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Birthday Cake

The last poppy seed cake I ever ate.... Birthdays were always special days.  Mother made beautiful layer cakes with thick white boiled frosting. 

She decorated them with a decorating tube that had several different ends.  She made a different colored frosting to use with each end.  With one end she made pink or yellow roses while with another she made green leaves.  One end had just a little hole so she could write our name and HAPPY BIRTHDAY on the top of the cake.  She put the appropriate number of candles around the top.  Then she would put the cake on a crystal pedestal plate.  Each one of us felt SO special on our ‘special day’.

We never had parties except for the family.  Mother definitely believed that asking people to a party was the same as asking them for a present.  She did not like that idea.

When I was in my teens I decided that Grandma’s poppy seed cake was my favorite.  From that time on she made my birthday cakes and Mother decorated them.  I guess I must have talked about “my poppy seed cakes” often after I was married and Grandma Jennings had passed away.

I tried to keep the tradition of the decorated birthday cakes alive with my own family.  Each one chose the kind of cake they wanted and I tried to make them as festive and beautiful as my mother had made ours.

In 1960 my family lived in Woodhull, Illinois.  I was teaching full time in Galva and driving back and forth each day.  I went to night school at least one night a week.  I was raising 3 daughters and sewing most of their clothes as well as my own.  In other words I was a busy mother.

One Saturday after being in class for final exams at Western University all day, I arrived home expecting to find that the girls had done their chores for the day, that they had cleaned their rooms, that Sue had started some supper, that Carol had set the table, and that Pat had helped them.  But…  When I walked into the kitchen it was a complete disaster!  There were dirty dishes, pots, and pans everywhere.  Spilled flour was on the table and floor.  There wasn’t even enough silverware to set the table.  I couldn’t imagine what had hit the place.  “What is going on here?  I am so tired and then I come home to this mess!  What are you doing?  What are you thinking?  There is no supper started?”

I finally had to take a breath.  The girls looked so hurt and crestfallen.  Talk about yelling before asking for their explanation.  Sue finally, in a very small voice said, “We were making you a birthday cake.  It’s a poppy seed cake.”  I wanted to hide my head in a hole.  I had spoiled their surprise. 

Then the story came out.  They had planned it for weeks.  They had written to my mother to get the recipe for the poppy seed cake.  Then they discovered that the store in town did not have enough poppy seeds and they had to have them make a special order.  When they started to make the cake they discovered that the poppy seeds had to be soaked for several hours.  That put the whole project way behind schedule.  They had made all the different colored frostings and decorated the cake.  They had worked all day and there wasn’t time for all the necessary clean-up.

When I discovered all the love that went into that cake I was more ashamed than ever that I had seen the mess first and had yelled at them.  I had totally spoiled their surprise.  I wanted to cry and I know that I did.

That was the last poppy seed cake I ever had.  I would like to say I learned to never speak out before finding out all the facts of a situation but to my embarrassment and shame I still put my mouth in gear too quickly on occasion.