It was the 4th of July 1958 and my sister kept feeding the woodstove chunks of maple and birch until the kitchen was so hot you could have fried an egg on the floor. The kitchen was always hot in those days because the woodstove was our heat source as well as our cooking range. We did have electricity, but it went no farther than the light switches.
What we didn't have were modern conveniences like running water or indoor plumbing. I wasn't thrilled about our rustic house, but at 11 years old, there wasn't much I could to about it. Dad used to say I was learning survival skills, but what I really wanted was a sink, a faucet and a flush toilet.
Well anyway, I asked my sister, Jude, why she decided to bake a Princess Cake on the hottest day of the year. I remember her responding she wanted cake for dessert after the fireworks. Mind you, we weren't attending the fireworks in town, but she said we might be able to catch a glimpse of them from the back porch if we used the binoculars. Then we could pretend we had enjoyed all the festivities and eat cake and ice cream until they came out of our ears.
Sharon M. Kennedy
There were three female cooks in our kitchen. Gram was in charge of most of the baking. Her cinnamon rolls were light as air and delicious, as were her scones, bread and pies. Mom cooked all our main meals. Her pot roast and mashed potatoes were the best, and she could have bottled and sold her rich, brown gravy. Her special dessert was a yellow cake piled high with caramel frosting. If truth be told, many a time I fed the cake to Sparky, Waggs, or Pepper but I savored every speck of the icing while the dogs enjoyed the cake.
Jude's contribution was Princess Cake. The recipe was in a little yellow booklet I took with me when I moved to Detroit. Unfortunately, in the 1970s I wasn't interested in cooking so I sold all my cookbooks and the Princess Cake recipe is forever lost. All that remains is the memory of that Fourth of July when Jude ordered me to the fridge for eggs. There were none, so she ordered me to the barn.
Against my will and with plenty of complaining, I dragged my feet because everyone knew I was afraid of everything on the farm, especially setting hens. Plucky, our best layer, was sitting on her nest when I opened the chicken coop door. I was terrified of that old hen.
In the coop's dim light, I heard what could only be described as a growl. I knew I was in trouble because Plucky always growled when she didn't want to be disturbed. Although she wasn't setting, she gave off low growling clucks as a warning to me to keep my distance. I was sure she was going to fly at me. Chickens can fly, you know, just not very far. Anyway, I stayed away from her and talked in a soft voice, reassuring her I wouldn't touch her nest.
We had about a dozen or so chickens, but only Plucky was in the coop. The others were scratching around the barnyard. I checked a few empty nests until I found three eggs. I figured that should be plenty. I put them in my basket, ducked out the door, and ran back to the house.
"Here's the eggs," I remember yelling, but the kitchen was empty. Mom and Gram had gone to town with Aunt Rene. Jude was in the front room, talking on the phone with her friend, a greasy-haired fellow who lived down the road from us. As I listened, I realized they were making plans for the night. Jude, who was 15 and had all the fun, was going to the fireworks with him and his family, and I wasn't invited.
While she yakked on the phone, I returned to the kitchen. The flour, sugar, vanilla, and oleo were lined up like soldiers. I remember demanding when she was going to make the cake, and I'm sure I informed her of my near death encounter with Plucky. Then, as now, I tended to exaggerate, adding a little color to an otherwise dull conversation. Jude ignored me. She was in another world, and her baking was forgotten.
Undeterred, I fed the woodstove until I figured the oven was hot enough, and then I went to work. I got out the Sunbeam, attached the beaters, and followed the recipe. While the cake baked, I made chocolate frosting. After supper, I brought the Princess Cake from the pantry and cut large slices for everyone. We all declared it was the best cake ever baked in our old oven. If memory serves me correctly, the cake wasn't much of a princess, being burned around the edges and slightly sunk in the middle, but I had covered all my mistakes with a good helping of frosting.
After all these years, I still recall that Independence Day and my first attempt at baking a cake. I can't help but think how wonderful it would be if a little icing could be slathered over all the blunders we make through this journey called life. The years would be so much sweeter.
Happy Fourth of July!
Editor's note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past.