Read Christmas Cake Online

Authors: Lynne Hinton

Christmas Cake (4 page)

BOOK: Christmas Cake
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“Are you having an affair with Betty?” she asked, startling herself with the question.

Dick chuckled. “Is that why you called?” he asked.

“Are you evading the question?” Beatrice asked. Now she was starting to think it was possible. Maybe her husband was cheating on her, and she wondered if that was cause to be depressed.

“Bea, I am not cheating on you. I am not having an affair with Betty. You know she's married to my first cousin.”

Beatrice considered that and realized she was talking crazy.

“Okay, you're not having an affair with Betty,” she noted. “I believe you,” she added.

“Great,” Dick responded. “Now, is something wrong this morning? Do you need anything?”

She shook her head and then remembered the last part of her con
versation with Louise. “No,” she answered him. “I just wanted to see if you were coming home for lunch.”

“No, dear,” Dick responded. “I've got the Mackey funeral this afternoon. The family is coming at twelve-thirty.” He paused. “I told you that at breakfast,” he added.

“Oh, that's right, I remember now,” although she didn't. “Did Edith take Fred's glass eye?”

“I don't think so, sweetie. What would she do with her dead husband's glass eye?” he asked.

“Make a necklace? I don't know. I just thought you gave people those kind of artificial parts.”

“No,” Dick said slowly. “Not here,” he added. “Maybe some places do.”

“Yeah, maybe,” she responded. “So, see you at dinner then?”

“No, Bea, I've got Rotary tonight.”

Beatrice then recalled the conversation they had earlier in the day. She had forgotten everything he had said after she talked to Louise.

“Oh, of course, I know that,” she said, trying to sound like she had just made a minor slip-up.

“Have you talked to Margaret today?” he asked.

“No, why?”

“You just sound…” He paused. “I don't know, a little down,” he added.

“I talked to Lou. She's taking over the cake project,” she said.

“Louise?” he asked, sounding very surprised at that announcement. He knew Louise as well as anyone. She was not the cookbook chairperson kind of woman.

“Yes,” Beatrice replied. “She's going to handle the remaining tasks except for finding a prize for the winner. I still have to do that.”

Dick seemed to be thinking about this bit of news. “You're letting Louise take over?” he asked.

“Yes, well, I think she could do a little more this time anyway,” Beatrice noted.

“Okay,” Dick said, sounding unconvinced. “What are you doing the rest of the day?” he asked, knowing that the cookbook project had been the only thing she had been involved in during the past few months.

“I don't know,” she said. “I'm sure there are things I will find to do,” she added. “I'll think of something.”

“Okay.” He sounded hesitant to hang up the phone. “You call me if you need me,” he instructed. “I'll have my cell phone.”

“Right,” Beatrice said. “I'll see you tonight.”

She hung up the phone without even saying good-bye, and she watched as the blue jay flew away.

 

 

Holiday Pound Cake

2 sticks butter

½ cup shortening

3 cups sugar

6 eggs

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons orange extract

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

½ cup nuts

½ cup raisins

 

Cream together butter, shortening, and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add one third of flour and baking powder and one third of milk, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all is used. Stir in flavorings, orange rind, nuts, and raisins. Pour into tube pan that has been well greased and floured. Put into cold oven. Then turn on oven and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

H
ere it is,” Margaret announced to no one except herself. “Holiday pound cake,” she added. Then she glanced around and realized that she was talking to herself. She shook her head, glad that no one else had seen her. She didn't want anyone to think she had started chemotherapy treatments and lost her mind in the same week.

She had been searching for the old recipe ever since Beatrice mentioned the idea of a holiday cake cookbook to the Women's Guild. She wasn't really interested in the project, thought it was sort of lame, but she knew that once again Beatrice was simply trying to make things better for her and the other women in the community, and besides, truthfully, she was glad to have something else to think about except the test results and the upcoming surgery.

That was all she seemed to think about these last few days. She wondered if she would be sick from the treatments again. She wondered if she should hire someone to stay with her for a while after
the surgery. She thought about prescriptions and insurance and what nightgown to take to the hospital and whether the cancer had already metastasized somewhere else in her body.

Unlike her friends, Margaret knew the cancer had recurred before there was a test. She knew it even before she started feeling sick to her stomach. Of course, she was hypervigilant, like most cancer survivors. She had been analyzing herself every day. And she just had a sense after the last surgery, and even with an “all clear” prognosis, that the cancer wasn't finished with her, that there was more to this event than just the lumps in her breasts and the one round of treatments.

