The magic of the holidays can be found in your heart, maybe, but mostly in the bleached flour and mononitrate, in the crumbly cake, the crunchy green sprinkles, the waxy coating that pools thickest where trunk meets tree.
The yearning surfaced on my tongue while I was brooding at work recently, like a divine spirit whipping Ebenezer Scrooge into submission. I got in my car. The chains went clank, clank, clank.
I needed Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. Bad.
See, I'd been having trouble getting into the holiday spirit. How is that possible? you ask. The holidays are so alive with Visa cards and bad Wham! songs in department stores! It all starts in mid July! You're right. But somehow this season felt even more steeped in Starbucks Peppermint Malaise than usual.
I recently bought a house, and my first mortgage payment was due soon. The house is being renovated, so instead of a tannenbaum in the corner, there is mouse poop and Dif wallpaper gel. And there is no money. I considered making everyone crafty presents off of Pinterest, but not even your own mother wants a wreath of Whole Foods bags. Christmas is also kind of confusing if you are, A) not a kid, or B) don't have kids. I have a dog who once ate a dozen King's Hawaiian Rolls off the counter. He has the brain of a silverfish. He does not care if he gets a stocking.
I know. First world problems. There were Hurricane Sandy victims, people suffering right here in town, twins getting weird emails from four-star generals. I needed perspective. I needed lightness. I needed to spread joy and hand out . . .
Christmas Tree Cakes!
They are an under-appreciated dessert, $1.79 for five, released once a year with little fanfare. A fun holiday snack that everyone will enjoy! says Little Debbie. A tree shaped yellow cake with creme filling that is decorated with white frosting, green sprinkles and a red garland of frosting.
We take these treats for granted. Just look at the Twinkie, the Hostess Cupcake, so fragile, here one day then gone. Likewise, no one thinks about Christmas Tree Cakes until they do. Go to work and mention them in your accounts meeting and watch everyone freak. Post a Christmas Tree Cake picture on Facebook and count the likes, the stories, the memories. You'll be there all night, laughing in your flannel jammies.
I fell in pretty hard with a Christmas Tree Cake crowd in 2006. It was a wild time. My secondhand couch was covered with a bed sheet. My apartment always smelled like Tuna Helper. I was watching a lot of America's Next Top Model reruns.
"It's like an arrow," said my best friend, Summer, as we sat one Christmas, gazing at the perfect white triangle. "Pointing straight to your mouth."
Friends bought me cakes for gifts, thrilled I was such a cheap date. My face turned plump and seemed to dissolve into my neck, much like Debbie on the box. They are seasonal for a reason.
I staggered this year into a Target store in Tampa, past the dollar gifts for dogs who don't care, past the jugs of cheap wine. There were white chocolate Oreos, cans of Pirouettes, Ferrero Rochers. There were Cosmic Brownies and Fudge Rounds and Oatmeal Cream Pies. No Christmas Tree Cakes.
The darkness returned. I recalled the last Pinterest project I saw: a string of paper patio lights cut to look like cats. The chains went clank, clank, clank.
I drove to Publix. A Salvation Army bell ringer was there, being joyful, trying to actually help others.
"Good evening, miss!"
And I was just thinking, "Shut up, shut up, shut up."
I could smell them, I swear. There! The red boxes! I grabbed several packs and a bottle of water for health and paid with a Visa. I stuffed a dollar in the Salvation Army box on the way out.
"Thank you, miss!" he said. "Happy holidays!"
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857. Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.