Saturday, August 14, 2010


I’ve been asked several times about the ill-fated Humpty-Dumpty post of several months ago, and if I were the real maker-of-the-scene. And though I DID make quite a few of the eggs over the years, plus perhaps a dozen of the little Humpty Dumpty scenes, I was not the maker of THAT birthday cake. The story was told to Mother at her beauty salon, by the actual baker, with lots of hand gestures and appalled expressions amongst the “He just dug HOLES in my CAKE!” “You should have SEEEN the mess.”

However, I DID stand aghast at a Saturday-morning luncheon setup for a wedding, as the bride's aunt made a shambles of a beautiful wedding cake. I’d made the cake---a classically simple white three-tier, stacked in the old-fashioned manner with no columns, something like this, but without all the scrollwork:


The bride’s mother had given me a picture of the cake her daughter wanted--- tall graceful layers and just the palest most modest shell borders at tier-bottom and top edge. She’d saved the picture from the Memphis Commercial Appeal Sunday Magazine, and the cake in the picture bore a graceful swag of pale roses, draped smoothly across the front and around the side onto the plate, something like this, but with fresh roses, blooms and buds, set onto an invisible net frame.

And if the Mom said “That dewwww-y look” once, she said it a dozen times, referring to the fresh roses, of a pale, chaste peach shade.

I looked at that picture a LOT, for several weeks before making that perfectly-plain cake; I loved the idea of having NO decorations attached, no royal icing or swans or pearl beads or those tooth-killing silver dragees, no matter how popular and pretty. The roses on the cake were on a form made of thin mesh, and easily removed for the cake-cutting---I liked that, too, for it would leave the entire cake in pristine form, without making an unsightly area early in the cutting.

But the bride had an AUNT. From Memphis, so of COURSE with WAY better taste than any of us down-home folks. She would “do” the roses for the cake. I would deliver it, set it down, and go on with getting the food ready in the kitchen.

So I did and did, and in the hustlebustle of the morning’s work, it did not register that the roses had been delivered by the florist, who set down the centerpieces, set up the lattice backdrop at the bride’s table, and left to finish decorating the church. The roses were delivered IN BUCKETS. And I should have KNOWN.

I’d set the cake in the usual manner---on the Bride’s Table, ready for any decoration to be set neatly upon or around it, but I hadn’t counted on the wet roses OR the Aunt. I asked about the form and was waved airily away---sorta dismissed, as it were, and so I went back to the kitchen.

She began her work, clipping and cutting stems, eyeing the layers, trying a length-of-stem for size against the fourteen-inch tier, the ten inch, the six. And then it hit me---she hadn’t paid a bit of attention to that swag in the picture. She hadn’t made a mesh or wire or fabric swag to put the roses into---she was going to stick those roses directly into that cake.

And she did, starting at the bottom right, poking the larger roses into the soft tiers, positioning them and driving them home with a heavy hand. Occasionally one would strike her as wrong, somehow, and she’d pull it out and move it a little bit up or down, right or left, leaving a gaping hole in the frosting. She went all the way up that beautiful cake, making a six-inch swag of flowers which dipped and swayed their way up the icing, with crumbs falling from the pulled-out stems, and tiny areas collapsing from the damage as they withdrew.

I SO hoped that the petals of the succeeding flowers would somehow camouflage all the damage, but it was painfully evident from a lot of angles, with a few teensy clumps of cake fallen to the tray and more and more of the flowers sagging floorward as the weight-to-hole ratio grew. I feared a full-on tumble before the reception even started, and after about the third pass through the reception hall, a quick peek to assess the carnage, and a pang in my heart for all that beautiful work wasted, I kept to the kitchen until it was time to set up the buffet.

What CAN you say to a relative whose taste and expertise has been held in such esteem by family, has been trusted to know how and to do it right, and whose clumsy attempts just maimed something beautiful? Imagine that plain white cake above, just standing there, the product of many hours of work and certainly worthy of a nice affair.

Now poke it with a stick at random, with abandon, in several dozen places, up and down the tiers. Try covering the booboos with flowers while the cake crumbles and litters the tray.

That’s how it felt, and that’s all I remember of that sweet girl’s wedding. I know the food was good, the party was wonderful, the marriage solid and still going strong, but I’ve wondered what they think now of that all-knowing AUNT.

And I still think of “that dewww-y look” as “that crumm-by look.”


Tonja said...

How could you ever manage to not go and tell her to leave it alone? I'm afraid I would have! How sad. It's so hard when people don't recognize the talent and creative talent it took to create such a beautiful cake...done by an artist. But, then comes someone who pretends to know what to do...and convinces others she knows what to do...without a creative bone in her body.

racheld said...


I tried in my most persuasive voice, twice more, trying to get her to be more careful, and she Just. Wouldn't. Stop.

There have been several times in my life in which I wanted to lay hands on a person, and this was one. And aside from actually DOING that, or shouting into her face, I just couldn't get past that sniffy disdain.

My helpers all came out the swinging door once, when they heard me say, "Do you HAVE to chop it all up like that!" And I think they stood ready to separate us if need came to that.

There was just an implacable wall---Tonja, she actually made a FACE at me---one of those turn-your-mouth-down-tight, close-your-eyes and give a little headshake before she turned her back, that I remember to this day.

There was just no reasoning with someone so dismissive and rude---I was frankly a little scared of her, I think---a GROWN WOMAN acting like a kindergartener. The very idea.

Jeanne said...

Rachel, this story has me appalled at the destructive Aunt who insisted on making a mess out of her niece's wedding cake. My question is what did the family think? More important, the bride and groom. Sigh! My biggest fear for my three daughter's weddings was always the cake somehow not being perfect. This story makes me cringe. Smile.

Thank you so much for your comment about the bedroom makeover. You definitely made me laugh. It was a labor of LOVE. My daughter kept repeating, "I am so happy mom." This daughter is the one who always marches to a different drummer and that statement was not in her vocabulary ever. She is serious and always taking her job as a Hospice nurse to the highest level. She loves her patients and they love her but stress is her worst enemy. She suffers when her patients die which keeps her from having many happy days. At least what I think of as 'happy days.' From her viewpoint, I could be totally wrong. Smile. She is a caring loving person and I am very proud of her. Her happiness was the best reward.

Have a wonderful weekend.
Hugs, Jeanne

Linda J. said...

I hope the bride and her mother were in la-la land and didn't notice the aunt's mess.

Kim Shook said...

I wish that I were a good enough person to hope like Linda J. that the bride didn't notice the ruin of her cake and that blissful ignorance reigned. Unfortunately, the true me hopes that the bride and her mom (especially if this was the bride's paternal aunt and not the MOB's sister) lambasted the idiot and that NO ONE in the family ever let her touch so much as a bonbon again. Your self control is awesome!

Kouign Aman said...

I hope that the marriage was more important to all the family, than the wedding, and that the cake tale is still told, with chuckles, and perhaps a sigh for what might-have-been.

For you of course, it is different. You were the mother-of-the-cake!