I am in the kitchen helping bake cakes. Fruit Cake. Pound Cake. And Chocolate Cake. Three in one night. These are for the Wednesday night meal at church. But they are also the foreshadowing of what is to come the closer we get to Christmas.
By helping, I mean that I am keeping my wife company while she works. And, by keeping her company, I mean that I am standing by the counter like a hawk on a fence post waiting for a treat to run toward the sink.
“What are you doing with that spoon?”
“It’s dirty. It needs to be washed.”
“Here. Hand that to me. I’ll take care of it.”
Some people hold a plate down under the table for the dog to lick. We don’t have a dog. My wife hands me the spoons, and beaters, and bowls so I can help with the cleanup. The cat is stupid and turns up his nose.
This is a very important job during the Christmas season. It is a job that I have held longer than any other job I have ever had. For 60 years I have been helping in the kitchen and I have gotten pretty darn good at it.
I never thought about the fact that this job at one time probably belonged to my Dad. I took over in the early 60’s, and had a pretty good run of it for the next 25 years until my own kids came along.
At first, I was very cautious and concerned about their intake of harmful sweets. Too much sugar can ruin a child’s metabolism. Teeth fall out. There’s a chance they could suffer from stomach ulcers the rest of their precious lives. At least, that’s what I told my kids when they were four.
“Ummmmm.” Which is four-year-old-speak for, “I want some of that stuff on that spoon you’ve got in your hand.”
“This? Oh, it’s bad for you.”
“Whaaaaaaay!” More four-year-old-speak for, “If you don’t give me some, I’m gonna sleep in your bed tonight and pee on your sheets.”
I respond to threats pretty easy, and so, had to give up some of the job that had been mine, and mine alone for decades.
For the next 20 plus years I had to share. It taught me humility and graciousness toward others. Which is adult-speak for, “Darn it!” It also taught me how to be sneaky.
Son comes home around 9PM. There’s an empty mixing bowl in the kitchen sink full of water. A fresh cake on the counter. Son walks into the living room where Dad is on the couch in a sugar coma drooling on his shirt.
“What’s going on in the kitchen?” he says.
“What do mean?” as Dad adjusts in the recliner couch and tries to look alert.
“There’s a mixing bowl in the sink. Nobody told me there was a cake in the works.”
“Well, you were out. Your Mama got the idea. And I volunteered to help since you were gone.”
“You could have saved me some.” Which is true, but not probable.
“It would have turned sour and made you sick. I was thinking of you. I’d throw myself on a grenade for you if it meant keeping you safe.”
“Yeah, right! I’m going to my room.”
There are many things that are great about the empty nest, but one of them is that I got my job back. I am clear to help in the kitchen any time I want, and without competition.
The problem is that I am a little haughty about it. I should be ashamed to admit it, but I have been known to call my kids while in the middle of helping in the kitchen.
“Guess what I’m doing.”
“I have no idea.”
“I’m cleaning up the mixing bowl with a spoon. It’s really pretty good. Wish you were here.”
Once upon a time my Dad called me just like that. He taunted me because he got his job back once I was gone.
Within the next week or two my wife made a Lemon Meringue Pie. My Dad loved this pie. He lived for this pie. My Mama made it perfect. My wife makes it just as good. And with this pie, it was not about the mixing bowl, although there is the can of Eagle Brand condensed milk to “clean up”. It was about sweet revenge for the phone call.
I took one small bit of vanilla wafer crust with just enough pie and meringue for it to be recognizable. Put it in a zip lock bag. Put that inside an envelope. And mailed to my Dad from our house in Tennessee. The note read, “Had lemon pie tonight. Wish you were here.”
I am a terrible son, I know.
Tis the Christmas Season. The kitchen will be unusually busy for the next few weeks. Batter, beaters and bowls will be in constant use. But I am here to help. It’s the least I can do. Bring on the cake, or more accurately, the left over batter in the bowl.