I asked for a new purple ’74 Gremlin automatic and Baked Alaska (because I’d never had it), and I expected a relatively quiet family thing because I was rehearsing late for my first musical role — Louisa in The Fantasticks.
I got a surprise party with a houseful of friends, duck à l’orange, and a 1966 Mercedes 200D stick (calm down — it cost $200 and was not a purple Gremlin).
But the best part came when it was time for cake. My mother, bless her heart, came through the swinging kitchen door in her little dotted swiss half-apron, spatula in one hand, Steuben olive dish full of melted ice cream in the other, her ruby red lipstick smudged a skosh, and a few tasteful tears staining her lightly powdered cheeks.
I kicked off my lemon yellow canvas, four-inch platform sandals and darted across the green shag living room to her. “Oh my gosh, Mother! What is it? Did somebody die?”
She pulled a folded tissue from her apron waistband and demurely blew her nose.
“Your Baked Alaska. I don’t know what went wrong!” she literally cried.
“Why? What happened?” I was relieved this was merely a cake emergency, but knew better than to heave an audible sigh of it.
She started slowly in her drippingly perfect New Orleans accent, as if she were thinking back to a bygone era, then built a championship run-on sentence that gained speed — and drama — like it was being pulled downhill by the magnetic force of the brick wall ahead.
I followed the recipe exactly. I made the cakes like I’ve made them a hundred times before, and everything was fine. I let them cool on those racks I got in Paris, then beat the meringue to perfect peaks just like I taught you with a dash of salt and some sugar and vanilla, I know how much you love vanilla, and spread it between the cooled layers, stacked them gently, and frosted it all with French vanilla ice cream, you know, the good kind with the bits of real vanilla seed swirling through it, not ice milk like I usually buy because it’s your birthday and it has to be special so I got real ice cream and of course I know you love French vanilla, then I put the cake under the broiler to brown, not too close to the coils but close enough to toast, and I walked away for just a second, I promise you, Alice, just a second to answer the phone and it was Aunt Claire and she’ll be here in a little while after she picks Frankie up from practice and I told her that would be fine but to use the front door because your new car is in the garage and she’s really excited for you and can’t wait to see it, and when I came back to check on the cake the whole thing had melted, just melted, all over the oven! I followed the recipe exactly, Alice. I just don’t understand! Oh, Alice, I ruined your birthday cake!”
The room was quiet as Mother sniffled a couple more times, took a deep breath to regain her composure, then folded the tissue back into her waistband, looked at me, and with a smile of recognition like the Cheshire cat, started laughing at herself from the tips of her toes.
And that is why I love my mother. And what I miss most about her. Sweet memories.
Happy birthday to me. ;c)
P.S. If you missed the joke, click here.