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December 20, 2002

Nowadays, hardly anyone gives fruitcake as a Christmas present. That hasn't always been the case, but for years the item has been ridiculed, scorned, verbally abused and almost demonized by many jokesters, such as late-night TV comics. They usually say there is actually only one fruitcake in existence but it is passed around year after year, making us think there are many of them. As a result, most of us now feel uncomfortable offering fruitcake to someone we really care for. That seems too bad. Fruitcakes are better for your health and teeth than many of the other seasonal goodies that have somehow retained their respectability, at least in the eyes of professional funnymen. Fudge is a good example. It has so far escaped the sarcasm that has all but eliminated fruitcake from the Christmas-time experience. Fudge is still greatly beloved. I bow to no man in my craving for that rich, creamy candy, and there's no stigma attached to it despite words of caution from dentists. In the interest of weight control, however, I am practically fudge-free at this time of the year. Jay Leno and Dave Letterman have not yet declared war on fudge.

I remember a few years back when fruitcake was still an acceptable Yuletide gift. Offering them to friends, neighbors and relatives was a perfectly normal and acceptable tradition. Most homes kept them out in the open and offered generous slices to holiday visitors. There is something homey about fruitcake. Makes me think of the early 1940s when hundreds of Noble county men and women were in military service at distant bases. Most of them were far from the homes and the people they knew and loved back here. It was a difficult time for everyone, but one Perry gentleman came up with an idea to alleviate the problem. H.R. McMullen (McMillan?) was his name, I believe, and he was known to one and all simply as "Mac." I have little information about him, including authentication of his name. He probably was a World War I veteran because he knew how lonely the young GIs, sailors, Marines, WACs, WAVEs, SPARs and so forth feel when they are separated from the folks back home. He decided on his own to do something about that.

Mac's idea was simple. He proposed that the home folks provide a fruitcake for each serviceman and servicewoman from Noble county. I think he wrapped the cakes, addressed the shipping labels and sent them on their way. No telling how many arrived, intact, at their destination. Anyway, he offered to handle most of the mailing process himself if the cakes were brought to him. Thinking back, that must have been an enormous project for one man, who was either divorced or a widower, but Mac never looked back after offering to handle the project. Hundreds of fruitcakes must have been mailed from the Perry post office to APO and FPO addresses all over the world. When Mac thought interest was waning, he would come to The Journal newsroom and urge us to run more stories to re-ignite people's awareness.

As I say, I'm not even sure of Mac's actual name, but I believe he lived in a converted garage behind the home of Bill Wolleson on Delaware. His modest home was on the alley between Eighth and Ninth streets. It is still there. I don't know how long he continued that campaign or what's become of him, but if he were still here I'll bet he would strenuously object to the way fruitcakes have been disparaged in recent years. If you have one of your own, eat it and serve your guests whenever the occasion arises. And if you feel like it, send one to someone in military service. They'll thank you.