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Birthday cake for Minnie

Birthday cake for Minnie Birthday cake for Minnie

The Table

The characters of this story are all real, as are the basic circumstances in which they lived. This particular day, though, is all my imagination.

Sarah Hicok swiped at the tear that had escaped to run down her cheek. She looked up from the kitchen counter to gaze a moment at the doorway through which her husband had just left for a nap. He always rested after lunch, but he seemed especially tired today. It had been six years since his release from Andersonville Prison at the war’s end and the doctor had said this was as good as he could expect to ever be. So they just had to accept that. Charlie tried, but there was only so much he was able to contribute to the running of the farm anymore. Sarah lifted him up the best that she could, but on days like this she could only watch him walk slowly away and disappear into their room.

She shook her head and turned to view her son’s progress in getting his boots back on by the front door. Samuel was taking longer than necessary, sullen over having to return to the field alone. Sarah thought of chiding him as he tugged at the laces, but knew it would only prolong the struggle. He was a hard boy. Ten years was old enough for him to realize he was doing a man’s work, old enough to resent the burden and old enough to start comparing himself to his father in an unkind manner. He had taken to talking back to her when she scolded him. She didn’t want to burden Charlie with trying to discipline the boy and usually settled for ignoring the bad behavior as much as she could.

Sarah’s face brightened as the door banged open and little Minnie raced inside, breathless with excitement, an egg clutched in either hand.

“I found two, Mam! You only said you needed one for my cake, but I found two! The hens were sittin’ on them, but I made ‘em get up!”

Sarah caught the eggs from Minnie’s small hands before the little girl’s vigorous illustrations of shoving at hens’ bottoms destroyed her prize. She ignored Samuel’s derisive snort and the slam of the door as he left.

“That’s good, Minnie! And since you’re a big girl of five today, I will teach you how to make Stirred Cake. How does that sound?” Minnie clapped her hands together and spun around in ecstasy, barely able to still herself long enough for her mother to tie a flour-sack towel around her middle for an apron and lift her to stand on a chair scootched up to the kitchen counter.

Sarah leaned into the little girl’s happiness, finding smiles for the clouds of flour that flew up from Minnie’s clumsy mixing and her wide-eyed appreciation of the exotic scent of the vanilla. Soon the kitchen was growing hot from the heat of the cookstove and they carefully slid the tin onto the rack and shut the door. After a trip to the garden a pan of rhubarb was bubbling on top of the stove, the last of the precious sugar dissolving away to make a sauce to put on top of the cake.

“Something smells good!”

Charlie paused in the entrance to the kitchen, clothes hanging loosely on his thin frame, his pale face softened with a smile. His stick was a new limb the war had given him, the smooth knob fitting his palm like a joint in its socket as it helped him to a chair at the table.

“Any chance of licking the bowl? It doesn’t look like you ladies have done up the dishes yet.”

Sarah smiled at the hopefulness in his voice. “We have not done, and you may!” She hesitated for a moment. “Though if you could leave a bit for Samuel, I think he might appreciate a little treat.”

Sarah’s hand rested on Charlie’s shoulder, while the two of them watched Minnie, whose little tongue stuck out in concentration as she bent at the waist to dab at the flour spills with a dishrag. Soon enough, those little hands would grow rough and calloused with work. Troubles would come, heartache would follow. But for now, she was a little girl whose whole world could be made wonderful by a cake for her birthday.

Grandmother Hicok’s Stirred Cake

Cream together:

1 cup sugar 2 level dessert spoons (teaspoons) butter

Beat in:

1 egg 1 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine, then beat in:

2 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder

Bake in one greased nine-inch cake pan or an 8x8 pan at 350º for 20 - 25 minutes. Done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.