Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake? Must be my birthday!!

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?

Celia Yeary


  1. What a wonderful tradition to remember. It's great to have those happy memories from childhood. Love the old pics.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Beautiful memories and lovely old pictures. Thanks so much for sharing. enjoyed taking a walk with you down memory lane.

  3. This was so touching and the photos are lovely reminders of a bygone era. Focusing on the chocolate layer cake is positive proof that the right item can be very important in establishing setting and time in a story and advancing a character's development. I loved it.

  4. Celia,

    Are you a Leo, too? My birthday is July 28!

    What a great post! My mom always used to bake us one of those chocolate "jelly roll" cakes, where you make a thinner longer cake, homemade frosting, and roll it up with the frosting inside, then frost the outside of it. I have not had one of those in YEARS. I remember how wonderful those were--I wanted to eat them for breakfast.LOL

    Your story about not ever having had a party brought back memories of a boss I had there at the National Cowboy Museum a few years back. I took up the collection for the bd cake for him, went & bought it and ice cream and set it all up in the break room. He TOTALLY didn't expect it, but I could see he was really touched by it. Later, he told me that was the first and only bd party/cake he'd ever had in his life! He was 53 that year. I was soooo glad I had helped get that together for him, because he died just before his next birthday. It meant so much to him. No, I didn't make the cake--no time for it in those days, but he was very very glad to get a cake from the deli. I think so often, it truly IS the thought that counts, and you seemed to have so much love and thoughtfulness in your family growing up that it made for some very sweet memories! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

  5. Celia, best post ever! I LOVE the pictures, they're amazing and what a beautiful tradition. I hope your birthday was awesome!

  6. Hi, Celia. Another Leo here. :) What lovely memories you have to share with us. Thanks so much. My birthday always came during the Cattlemen's Convention, so no parties for me, either. I did get a cake. No pictures, though.

    I was wondering what your mother was thinking as you were holding the cake at a 20-degree angle while the picture was taken? She could probably envision that cake sliding right off the plate. Talk about building tension! LOL.

  7. Thanks to you all for the wishes. No, I'm not a Leo--just have an August birthday--I'm a Virgo. I'm doing my birthday early on-line because I didn't have another post ready, and I thought, why not??? Celia

  8. Hi Celia,
    Happy Birthday!
    That cake looks amazingly like the ones my grandmother made for every holiday when I was growing up. YUMMY! I notice the cake leans to your left hand in the first two pics, but to the right in the last one. Shift in your balance there as you grew up. LOL
    A wonderful loving tradition of how parents made us feel special even when things like parties and expensive gifts were unknowns.
    And I don't even want to admit how familiar that car looks. LOL

  9. Celia,
    Thanks so much for sharing your birthday with us! I absolutely LOVED your photos! They are precious. You know, my mo used to bake my birthday cakes for my birthday, too. It was very sweet and made the holiday personal. Sigh...

    Me? I cheat. I buy store bought or Costco cake for my kids. Hey! I baked a cake for father's day. Does that count?


  10. Hi Celia. This is my second attempt to leave a comment. If I don't make it this time, I'll send an email. This was a lovely post. And I wanted to hug that smiling little five-year-old. And what a pretty eleven-year-old. Don't remind me of those permanents. What torture. And the fumes! And yes, the Ford looks familiar. I remember attending birthday parties of classmates in grade school but I never had one.
    Enjoy your special day and the year ahead. Love and happy birthday. Linda

  11. Belated Happy Birthday, Celia! This was a great post and brought back memories of similar photos--except my mom never let me hold the cake. Don't you just love old photos? I am in the process of scanning mine, too.

  12. Celia, chocolate layer cakes are the best! And, you look like Shirley Temple with your perm. Gosh, you are so cute in every picture.

    Usually my mom would ask us what kind of cake we wanted for our birthday... well, I said yellow, but not lemon one time. Somehow, she created this pineapple tasting, without the pineapple, yellow cake... it was delicious!
    But, really, it is the thought that counts, in the end.
    Where I grew up in the Midwest, birthday parties were popular. I had one that was wonderful! I got to be a princess for a day.
    And, I went to several. However, it wasn't like it is now... mainly cake and ice cream... running around playing silly games.