Birthdays are the best!
Mine is this month, and I am ecstatic to be celebrating it with the best of friends in one of my favorite cities in the world, Washington, DC. The magic of the nation’s capital brings back such nostalgia for me, whether it’s lively strolls around Dupont Circle, the colonial charm of Georgetown or Alexandria, the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial where I took my wedding vows, or that mouth-watering cheeseburger from Old Ebbitt Grill.
It’s a far cry from the country back roads of my youth where giant pines surrounded our little stone cottage in rural Mississippi, a time when Mama would combine secret ingredients in her mixing bowl—things like eggs, flour, vanilla flavoring, and lots of love to bake the best birthday cake ever for me.
I can remember standing on the tips of my toes with my eyes stretched wide observing her every move. She hummed “Jesus Loves Me” while she used the oven mitts to lift a cast iron skillet from the preheated oven to make room for the well-greased cake pans, and she hummed louder over the sounds of the mixer. I could hardly wait for what I knew would surely come next. Some years the mixing bowl would turn a rich shade of chocolate, while other years it would become the brightest of strawberry pink. Either way, I waited until she handed me the beaters to lick, an exercise in sheer joy for me, amusement for Mama, a little birthday boy smeared with cake batter from ear to ear and all over my chin.
When the cake came out of the oven and cooled, Mama took out an old-fashioned butter knife. Once the cake was perfectly positioned onto her Tupperware cake plate, she frosted several layers of pure Heaven. I waited impatiently until it was time for me to peel the candied decorations from the small package to be placed on top of the birthday confection. Of course, I had helped Mama pick the most colorful cake toppers weeks earlier at the Sunflower grocery store, and many days I sneaked into the kitchen and peeped into the cupboard just to make sure the candies were still there, waiting for my special day.
I have an old Polaroid photo Mama snapped of me posed by one of my four-layer chocolate cakes, exquisitely decorated by the two of us, well, mostly by her. If you look closely at my three-year-old face, you can see a smudge of chocolate icing. Yes, guilty as charged. I am 46 this year, and although this birthday will not include that special cake made by Mama and me, I have a flood of sweet memories that will keep me warm while toasting a life richly blessed and well-lived with my friends and strolling some of my favorite neighborhoods a long way from home.
I am sure at some point I will hum a verse of “Jesus Loves Me” just for Mama.
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