This story is by Gloria Waryas and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When Mom had a stroke, there were only two choices, move into a facility for assisted living or move in with me. I’m an only child, and my daddy had already passed, so now it was up to me to deal with her choices. When she chose to live with me all that fear and anxiety came flooding back. The anger, the crying, the alcohol, not this time, I screamed to myself. I have to have house rules mainly to save myself.
My mother was always a force to be reckoned with, and she always found a way to torment me since I was a young child. My mother was an alcoholic, which I didn’t know until my early teens. I always took the brunt of her anger. She terrified me, and she angered me.
Mom arrived in all her glory. The first thing she did was pull out all her recipe boxes. Her pride and joy came from baking desserts. She could make an apple pie, an Angel Food cake, cream puffs, name it, she could make it. After her stroke, I tried to help, but that was not in my mother’s vocabulary. She did not need help.
One night I told Mom that I would make her an Angel Food cake, her favorite, evidenced by the number of blue ribbons she has won at fairs throughout the county. On the other hand, I hate baking. I don’t even like cooking, but life requires some mediocrity in cooking for sustenance, so I have learned to cook.
I digress, so Mom is sitting in her recliner reading her paper, the Claremont Villager, and thoroughly enjoying herself with all the news from home. I thought, AAAHHH!! This is the perfect time to make her a cake. I rummage through her recipe box and locate the much-used card, stained with food remnants and a little tattered. As I read through the recipe, I think, “what the hell? This is like an all-day affair.”
I bit the bullet and began collecting the ingredients, piling them on my countertop. Of course, now there is no place to work with all this stuff, but I manage to find a small corner to begin the process. I started by sifting the confectioners’ sugar, which had to be sifted four times according to the recipe. Now that I have the sugar sifted and some scattered about, next comes the flour.
For some reason, flour totally dislikes me as I have yet to take any out of the container and have it stay where I place it, so this is a dreadful task. Again according to the recipe, I must sift 4 cups of flour 6 times. I didn’t realize flour would “grow” as you sift it. Piles of it in different bowls because the bowl I had wasn’t big enough.
Suddenly, I hear mom moving. Mom’s dining room chair aligns perfectly with the kitchen counter, but as I continue sifting, I hear her state, “you are supposed to beat the egg whites and let them sit for about an hour.” WHAT? The recipe doesn’t say that.
I stop sifting the flour and begin opening the eggs and separating them, which is a feat only to be accomplished by Martha Stewart. It takes a dozen eggs to make this cake. From the sidelines, I hear Mom comment “the whole thing will be ruined if any yolks get into the mixture.” Holy crap, this takes forever, and now I am scared to death as I learn to manipulate the egg separator. And those whites; they just hang there like I have all day; finally, after what seems like hours of nerve-racking agony, I have a dozen egg whites separated and in a bowl. According to the recipe, I need to add cream of tartar, vanilla, and salt, so I measure them out and dump them into the egg whites. I get out the hand mixer which is just one more apparatus on the counter and begin to beat the egg whites. Still, I hear a comment from the dining room, something to the effect that “a hand mixer doesn’t work right” I snapped back at her, “I don’t have any other mixer, and if you want this damn cake shut up.” I keep beating, trying to get stiff peaks. After a half-hour whipping them, they look pretty stiff to me, maybe not a half-hour, but it felt like it. However, I am still trying to figure out what will happen with these stiff peaks after I begin the arduous task of sifting the flour again.
Now the excitement begins; the newspaper is down. Mom is up and in the kitchen and adamantly states that I can’t let those egg whites sit while I sift all that flour, and not only that, but the egg whites need sugar. I don’t understand how all this can be accomplished in some modicum of order. So now I have stiff peaks with no sugar and no flour sifted. I am about as frustrated with this process as I can be, but giving up is not in me, so I continue to sift but gruffly state, “You need to go sit down.”
Finally, everything is sifted, my not-so-stiff peaks are ready, and the next step is to “fold in” the flour to the egg whites. Fold in? What is that? I hardly fold my laundry, but I am told how to “fold” under stringent supervision. Finally, the batter is in the pan, and I take a deep breath, trying to relax from the mental strain of making a damn cake.
OH NO!!! I forgot to preheat the oven, so I turned it on and waited. When the oven is heated, I hear from the dining room table, “you have to take the top rack out because it needs to sit on the bottom rack.” Now, what do I do with this damn rack that is too hot to put anywhere? I decided to put it on the deck and hope it doesn’t start a fire from being placed on the wood. Back in the house, put the cake on the bottom rack, and set the timer.
Suddenly the timer rings, and she jumps out of her chair, comes to the kitchen, and instructs me how to get this cake out of the pan. I shan’t bore you with the details of that, but in my mother’s words, “it is perfect, and the texture is extraordinary.” Am I hearing a compliment from my mother? It can’t be. At 58 years old, never once has she complimented me? I have always been the recipient of her drunken anger.
She no longer drinks and hasn’t for years, but still, I’m sure I heard a compliment. “Mom, what did you say”? Somehow things changed; was it my age or her decision to change. I don’t know, but whatever it was, things were different. I was so glad because life would have been unbearable for both of us.
“I told you that this Angel Food cake is perfect; thank you so much for making it for me; I love you.”
“You just told me that you love me? You have never said that to me in my life, mom.”
“I know that honey, I’m so sorry. I don’t really know why I haven’t told you that.”
“Mom, you have always told me you couldn’t stand me even from a baby. Why did you tell me that?”
“When you were a baby, you had colic, and you cried constantly. I just couldn’t stand it. Your grandmother took care of you for almost a year.
“Mom, didn’t you feel any connection to me?” I can’t imagine anyone not caring about their baby, but I guess it isn’t always that way.
Now she was crying, which made me feel terrible, so I needed a way to ease the pain we were both feeling. “Hey, mom, I bought strawberries and whipped cream to go with the Angel Food cake; let’s have some right now. I will fix each of us a great big plate; how does that sound?”
“I can’t wait, honey; I love strawberries and Angel Food cake and then piles of whipped cream. It’s so delicious.”
I don’t know how she eats what she does and stays so slender. Me I eat it and the old saying a moment on the lips…
After eating every bit of her dessert, she once again tells me that she loves me and thanks me profusely for making it. She watches a couple of her favorite TV shows while I clean up the kitchen and then tells me she will go to bed. After her stroke, she begins to speak in French, which I don’t understand at all. She gets up from her recliner and says, “BonSoir ma petit fille, and then to the dog, BonSoir ma petit garçon” she heads for her bedroom and turns around and says, “I love you.”