalie Jager, Christmas Poem, 1997)