Thursday, June 18, 2009
Pandora's cake box
Tomorrow is my oldest Daughter's second birthday. Like every child she was such a gift, arriving just after the end of a deployment to her first summer season, she was a joy through all the exhausted days we squeaked out on our own while Josh was living in Texas. I cling to those times when the two-year-old version of her occasionally rains down tempestuous discontent on our family. This will only be a moment, a golden-curled flash in time. Before you know, we'll be holding her mortar board and cheering. We know that, too.
My family is here to celebrate her, this first child and Grandchild, and as I contemplated their visit it seemed one should order a cake. Perhaps on the same day, I was thumbing through a copy of Edna Lewis' Taste of Southern Cooking and the forward by Alice Waters, another legendary revolutionary, noted of Ms. Lewis, "For her, always, pleasure flowed unstoppably out of doing. She saw clearly that a store-bought cake never brought any satisfaction..." Right on. She knew everything about tables that truly matters in the end: Did you put yourself into it?
I struggle in life, even when it comes to the most simple of gestures for my child, not to produce something perfect. But that is not the essence of the thing, is it? She is two. She does not care that the icing is uneven. But she will come to care that I did this for her rather than farmed it out to a stranger, I bet. Both my Mother-in-Law and I made cakes for her first birthday and we were on the right path, I conclude.
Maybe it seems like a small thing? Just order a cake. What difference does it make, perhaps?
I know this: My Grandmother made my first cake, a 1-2-3 with white icing and a pansy on top. She made other cakes too. Some went to her son in Vietnam. Pieces of her love went to war with her son and celebrated birthdays at home on rainy days. Besides the crumb, they had in common that it meant something to him to get those cakes the mail, much the way it does to me to see the photo of that first cake at my Mom's: It means someone loved me enough to put all that time and effort into a thing. I cannot tell you how lucky I am: I had a Mom and Grandmother who baked for me.
This cake will be perfectly hers. And should she ever face a war of any kind, I will send her this cake and she will know we are there: The might of generations who pack things into cakes made with our own hands that help her to face whatever may come. I believe this gesture will reach her soul, hold her, and sustain her when I cannot be there. I know, because someone did this for me. And I know, because I made my Dad's cakes before he went and died on me; because I loved him. He was a golden with real lemon filling and swoopy chocolate frosting. I miss that cake come February.
My two little girls, whatever else we are as a family, know this: We are a people who make birthday cakes from scratch. Your Mom is a hardened corporate infighter and black-sheathed fashionista with a mountain of revenue generation behind her who is always in a great pair of heels: But she also makes your cakes. Dichotomy exists in every person.
In some ways, whether or not you make the cake is all I need to know about a person.