Mrs Fruitcake

We have a neighbour in our cul-de-sac who is our special friend. She makes me fruitcakes and gives them to us – well, me. I like fruitcakes and I particularly like those clever people who can make them in their kitchen rather than grabbing one from the very ordinary alternative sources such as the local supermarket – not much that is ‘super’ about the our current crop of fruitcake outlets.


Mrs Fruitcake is a widow. She lives by herself and has done so for a long time. Well, that is when she is at home which is not very often.  She would join a brick wall if it came marching by. Her life is a busy one with regular visits to friends, to her leatherwork and craft group(s), to her children and the gaggle of grandchildren that have grown up in the shadow of her awesome care and commitment to their well being. She goes weekly into town with her sister to visit galleries, museums and other artistic shows that come to Sydney. She is an enthusiastic supporter of Bell Shakespeare. She has been to all of my exhibitions and is never short of a comment or two. This month she turns 80.

Mrs Fruitcake can do more than make fruitcake. She is awesome with apple pies and quite spectacular with her special brand of sausage rolls. I am her quality control officer. She brings down the hill, on a daily basis, samples of her latest kitchen triumph. They are always carefully wrapped and often still warm from the baking.  Many times I have gone outside between 5:00 am and 6:00 am for a walk in the garden or park and almost tripped over her midnight offerings of cakes, scones and cookies left on the doorstep. Her Anzac biscuits are to die for which I am afraid is an awful metaphor. But, they are truly heroic. As quality control officer I am often not sure if her latest offerings are as good as the batch made last week or twelve months ago. So, I frequently request additional samples. They are offered with a wonderful laugh that comes from the pleasure of doing something well and having it acknowledged.

Mrs Fruitcake is widely appreciated. She is wise. She is clever. One of her many skills is to make clothes. An even greater skill is to get someone to help her make clothes. This is where my wife gets involved. The sewing involves mandatory shopping, searching for patterns, cottons and sometimes even a special button or accessory item. The birthday dress is evolving as I type.

I some times observe all this activity, the laughter and the related planning and never cease to be amazed by the resilience, the initiative and the capacity to make do that goes with the generation that saw the Depression, a world war, the struggles of the decades establishing her family with her beloved Arthur.IMG_0725IMG_0771

Tonight I was asked to make a photograph suitable for the birthday invitation. This was a labour of love. At last I was in a position where I could do something useful by way of acknowledging Mrs Fruitcake’s many generous gifts of cooking delights. Did I mention her vegetable soup?  It matters little that some of the ingredients were borrowed from my veggie patch in the wee small hours before dawn. Mrs Fruitcake has her own vegetable patch near our front door dedicated to her culinary genius and her capacity to confiscate idle vegetables.

The birthday photograph is here. miss_fruitcake-large It is accompanied by others that document a tale of making a dress, drinking weak cups of tea and laughing a lot about the folly, foible and frailty of people she has met along the way.

This photograph of Mrs Fruitcake as an infant was behind glass and would not tolerate disassembly. I placed the original on my worktable in the studio and positioned two soft boxes at ninety degrees to the lens axis and pitched at an angle to avoid reflection. I used a macro lens and lit to ensure I could use an aperture of f8 so as to ensure sharpness from edge to edge. The camera was mounted on a stand and fired by way of pocket wizard and cable release. I wore a furrowed brow and glasses! The latter is crucial just in case someone comes into the studio and sees me working.  I can at least look the part.

Mrs Fruitcake is depicted here as a young girl. It seems incredible that she was young once. I have only known her as a wise, gentle, frail and gracious person of pensioner persuasion. She has known tough times, the exhilaration of family, the hard work and intermix of happiness that comes with bringing up children and converting a house into a home.  This is all evident in the studio image made for the birthday too. Mrs Fruitcake this week kindly agreed to give me ten minutes of her busy day and just after she had her hair done and just before the ‘kids’ were going to roll up for a pre birthday feast to come over and ‘be took.’ She enjoyed this experience and tolerated me with grace and a quiet dignity.

Mrs Fruitcake is, like many of her generation, politically astute, money wise and gifted with a rich blend of common sense and gracious humour tinged with the earthiness that comes with the confidence and wisdom of age. Just looking at little Miss Fruitcake it is just grand to see the before and the after as it were.  Here we have child on the cusp of a long life and then adjacent the studio image of her as a senior citizen and matriarch.

Photography is a wonderful medium. It sharpens memory, celebrates our humanity and empowers us to express.  Just a tad like Mrs Fruitcake herself.