Friday, August 8, 2008

The Magnificent Cake

I've always loved the song, "MacArthur's Park", especially the first version. Haven't heard it in awhile, but when I do, I like to be in the car, where I can amp it up to awesome volume. And I've always gotten a little lump at the almost silly lyrics:

"Someone left the cake out in the rain,
I don't know if I can take it,
'Cause it took so long to bake it,
And I'll never have that recipe again--
Ohhh nooo, ohhh nooooo."

Well, I didn't make it, and it wasn't rain, but here's the story.

For about two years now, I spend one day a week playing Yahzee with three friends. To make it weekly, we have to be firm about any other possible activities. We adjust the day to fit things like doctor's visits, or babysitting grandchildren, etc. But we play each week, and the game gives us ample opportunity to laugh and joke and discuss topics ranging from important life events and problems to the mundane-- like tv shows worth watching, or actors through the decades who were either handsome or sexy and usually not both. We are, I think, good friends.

Carmen is a friend of more than 40 years now, and Nana I had visited off and on through the years. Sharon was someone I had met but did not really know before. All three are strong, good women, with a well-developed ability to empathize with others. I cherish them. Each week we meet at a different home, and it turned out mine was the place we met the day before Sharon's birthday. The hostess fixes a morning snack and the noon meal. I planned to make a layer birthday cake.

I was talking to Matt G. about my plans, and he checked with my daughter-in-law, who has been taking a series of cake decorating classes. They offered to have her make the cake and decorate it. I accepted the offer with pleasure. She is a talented artist and simply has extended her art to cake decorating. She also is a magnificent cook. Wow.

So this week, she came home from work, baked the cake one night and iced it the next evening. Again, after work. I took some supper over and was amazed to see a four-layer cake, iced with a mauve pink frosting. Awesome. I watched for more than two hours while she hand made frosting roses about two inches in circumferance in shades varying from mauve to light pink, which she then wreathed around the top of the cake. She decorated the sides, which were almost five inches high. She mixed some slightly darker icing to pipe on "Happy Birthday Sharon" in cursive. It was the most beautiful birthday cake I have ever personally witnessed. I had wanted to celebrate my friend, and did this ever. My DIL didn't even take a photo for her file. She has made much more creative cakes.

She and Matt G. snapped the cake into the cake carrier and Matt seatbelted it into the back seat. I tried so hard to accelerate and decelerate gently, but I don't know.

When I carried it into my apartment I thought, "Something's wrong. No, it can't be wrong. It's just my imagination." But when I lifted the lid, it was tragic. Half the cake was in chunks, the crumbled side of the cake wedged against the wall of the carrier, roses smashed. I got a knife and attempted to resassemble. Useless.
By now it was after 10 p.m. There was enough intact to show Sharon and to slice for lunch, and I knew it would taste delicious--sour cream with almond flavoring and cherry cake filling. MMM. But still.

Some of you with kids, grandkids, have watched the cartoon, "Arthur." There is an episode where he buys his mom a ceramic bird for Christmas, and despite all his efforts, it is smashed on Christmas Eve. And he is crushed, too. Yes, HE wanted to give his mother something special, but more than that, he wanted to see her smile, to recognize that he was saying, "I love you." This was like that. And both of us being grownups, I knew Sharon would get the message, and it would really be okay. But just for then, the cake and I were both crumbled.

So I did the adult, mature thing. I called Matt G. and mournfully told him what had happened. "All her work," I mourned. (Or more accurately, probably moaned.)

"Believe me, Mom, she had fun doing it. Don't worry."

So I got a tissue, and my cigarettes, and went outside to smoke. And finally, to cry a little bit.

I had just finished soaking my tissue when a skunk popped up from around the corner, about 10 feet away. I started punching in security on my cell phone and told the officer on duty, "skunk alert." As I talked to him, the skunk wandered across the yard and then disappeared around the other building. A couple of minutes later, I saw a smaller skunk scamper across the lawn I started to snicker. My so-called tragic evening was turning into a farce. I giggled.

And I went into the apartment to call Matt G. again and tell him the funny aftermath to my evening. He asked when my ladies arrived and when we ate lunch. And then I realized I heard the whir of a mixer in the background.

"No! No!" I said.

"Too late, Mom, I've already cracked the eggs," Matt chuckled and hung up.

Well, he minimized what they had done, but he stayed up baking another cake--two-layer this time, and my DIL got up an hour early to ice the new one. Pale green, with white piping and three magnificent live-looking daffodil blooms she had made earlier. And again, "Happy Birthday Sharon" on top. And he and my oldest granddaughter delivered it a little after 9 a.m. He suggested it be the presentation cake, but that we eat the original, which DIL had made from a new recipe.

We ate the original like pigs. We saved the green one and Sharon took it home to freeze for her turn in two weeks, when we will celebrate Nana's and my birthdays. We suggested she either eat "Sharon" off the top or take some chocolate syrup and draw a neat line through her name.

And when I called later in the day to thank them again, Matt was taking a nap. So much for his saying, "I got plenty of sleep." My DIL sure didn't.

It was only a cake. It was perishable and was going to be eaten anyway. It was only a cake. And so much more.