On Baking Cakes: Generations of Life Lessons

My mother with my children, during my son's Cub Scout years

My mother with my children, during my son’s Cub Scout years

My mother’s death brought to mind many memories for all her family members. My son sent my father a letter describing one of his memories–a time when my mother instructed him in how to bake a cake.

He was a Cub Scout at the time, and the pack was holding a fundraiser. The fundraiser was an auction of cakes made only by the boys and their dads. Mothers were strictly forbidden to help.

Little did the pack leaders know that my husband made more cakes than I did. (There’s a reason for that, but that’s another post.) My husband was out of town, however, so my son had no authorized helper.

In my wisdom as a lawyer and a mother, I decreed that, although the rules forbade me to help, my mother, who was visiting, could be present, if she didn’t actually do anything, but only told my son what to do. In truth, she would be a far better instructor than I would.

So I left them to it.

Here is how my son described the event:

Angel_Food_Cake_Pan“The weekend before the auction, Dad was out of town, but as was true for most of her adult life, Mom wanted no part of baking. Thankfully, Grandma was visiting, so a bit of adult supervision was on offer. My mother, of course, wasn’t going to let me bend the rules, so Grandma was to supervise and help me understand the recipe, but she was not to do any of the work. I wanted to make an angel food cake, which it turned out wasn’t the easiest thing: it has a special pan, a different texture, and even a different physical orientation for cooling.

“. . . Grandma was patient with me and enthusiastic throughout. Her encouragement made the project fun and interesting in the doing.

“That is no small thing: that cake was the first thing I ever made for myself in a kitchen, and because it was for the auction I would never get to taste it.

“When I was little, cooking seemed like a chore one did on the way to dinner. Today, it’s one of my favorite ways to pass the time . . . . What I love most is the tinkering and screwing up and learning. I love the way vegetables’ color gets richer during the first two minutes of a boil. I love the change in aroma as I stir a new herb to a stockpot. I love the number of different ways one can get bread to rise.

“Grandma’s devotion one afternoon twenty-five years ago is the reason I find such joy in cooking. She made me feel good about the work as I did it, and I learned to see the making rather than the eating as the good part. All she was doing was being helpful to her daughter and her grandson for a few hours. In return, I got a lifelong way to find peace.”

The cake turned out fine and made some money for the pack. But more important was the experience my mother and son had together.

We never know when the little things we do make a difference in people’s lives. My mother did many little things for others. And that is why we remember her with love.

When did someone do something little for you that made a big difference in your life?

P.S. Thanks to my son for writing most of this post.

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    • Jill,
      I am glad my son remembers it so fondly. It was one of those incidents that barely registered in my memory, but for him it was important. And it was a delight to see it through his eyes after my mother died.
      One of the little things that made a difference . . .

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