Friday, April 16, 2010

MR. WHITE'S BIRTHDAY



My Mother often told stories of “how things were” during her childhood, and one of the most memorable for her, and also for me, in the hearing, were the Birthday Parties given by a man in her little hometown. Mr. and Mrs. White were about the age of my grandparents, and they had no children, so on Mr. White's birthday every year, they would have a party and invite every child in town out to their farm for the afternoon.

I assumed these events were during the Thirties, and with things as they were all over the country at that time, I’m sure that these grand treats WERE memorable to all those children, when an orange in the toe of a stocking and a candycane hung onto the top were considered a good Christmas.

They all dressed up for the afternoon in their best outfits, with most of the girls in their one good dress, usually with some kind of pinafore. The boys usually wore jeans or overalls beneath their “nice” jackets---the one picture I’ve seen has all the guys in that Summer heat, most of them wearing the top half of Barney Fife’s best suit---that heavy, tweedy thing out of of fabric that looks like a badly-hooked rug, or perhaps the cast-off suit-coats of their fathers, ill-fitting and slick with wear. They dressed to honor the occasion and their hosts, in the best that they had.

Lots of pin-curling and ribbon-borrowing amongst the girls up and down Mother’s block, and the boys all slicked their hair down in the most gentlemanly fashion. Some of the children who lived close by walked down the country road to the party, a bunch piled into the backs of several old wood-side trucks, and one dad hitched up a big haywagon, with blankets spread in the back for the children to sit on, like a grand parade.

They played the games of the day, like The Prince of Wales Has Lost His Considering Cap---a great long recitation of Who, Sir, Me, Sir? and No, Sir, Not I, Sir, said veryvery fast, which I never did catch on to as any fun, except maybe the tongue-twister made everyone giggle. They did running games, like Drop the Handkerchief, and played Farmer in the Dell and London Bridge.

The refreshments were served on big long saw-horse tables covered in sheets, and there were enough plates and spoons for everyone, but each child brought a drinking-glass or cup from home. There were big galvanized buckets of water filled with long clear shards of chipped ice, as well as buckets of LEMONADE with ice delivered in Mr. Bridges’ ice truck that morning. There was lots of traffic at those big buckets, for the chunks of ice were a great treat, too, -and deemed worth the price of nearly-frozen fingers holding them until they could be crunched and slurped away. And the bolder of the boys would filch the bobbing lemon halves to enjoy, as well.

The bigger boys were put to work turning the cranks of eight or ten freezers of homemade boiled-custard ice cream, made with big ole orange-yolked eggs from their many hens, and cream-rich milk from their own cows. Watkins vanilla flavored half the ice cream, and crushed strawberries went into the other several freezers. There was one particular woman in town whose specialty was making the custard for ice cream, and she was quite busy during Summer months.

Mrs. White and her cook and a couple of other women hired to help had been baking for days---enough rich, golden cake layers for five or six three-layer coconut cakes. She had to special-order the coconuts from Aunt Lou’s grocery store, for coconuts were only stocked at Christmas and Thanksgiving. And I shudder to think how LONG it took them to crack them, knock and pick out all that thick, succulent coconut meat, then peel off the thin brown rind and grate those piles of coconut.

I don’t imagine the Seven-Minute frosting was made until the morning of the party, for it doesn’t hold up for a very long time. All those golden yolks went into the cakes, and the whites (one recipe at a time, of course) went into the top of a double boiler, to whip with sugar and water for every second of that Seven Minutes, into a billowy sweet cloud which was swirled between and on top and sides of all those cakes. Handful after handful of coconut was pressed upon the frosting, until every inch was covered. Coconut was Mr. White’s favorite cake, and perhaps some children don’t care for it---this group ate up every crumb.

And then the final touch, a luxury unheard-of in that place before or since: Mr. White also arranged with Aunt Lou for an entire stalk or two of bananas and had them hanging splendidly from one of the big pecan trees in their yard.

I think this was one of my Mother’s fondest memories of her childhood---such a wonderful party to celebrate the birthday of a grownup who made sure each and every young guest had a lovely time and plenty of wonderful treats, and who was at heart no older than they.

Marion Post Wolcott photo, 1939

5 comments:

Bev said...

Beautiful story! I can taste the lemonade now.

Southern Lady said...

Oh, what a sweet, sweet story, Rachel. I wish there were more Mr. Browns in the world today. I'm sure he has a special place in Heaven.

Tonja said...

Loved this story! Isn't it nice that she had this beautiful memory? She must have been so impressed by the actions of this couple. Sweet!

Maggie said...

This transported me to favorite childhood books, like "The Secret Garden" 'What Katy Did" or "Anne of Green Gables." Luxury unimagined by children. God bless Mr. and Mrs. White.

Chesapeake said...

Rachel, I remember making Lady Baltimore Frosting for our coconut cakes--every Saturday night--when growing up. Was it Seven Minute instead? I looked Lady Baltimore up and it was familiar, but now I'm not sure which was correct. I've had a hankering for a big ol' coconut cake for a while now.

Chesapeake