For a number of years Grandma Kornmiller baked a chocolate cake for my birthday. She used a Duncan Hines mix, which she thought was the best on the market, and knowing my frugal grandma, it was probably the cheapest.
What made it really yummy was the icing. This was before the advent of plastic containers of cake topping. I’m not sure what ingredients Grandma used but assume Hershey’s cocoa was included since I always noticed this item in her cupboard.
Grandma and Granddad would then drive to my house, bearing this succulent token of their appreciation of their first-born grandchild. There were no decorations on the cake and no candles, nor did my name appear in script on the nondescript cake. However, each year the cake was the same, a nicely rounded double layer chocolate cake — with a huge chunk cut out before it was presented to me.
My grandma was a practical person and not one known for her generosity.
Then came a special birthday. I was about to turn 21. When asked what I wanted for this occasion, I requested a modest reminder of this milestone in my life, a decorated cake — maybe even a white one, for a change, with roses, one that announced to the world, “Happy 21st Birthday, Karen!” (Keep in mind that I am an only child and always loved being the center of attention.)
I knew immediately that my mother would not be baking my birthday cake because she had never baked a cake in her life. One day my dad brought home a cake mix complete with the pan. It was called “Answer Cake.” Mom looked at the purchase and said somewhat sarcastically, “The answer is No.”
She was an obsessively tidy housekeeper, but cooking was not a priority. Now, Mom was a good cook, but culinary activities were something she participated in reluctantly. I think her reasoning was the dislike of a messy kitchen.
There was one definite advantage to her obsession with neatness. I was never asked to do dishes since I may slop water on the floor. In addition, I was excused from all cooking duties. My father, on the other hand, found several outside activities such as lawn mowing to occupy my spare moments. And so it is today that I am more concerned about a neatly mowed lawn than I am about the inside of my house. After all, the lawn is more visible.
Mom did want me to have a happy birthday, however, and suggested a way to get my cake.
“Why don’t you call Florence Huffines?” Florence was famous for her baked goods. Then she quickly added, “I’ll gladly pay for the cake.”
I countered, “I would feel embarrassed to call a woman I scarcely know and ask her to bake me a birthday cake!” My mother was a very shy, introverted woman whose phone conversations were limited to her mother, her sister and some friends. Since she was not going to call Florence, I came up with a clever ruse. I still remember dialing the number. (Those were the only kind of phones around when I was 21.)
“Hello, Florence?” I began somewhat nervously. “This is Helen Kornmiller. My daughter, Karen, is going to turn 21, and I would like to order a cake.” Before I had a chance to give the specifics and ask the price, Florence began an animated conversation.
“Well, how have you been? I haven’t seen you in years. Does your husband still work at Logan Clay?” All of a sudden, I was thrust into a dialogue with a woman I didn’t know and posing as another person. I answered questions about my husband and his work, my daughter, who had just finished her junior year at Ohio University, and accepted her condolences on the loss of my father five years previously. As our conversation continued, I remembered the story of Pinocchio and checked several times to make sure my nose was the same length as it was before I dialed Florence’s number. My mother hadn’t told me that she knew Florence, and that in addition to her cake baking skills, this woman was a gifted conversationalist!
I still remember how embarrassed I felt when I hung up after making this transaction. This was not the only time in my life that I’ve been guilty of deception, but it’s the most memorable. Later, when I went to pick up my cake, I did tell Florence the truth. She looked puzzled and was speechless. Looking back, I think it would have been better had I not said anything.
In the years following, I’ve tried to atone for this foolish act of misrepresentation by purchasing numerous birthday cakes… for other people, but never again for myself.
Karen Kornmiller writes a bi-weekly column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.