Mom’s mom saw those crumbling, precariously leaning homemade messes as proof of a husband who was poor provider.
Never the twain did meet.
The first store-bought cake in our house arrived when I was eight and the cake was not for me. My sister Vickie was turning six. Mom had just gone back to work. A dozen neighbor kids and both sets of grandparents were due to arrive at our little Pierson house on the backside of Fort Humboldt in a little more than an hour. Mom left us alone just long enough to run to the store for balloons. Vickie was napping. I was not tired. I was pissed is what I was. My birthday cake, a few months before, had actually fallen onto its side and had to be served with a big metal spoon.
I stood in the kitchen and glared at that pink cake box tied with white twine like a present for a beloved. A little bow right on top the box. Sunlight from heaven slanted across the tiled counter, showered blessings upon that store-bought wonder. I pushed a kitchen chair across the linoleum.
It took a long time to untie the string and even longer to find a sharp knife and cut the little patches of tape holding the flaps of the box shut. But it was worth the trouble when I opened that lid and looked down upon those sugary roses and perfect scalloped edges. This might, seriously, have been my very first spiritual moment. My pinkie finger swiped at the scallop along the bottom of the cake. One tiny little taste. I deserved it. Besides, how could I resist sugar’s alter call.
I sucked my finger and stared at what that one tiny taste had done. Well, with that hole in the frosting, it was going to be obvious that I’d accidentally tasted that cake.
So, I HAD to eat all of the bottom scallop of frosting. Had to. And then, that top scallop looked odd. No doubt about that. I ate the top scallop. Which, for some reason, did not improve the looks of that cake at all. Then, in what I can only describe as a sugar-fueled fit of greed and jealousy, I ate all six roses and the cutesy letters that spelled out Happy Birthday Vickie.
Then, my stomach roiling with guilt and sweet lard, I carefully re-taped the box, tied the string, returned the chair and walked to the bathroom where I dropped to my knees in from of the toilet and I threw-up pink until my mom returned home. I felt okay after that. Except when I thought about what was going to happen when Mom found the remains of that store-bought wonder that was meant as a special gift to my stupid sister.
The party roared on. There were pointy hats with elastic that hurt my neck. Pin the tail on the donkey. The grandma’s sat on opposite sides of the living room and glared at each other. I had so much fun I forgot all about my earlier binge. Until Mom announced that we should all gather at the dining room table with my sister kneeling on a chair at the place of honor usually reserved for Dad.
From the kitchen came a sound like the squeal of a mouse when in the jaws of our cat, Piewacket. We all looked up from our places amidst the streamers and cutsie party plates. Dead silence reigned long enough for me to imagine what my mom was now looking down upon.
“Pam-a-la Ann Fos-ter. Get. In. Here. Now.”
I stood, stomach roiling, hands behind my back, and looked into Mom’s insane face.
“Did you eat all the frosting off your sister’s birthday cake?”
“No,” I said and this may have been the first time I showed talent as a writer. I looked Mom straight in the eyes. “But I saw Piewacket in here earlier.”
I’m not sure I’d ever seen that exact look on Mom’s face before. “The cat untied the string, ate the frosting and then retied the box?”
Well, when she said it like that , it did sound crazy. Still, I swear, by then I could see Piewacket, that crazy cat, licking the frosting with his little pink sandpaper tongue. I was firm in my view of what had happened. I was blameless. The cat did it.
This episode from my childhood, the feelings of guilt and resentment, my absolute, though admittedly brief, belief in my cat story–those lessons have stayed with me. Truth is so often clouded with our desperate need to protect ourselves, that, even as adults, we clutch some imaginary vision and refuse to see another possibility of truth. Worse, we often shut our minds to views that differ from ours.
I mean, after all, Piewacket was a Siamese cat. Those curious rascals are known for mischief and cleverness. That darn cat might have untied the string with his sharp little teeth. It’s possible.