The Cakes My Mother Made

I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot recently.

It’s only natural. Back in February, I took a trip out to California, where (among other things) I took the time to say goodbye to her. My mother has dementia, and while she may have many months left to go, she is far along in the progression of that disease. Her memory has failed her, but I’m finding comfort in my own memories.

It was not surprising then, that a few weeks before I left for that trip, I thought of my mother’s birthday cakes.

Growing up, we had two cake-decorating books that I absolutely adored. The pages, I recall, had become a little loose with wear. In the weeks leading up to our birthdays, my brother and I would flip through the pages to pick out the perfect birthday cake. Then my mom would make it and even in the pre-Instagram age, it would be photographed for posterity.

The books fell out of favor as we grew older. The books were used for the last time sometime when I was pre-teen - my father and brother were out on a Boy Scout trip and it’d just be me and mom for my birthday, so in a fit of early nostalgia I requested a large tiger cake as a nod to my love of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Tigger. The cake was huge, and my mother was by then diabetic, which meant I largely ate the cake alone. I made it through the tail and hindquarters before throwing the rest away. Still, she made it, all I had to do was ask.

I didn’t think of the cake books much after that and it didn’t come to mind when I made a list of items I wanted from my mother’s house when my brother moved her from our childhood home. So I caught myself a bit off guard when they sprung to mind a few weeks before my trip.

I was struck by one of those late-evening obsessions. The original copies of the cake books were gone or buried deeply in my brother’s garage, perhaps I could find them online. A Google search for “1980s birthday cake book” gave me the titles I needed (as results one and two at that), then a few minutes of searching used book stores online and a $10 charge to my credit card later, both books would soon be mine.

They were waiting for me upon my return from California, about a month in advance of Little Miss Cleaver’s own birthday. I shared the books with LMC, who was a bit less enthused than I had hoped, (though in her defense photography and styling from 1980 doesn’t age particularly well), but in the end she did select a cake.

I did my best attempt at the Butterfly Cake from The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book for LMC’s 6th birthday, which just passed. A cake design that my mother had made for my own 4th birthday back in 1987. I think her version was a bit more elegant, but mine passed kid muster all the same.

LMC, as with most cakes, ate the frosting off her slice and hasn’t touched it since, so like that Tigger cake all those years before, this cake was mostly for me. And you know what? I’m okay with that and also I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last…

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