Sunday, May 25, 2014

Coco's Cake (a short story)

We recently celebrated our eldest daughter’s third birthday.  Her birthday party was planned for Sunday so we spent the entire day on Saturday getting ready.  We cleaned the house and we cut the grass.  We filled a gift box for each child coming, with balloons, stickers, sidewalk chalk and a canister of Play Doh.  We topped each gift box with a little flower made from crepe paper.  We hung the hand-made birthday banner we made two years ago for her first birthday – when we cut and glued large letters and circles of colored paper to make each letter and then strung them together on a ribbon for the "Happy Birthday" banner. 

And, of course, we baked a cake.  Or, I should say, my husband baked a cake.
The process started early in the morning.  My husband planned the basic elements: he would make a white layer cake with yellow frosting.  He researched recipes, made his shopping list and dashed to the grocery store for missing ingredients.   By mid-morning he had baked two layers, decided they weren’t enough, and then baked two more.  We would have a four-layer layer cake.  After lunch, it was time to make the frosting and fondant.  My husband decided he wanted to decorate the cake with fondant flowers.  He had never made fondant before, so he searched the Internet for recipes, chose one, and dashed off to the grocery store again for a few more missing ingredients.  He also needed a flower-shaped cookie cutter so he popped into a vintage kitchenware store to search through a box of cookie cutters for just the right shape.  By late afternoon the frosting and fondant were done, colored with the just-right shades of white, yellow and orange, and tucked into the ‘fridge for safekeeping.

Finally, after dinner was done, after the house was sufficiently clean, and after the kids were in bed, my husband brought out the cake layers, the frosting and the fondant for the final assembly.  I watched him frost and stack each layer, watched him roll out the fondant, and watched him cut the flowers from the fondant.  I watched him carefully plan the placement of the fondant flowers across the top of the cake and around the sides.  Then, finally, I watched him place each of the flowers on the frosted cake.

The finished cake was astonishing.  It was beautiful.  “It’s amazing,” I told him.  “But I can’t believe you spent the whole day making a cake.”

He shrugged.  “I remember when I was a kid, visiting my grandmother’s house for Christmas.  She would get up in the morning when it was still dark and make a coconut cake, and I would help her.  I remember when I was in the second grade my mom made cupcakes for my class at Halloween.  I remember the orange frosting and I remember helping her frost those cupcakes.  I want those memories for our children too.”

My husband’s family is from the South.  His father’s family is from a small town in Louisiana and his mother’s family is from a small town in Virginia.  Our three children will grow up in San Francisco, in a neighborhood wedged between the Castro and the Lower Haight.  They will have two gay dads, one white and one African American.  They were born in New Delhi, India through the miracle of modern medicine, an Indian egg donor and two Indian surrogates.  Our children are a long way from the South.  But, standing in that kitchen with my husband and looking at that cake, I realized my children will grow up with traditions rooted deeply in his Southern family and the generations of African American women who cared for their children and their families in very special ways.   

Coco on her third birthday, April 23, 2014
Coco's cake

Coco and Grandma Connie

Coco's Great Grandmother Etta

Coco's Great Grandmother Minnie