Every birthday, Mother baked a chocolate layer cake for me. In my family, no one had a party or received gifts—we got a cake with candles and had our picture taken with a Kodak Brownie box camera. I never attended a birthday party as I grew up. Did anyone during those years have parties? I don’t know. I never knew anyone who had a party.
These three photos are samples of me holding my cake. I actually have one for every year until I graduated from high school, but I didn’t want to bore you with all of them. You’ll get the idea from these three.
The first snapshot shows me on my fifth birthday, and obviously, the cake was heavy, for the plate leaned precariously to the side. You notice I’ve already had my first permanent, because my hair is naturally straight as a stick. Daddy had taken a job with an oil company, and we moved twice a year for six years in a big circle on the South Plains of Texas. So, this might have been our first location during those six years.
The second snapshot shows me on my eighth birthday, and I held that cake listing to the side, too. There must be something wrong with my inner balance, because I can’t hold a plate perfectly horizontally. At least I’m dressed in this photo. Notice the 1940 Ford sedan? That’s ours. We kept that car for fifteen years. You can’t beat those old Fords.
The third snapshot shows me on my eleventh birthday, and thank goodness, I’m dressed properly. But there again, the plate tilts to the side. I wonder if Mother’s cakes cooked unevenly so that one side of the layer cake was heavier than the other side. Probably not—she was an excellent cook. No, it has something to do with my equilibrium.
Some time ago, my husband and I bought a scanner. We pulled down a couple of boxes filled with old snapshots and photographs, and away we went. In going through the stacks, I re-lived those years I was a carefree, happy child. You can tell we were not well off with worldly goods, but honestly, I never remember being unhappy. We had what counted. For me, love was a chocolate layer cake on my birthday.
My teacher friends gave me my first party when I turned forty. That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest surprises of my life. I had no idea they planned a party for me. All twelve of us sat down at a table in a restaurant, and I noticed that presents filled the middle of the table. My good friends stood, and announced—“Happy birthday, Celia!” My lands, I began to cry and laugh at the same time. They surprised me so much, I became giddy.
But you know? I looked around the table, but I did not see a chocolate layer cake. How could I have a birthday without one?