She couldn't explain it, never talked about her premonitions to anyone. She knew if she did, her friends would just say she was anxious, that everybody felt as she did after a cancer diagnosis, and maybe that was true. Maybe because of her anxiety and worry, she had even talked herself right into liver cancer; she didn't know. She just knew that what lay ahead was not anything she wished for herself. She certainly did not want cancer. She preferred to be finished. She did not want to spend any more time at the hospital, and she did not want to face the treatments that she knew were once again inevitable.

Margaret placed the recipe card on the table, put up her recipe box, and went to the bedroom. She stood in front of the mirror on her dresser and lifted her blouse and looked at her flat, scarred chest again. She must have done that a hundred times a day, but she just needed to keep looking at it, as if seeing what had been taken from her gave her strength, helped her accept the disease inside her body.

She held her blouse up and studied herself. She noticed the right side, the scar that used to be a breast. Then she looked at the left side, the newer scar slightly more raised than the other.

She could see how her chest appeared merely flat and smooth, like
her back or down along her sides under her arms. She looked closely at herself and realized that it wasn't that upsetting. She was too old, she told herself, to worry about not having breasts. She had been asked about reconstruction surgery. She knew that many women who had breast cancer had chosen that option. She knew lots of women who added implants, but she had decided the first time that was of no interest to her. And now, studying herself as she was, she knew she had made the right decision.

She had only herself to please, and she was just as pleased to be without breasts as she was to have a doctor build her a set. Now she was without both of them, and at least, she thought, she was even. Both sides of her matched, and in some way, that actually felt more normal than she had when just one breast was taken and she felt misshapen and off balance.

She lowered her blouse and looked at her face, considered losing her hair, her eyebrows, wondered if she should go ahead and get a wig or just wear hats and turbans like some of the other women she had seen. She already had a couple of wool caps from the last time she faced chemotherapy. She knew they were sitting on a shelf in the closet.

She slid her fingers through her short hair and smiled as she remembered the night all her friends had shaved their heads after the first surgery. She thought about how panicked she was when they started, how she tried to make them stop; but then how it felt to see their gift, their sacrifice, and how deeply and well she slept that night as she lay near her four baldheaded friends.

Then Margaret laughed when she remembered how it was when she didn't have to have chemo, how shocked the women were when they heard the news that she would keep her hair while they would
have to be bald without her. Louise had chased Beatrice out of the doctor's office. Margaret had gotten a big kick out of that.

She recalled how the women, her friends, celebrated the success of that first surgery and how Charlotte, the former pastor, had told Margaret that she had prayed for that very result. Charlotte hadn't even minded that she had shaved her head for nothing, she had said.

Margaret stood staring at herself in her mirror and wished Charlotte was still in town. Hope Springs had gotten a new pastor almost three years ago, after more than a year of searching. Margaret liked the new fellow just fine. He was from the area, wanting to get back before he retired. So he was older and he was a good preacher, prayed gentle prayers; but he was a man, and try as he might, he could not be present with Margaret in this crisis in the way that young Charlotte had been able to be.

Margaret thought about the two pastors and didn't know if it was just because Charlotte was a woman and he was a man or if it was their personalities. Charlotte was often quiet, never pretended to know something she didn't. It was this kind of humble way for a minister to act that Margaret preferred to the new pastor's way, which was more of a “take control” attitude.

In the few times he had visited Margaret about one thing or another, it was as if the man couldn't sit with silence, needed to fill a room with words. And sometimes, even if they were lovely words, they seemed insincere, out of place. When she felt sad or worried or disconnected, Margaret preferred silence to words. But, she thought, as she left the bedroom and headed back into the kitchen, it didn't matter anyway. Charlotte was in New Mexico and her pastor was now Reverend Tom Joles. He talked too much but he was attentive to her. It was as it was, and there was nothing to do about it.

Margaret walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out the pitcher of tea. When she shut the door, she noticed the photograph that Charlotte had sent about two years ago. She slid it out from under the magnet and held it.

The photograph was of the young woman standing on top of a mountain. The sky was pink and red and orange, the sun dropping behind her. There weren't many trees, it was a barren landscape, but it was breathtakingly beautiful, and Margaret loved the picture. Charlotte's face was glowing, as if she had just hiked to the summit; and the older woman could never remember seeing her friend look so healthy and alive.

When they had spoken on the phone after Margaret received the photograph, she had kidded Charlotte that she must have fallen in love, she looked so happy. The young woman had simply said, “No, Margaret, it's just how it is out here. I know it sounds weird,” Charlotte had added, “but I feel like myself here, like I can breathe here. It's like I've come to a place of perfect peace.”

And in some way that she couldn't explain, Margaret had understood. She had recognized that expression from the photograph. She knew what her young friend meant. She knew what Charlotte was talking about because she had felt that way too, but only once.

