Rum Cake by Chyann Hector

In my home, the start of the holidays

Is not marked with the hanging of lights

Or the decorating of a faux prickly pine tree

Instead, it is ushered in by the wind

Kicked up behind my grandmother’s shuffling feet

As she burst through the front door early on a Saturday morning in late November

Arms pregnant with tanned plastic Shop Rite bags

She gathers and collects ingredients

Like a valiant hero on a quest

Cans of dried cranberries and raisins 

Jars of sugar-soaked cherries

Cartons of wrinkled prunes

Heaping hills of brown sugar and cloud flour

Glass bottles of Grace’s Brownin

I watch her unload them all

And can already feel the aroma snaking its way to my stomach

Where it will linger until the fireworks signal new beginnings

My grandma works as I watch

Sorting and marinating

Prepping and storing

But I see it as dancing

An intricate waltz

I wait, patient as the moon for my chance to shine

She teaches me the moves

How to line the silver pans around the counters

Dress them in yellow-white butter and dust flour 

Pressing play on the blender

And listening to the steady hum of the automatic mixer

I wonder if this recipe is a product of survival

Or reimagination

I eye her as she makes her way to the ground

A wooden bowl larger than my body sitting in front of her

My grandma waves her arms and churns and churns

The red-brown swishing against the sides

And now I think of her a witch

This is not a recipe but a ritual

Mixing her magical cauldron of something kind of special

Letting me steal tastes of a land I will never be able to piece together fully

But is a piece of me anyway

This is how my grandma reminds me of our home, of her love and her mother’s love

This is how my grandma reminds me of  our history, of her power and her mother’s power

I sit here in this kitchen with her

After years of avoiding it

And I think I know now

That this is something I want to savor

Something I need to etch into my brain

Next year, to usher in the holidays,

I will make my grandmother the best rum cake

It might taste more of reimagination than survival

My hands, just like my tongue might not ever speak the same language as hers

It might always be a watered-down dialect

Some measurements will always be lost along the way

But if grandma has taught me anything

It is that the heart is the center

That you could hold onto anything 

So long as you made it your own

So long as it morphed into your personal dancefloor

Or apothecary

A place you cultivated to keep you and yours safe

And I hope she is able to tell me

That “it needs more of this

And a little more of that

And just this pinch 

But it’s alright”

With a smile

Chyann Hector is a Black Jamaican-American writer, educator, and anti-racist/anti-bias human in progress. She has been writing ever since she could remember and wrote her first novel in a spiral notebook back in the 5th grade. In her work, Chyann prioritizes the voices of Black women who are immigrants and descendants of immigrants. When she isn’t teaching, reading, or writing, she enjoys traveling, baking, and spending time with loved ones.

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