Yesterday was the Jackson family Christmas party. For those who aren't aware, my husband has an enormous gigantuan family. His mother is one of nine children. The ages of those nine now vary from approximately 55 to 80. Their families therefore, have had families, and theirs have had families, and so on. It's overwhelmingly indescribable how many humans have come from those nine.
A good majority of them attended Eloise's Christmas party yesterday. I may've written about it before. At any rate, the reason for mentioning it now is that one of the many MANY cousins, in particular the one named Diane, was running late. She called to report the reason for her tardiness. "Edie and Ethel are not cooperating with me."
Edie and Ethel are Ronny's Grandfather's sisters. So they are his* great aunts. Ethel is Diane's mother. They have both passed on and gone from this earth and have been dead for years. A decade maybe.
But they were giving Diane a hard time. Yesterday.
I didn't bat an eye. I believed it. Didn't even need to hear the story to believe it, but here's the story anyway.
Edie and Ethel made a peanut butter cake that was legendary. I recall people lovingly, laughingly fighting over the last slice, the last bite. I remember having a slice of it at every family gathering for years and years. Decades maybe. I recall that when I had a slice of that cake in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, life was good and nothing else mattered. There were generally dozens of people sitting or standing about, but when I sat down with that cake and coffee, all I heard was crowd buzz. My thoughts were focused on absolutely nothing other than the gloriously resplendent piece of cake before me. Bite of cake - sip of coffee. Bite of cake - sip of coffee.
It was a totally homemade cake. We call that a scratch cake - so that being the case, rarely does anyone make it anymore. After Edie and Ethel passed on, it became a sweet memory. Several have the recipe but rarely does that cake appear at a gathering. .
So Diane decided to make it for the Jackson family Christmas gathering yesterday. (As a sidenote, she became everyone's new favorite cousin yesterday.) I heard comments like "I haven't had this cake since Grandmama was alive!" (That's been 35 years.) And "Oh wow, I had forgotten about this cake. It reminds me of when I was ten and spending the summers in the country with my cousins." That comment came from a cousin older than me - not sure how much, but I'm 53 - wait - 54.
So back to Diane being late to arrive to the party. When she called to report that Edie and Ethel were not cooperating, what she meant was that she couldn't get the cake to come together. Couldn't get it finished. Couldn't get it done. It cracked, it wouldn't go together to be iced correctly, whatever. Anyone who has made a homemade cake knows how many things can go wrong in the process. I don't know whether she was joking when she said Edie and Ethel weren't cooperating with her, or whether she really felt their presence and that they were giggling and getting in her way. I didn't ask her. But when Aunt Andrea announced that was why Diane was late, not a soul at the party blinked an eye. Everyone within hearing distance either laughed, grinned, or nodded. There were a few comments like, "I bleeve it!" or, "Oh, they were up to their tricks, huh."
Personally I can hear them giggling over the ruination of a cake - their signature cake. They were both a hoot and a half. I can still hear each one of their laughs, I can still see their hands as they grasped mine, and I still use one of their homemade salve recipes. I hear them laugh sometimes when I make it.
But back to the cake. Yesterday, the sight of it, the scent of it, the texture of it, and ultimately the taste of it evoked memories of not just Edie and Ethel but the gatherings to which they brought that cake and the years I've been blessed to be a part of this family.
Diane just recently lost her sister. Other than telling her I was sorry for her loss, we didn't speak of it or anything related, but as Ronny and the kids and I drove home through the countryside late yesterday afternoon, I wondered if making that cake for the party might have been the same kind of memory for Diane. A healing gesture, a coping mechanism, an offering. I don't know her that well, but I would be willing to bet her mother and aunt, Ethel the former and Edie the latter, were with her for a reason while she made that cake.
Thanks Aunt Edie and Aunt Ethel. You two are tooooooo much. I love you.
Your humble great niece in law,
* I said 'his' for purposes of ease of understanding the family relationship. They are however in truth "our" Great Aunts. They became mine in 1981 when I married my sweetheart and were mine until they passed - by marriage - but still mine.