Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Birthday Cakes

Birthday Cakes
5 " x 8.5"
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"What kind of birthday cake do you want this year?" Mama called out from the kitchen as I walked into the living room.
"I don't know," I mumbled. I hadn't thought about a cake. She always just made a cake and surprised me. I hadn't had a choice before.
I had already had chocolate, and plain cake with white icing, coconut, something with pecans, a marble cake, and others that I couldn't remember. I tried to think of something that would be really different. Something that would be such a challenge to make that she might even have to buy it from the bakery, or have one of the ladies in town who made cakes for people, make one for her. I knew Daddy wasn't going to pay for something like that, so, it might end up that I wouldn't even have a birthday cake, unless I stuck with something that my mother could do.
I guess that I was young enough to not realize that my mother could do anything! She could.
I tried to think of what other kids had at their parties, and of their favorite colors, and things that they might like. At school, Kathryn had told us that she liked blue ink instead of black and our English teacher had said that we could use blue or black ink in our fountain pens. So, we went to the drugstore and the variety store, and bought bottles of blue ink. That was the cool color, now. At least, that's as cool as they would let us get.
"A blue cake! I want a blue cake for my birthday!" If blue ink was cool, a blue cake would be cool, too. Of course, I didn't think that it would be possible for my mother to make a blue cake at home.
It was only a few days to my birthday, shortly after Christmas and on the heels of the new year! I always heard that I wouldn't have many presents because it was so close to Christmas and New Years. Or that I couldn't have a party because everyone would be broke after Christmas, or they were tired of the many holiday parties. But, it turned out to be just something to throw me off the track of the party already planned. Some days, right up to the day of the party, I would be told that there wasn't going to be a birthday party that year. And, then, the day of the party, I would be told to dress up, and Mama would fix my hair. She would bake my cake, fix the table, and have Bertie help her clean house for days before the big event.
This particular year, I wondered if I would have a cake-if Mama had been able to meet the challenge I threw out, or would I just have another chocolate or white cake.
I stood in the little dining area, dressed in my party dress, with my sash hanging in the back, beginining to untie by itself. I looked at the table and wondered if anyone besides my great-aunts and grandmother would come to my party.
I was anxious and kept asking, "What if no one comes?"
"They will be here! Now quit worrying and keep out of the way while we are getting ready!" Mama and Bertie were going back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, and I kept standing right in the doorway.
"You did it! You made a blue cake!" I shouted.
Mama brought in great-grandma's blue plate with the roses and green rim on it, filled with a beautiful blue cake, with blue icing. This would be the hit of all the birthday parties, I believed.
Bertie followed Mama with another cake on a pink Fiesta Ware plate. This one was even taller. It was a fresh banana layer cake. I've never seen anyone make a cake as wonderful as those fresh banana layer cakes that my mother made. I suspect that they were a plain cake, with some bananas mashed into the mix and the frosting. Then, between layers and on top, Mama would carefully place sliced bananas. I don't know how she kept the bananas from turning brown. I know that we didn't have things like lemon juice to squeeze over the bananas and keep them fresh. Still, those cakes were good for several days.
The front door opened and guests started arriving, carrying coats and packages. Of course, it had to be cold on my birthday almost every year. That eliminated going outside to play games. Soon the house was full of noisey children and chattering ladies.
Organized games like Pin The Tail On The Donkey and Post Office or Spin The Bottle, soon turned into running around the house, hiding in various places, and squealing as we tickled each other or pulled some children out of their hiding places under the beds.
When it was time to calm down, and bows and curls in the hair were drooping, and neat party outfits were hanging like play clothes, we were called to gather at the white dining table, with its curved, black-edged corners. Presents were opened. Happy Birthday was sung. Candles were lighted on the blue cake, then blown out as a wish was made. The cakes were sliced and served to guests.
Tired, disheveled children made their way out of the front door and down the little hill to the street. Grownups lingered over their punch and coffee, as Mama and Bertie started to clean up the mess. Now Mama would have to start cooking supper. Daddy would soon come home and want his food.
I placed my presents on the baby grand piano and stared at the gifts, while the grownups talked. I looked out the window, wishing that a few of my friends could have stayed to play longer. I would have to take my new doll or clothes or whatever I wanted to share, over to Edie's house the next day.
Another year older, but celebrating wasn't over yet. Daddy's birthday would be the next week. On Sunday, we would share a family birthday dinner that featured red roast and red gravy. For Daddy, they would have fried oysters and oyster stew. These dinners were held with different families, depending on who felt like cooking.
It has been kind of nice to be an Almost New Years Baby. I never had to go to school on my birthday. They always had a holiday, just for me! By then, people had a little time to recover from Christmas and New Years Eve.
Still, birthdays were always kind of disappointing. It's sort of like when we asked my aunt what she got for Christmas when she was growing up. She couldn't remember. Then we asked what she wanted, but didn't get for Christmas. She just grinned. I knew what it was. A diamond ring! (She had her chances, but her mother always destroyed her chances.) She said that she finally just gave up on a guy giving her a diamond ring, and bought one for herself.
It wasn't really a ring that was missing, for me. It was being with someone special, getting a spectacular present, or having some romance in the day. Just like Christmas, New Years Eve, and every other holiday that could have been romantic.
It was always a little lonely, too, when friends went home. The party was over and the birthday cake was gone. Even that pretty blue cake and the banana layer cake.
I couldn't have the big party for the big _0 birthday. It could have been a milestone birthday with something memorable like that blue cake, but, instead, it was another day. I washed and ironed, watched Gene Autrey on tv. Since I wasn't having a party, or a beautiful cake like I remembered, I decided to paint those cakes from a long ago party. For supper, my daughter barbequed, and we had ice cream for dessert. This was the big celebration.
I guess that I have the greatest gift, though. And that is that I am still here!
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