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Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Mother’s Day Tale: The Sloped Cake

When my older sister, Terri, and my younger brother, John, and I were all young, we would do our best to plan out a Mother’s Day celebration. Our mother worked hard, and we wanted each Mother’s Day to show her how much we cared.

Hence, the Friday before Mother’s Day, after school but before Mom got home, we would all walk the mile to the grocery store, use our stacks of quarters (from returning bottles to the store, and occasional babysitting) to purchase the boxes of white cake mix and two cans of chocolate frosting – to make our mother’s favorite kind of cake.

Arriving home from the store my sister took charge, instructing my younger brother and I how to mix the cake batter. Inevitably I would let part of an eggshell fall into the batter, but my ever-observant sister would be there to extricate the shell before it disappeared out of view. As the milk was added and the concoction stirred, my little brother would begin dipping his finger into the mix and tasting the scrumptious batter – but not too often lest my older sister intervene.

Into the oven the four round pans of cake batter would then go. We waited anxiously for the mixture to cook. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the pans emerged. My sister waited a bit, and then turned the pans over to let each cake fall onto a rack to cool.

My sister implored us to wait even more, to permit the cakes to cool. But, being young and impatient, my brother and I urged our sister to proceed with the stacking of the four cakes into a four-layer cake, with frosting in-between and all around. So, with some trepidation my sister began.

The top of the first white cake layer was covered with chocolate frosting, and then the second cake was laid on top. This was repeated again, and then again. With all four layers in place, we each then took turns to spread the remaining chocolate frosting on the top and sides of the cake.

And then it happened. Perhaps it should have been expected. Perhaps it should have been foreseen. Perhaps it was even inevitable. But, for all three of us, what happened was both an startling and devastating blow.

One portion of one of the layers of cake collapsed. Compressed, you might say. And we were left with a four-layer cake on one side, and what appeared to be a three-layer cake on the other side. Sloped … to the extreme.

We wondered what we should we do. But then my sister, ever the ingenious one, quickly came up with the answer. “Ron, quick, take this money and go get three more cans of frosting from the store.”

So I ran, for I knew that in a half-hour or so Mom would be home. To the store, into the store, grabbing three cans of the same chocolate frosting we had previously purchased, proceeding through the check-out stand (and catching my breath), and then running home.

Upon arrival, my sister, of course, admonished: “What took you so long?” (I’d like to have seen her run a mile to the store and back in such a short time.) But time did not permit a reply, for Mom was due home in just ten more minutes.

Quickly my sister opened up the can of frosting and began applying the additional frosting to the cake. Layer after layer she applied, and then repeated by adding more from the second can of frosting. And then ... presto! The previously sloped cake had magically been transformed into a nice, round, level four-layer cake.

The cake was slipped into the Tupperware container, then into the refrigerator, to await its Sunday afternoon consumption. Unlike many cakes in our house which awaited later consumption, no corners were cut from this cake, nor were any anonymous slivers taken from its edges, prior to the big unveiling.

On Mother’s Day afternoon, the time came for giving Mom our cards and presents. We couldn’t afford much, so this year the presents were “I.O.U.’s.” Such as “I owe you one car wash. Love, Ron.” And more promises of how we would help out around the house. (I think my mother still has many of these I.O.U.’s, 45 years later, and will soon seek to cash them in.)

Then the time arrived for the cutting of the cake. Mom proclaimed how beautiful the cake was, as she reached for the large cake knife. My sister tried to swivel the cake around, so mother was cutting into the side that had not fallen, but my mother would not let my sister complete the task.

In the knife went, and then again. My mother brought a plate near, and then slowly lifted the first slice from the cake out and placed it on the plate. “Oh, dear,” she said. “This is interesting.”

Perhaps interesting was not the right word. For three layers of cake appeared in the slice, with a fourth layer, more than an inch wide, of nothing but chocolate frosting. “What did you do?” asked my mother.

Then, the story was told, each of the three of us adding in a part, and our own perspectives. The brothers' urging to frost the cake before it had thoroughly cooled. The "reluctant" early application of the frosting. The moment of the falling. My rushed journey to the store. The construction of the edifice, and the restoration of the cake to a round, level appearance.

My mother smiled. She reached out and gave each of her children a hug, and proclaimed, “This is the best cake ever!”

And it was.

For never had then been made a cake before, nor a cake ever made since, with so much delicious frosting.  Nor with so much love.

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