It had been a very long time ago. She was just a child when she felt it and she grew up thinking that after that one time, she would never feel that way again, and she was right, she hadn't.

It had happened when she was ten, and it was just a few months before her mother died. The family had driven to her mother's home place, Goodlett, Texas, just near the border of Oklahoma. They had all piled into the car and driven for hours just to get her mother home. Margaret didn't know at the time that her mother was dying; she only
thought they were going to visit family, spend Christmas with her grandparents, with cousins and aunts and uncles she had never met.

The moment of perfect peace happened when they went to church late on Christmas Eve. It was cold and dark, and the church was decorated with candles and smelled of cedar and pine. The choir was singing and Margaret was sitting next to her mother, and she glanced around at her family all together, the warmth of it all, the loveliness of it, and she turned to look at her mother and her mother was glowing. Just like an angel, Margaret had thought. She had never seen her so beautiful. And Margaret remembered thinking that this was the finest, the best moment of her life. And for that one moment, it was.

The next day, after opening a few gifts and eating a big meal, the family left. Margaret and her siblings and her father got back in the car and drove home, leaving her mother with her family, “just to visit,” she had told her youngest daughter. But Margaret learned later it was to die. Her mother had gone home to be cared for by her mother and her sisters, and she had died in her childhood home.

For the rest of her life, Margaret had never had a moment of peace like that again. And she had never returned to Texas. Later in the final days of that winter season when her mother did die, all her brothers and sisters went back to Goodlett for the funeral, but Margaret had stayed with her cousin in North Carolina. Sometimes over the years her sisters and brothers would go to Goodlett, visit cousins, visit the grave; but not Margaret. For some reason she had never named, never considered, she never went back.

It was, she thought as she poured herself a glass of tea and sat down at the table, something she hadn't thought of in years. But somehow, seeing the photograph of Charlotte, that look of perfect peace, she remembered how she felt the Christmas of her tenth year and how she
had never managed to feel that way again. She thought of Goodlett, Texas, and how she had never gone to say good-bye to her mother.

And now, she sighed deeply, it was too late to do anything about any of it. Cancer in her liver, chemotherapy, maybe radiation; she was old and she was sick. She had waited too long to see if she could find that kind of peace again, have that feeling again that she had when she was ten and sitting next to her mother. She had waited too long to sort through all the things she had felt about her mother and about her death.

“Miss Margaret, are you home?” The voice came from the back porch.

The kitchen door was opened and Margaret could see Lana Jenkins, Jessie's granddaughter-in-law, standing at the steps with her little girl, Hope, resting on her hip.

“Lana, hello, come in,” Margaret said as she stood up from the table and opened the door.

The young mother and her child walked up the steps and headed into the house.

“Good gracious, but she's too big for you to carry.”

“I know,” Lana responded. “But she's not feeling well today so…” She looked down at her daughter.

“So, you carry her,” Margaret finished the sentence.

“Right.”

The little girl dropped her head on her mother's shoulder and closed her eyes.

“What's wrong with her?” Margaret asked, studying the little girl to try to figure out the problem.

“I think it's just a virus. She was sick during the night and then woke up with a little bit of fever.” Lana smoothed the hair across her
little girl's brow. She glanced back up at Margaret. “I tried to call Miss Jessie because Wallace is out of town, but I can't reach her and I've got to get to the school for a class this morning.” She seemed a bit distraught. “I've got a test.”

Margaret nodded. She knew that Lana was in nursing school and that Hope was in kindergarten. She understood the predicament and already knew what the young mother was asking. Hope had stayed with Margaret lots of times.

“It's fine for her to stay here,” she said, reaching out her arms to take the child.

Hope held out her arms and went to the older woman.

“I'm really sorry about this. I've called everybody I know and everybody's gone. I tried to call Miss Jessie's cell phone but she never turns the thing on. Mr. Jenkins is not answering the house phone. And my family is all out of town at my great-aunt's funeral. I just didn't know who else to ask. I feel like such a bad mother, leaving her with somebody else.”

Margaret was shaking her head. “It's fine. I don't mind. And Lana, you are not a bad mother. You're a student and you need to finish your classes. You are doing a very responsible thing to leave her with a friend.”

“I just didn't think I should send her to school with a fever,” Lana added.

“You were right. And this is a perfect solution. I don't have anything planned for today, so I'm happy to stay with her.”

Lana smiled, and Margaret nodded at her. She studied the young woman. She figured that Lana hadn't heard about her prognosis because if she had, Margaret knew Lana would never have asked for help. And actually Margaret was glad to be treated as if nothing was
wrong. She liked how normal it felt to be asked to babysit her best friend's great-granddaughter.

“I only have to take this test and then I can come right back. It shouldn't be more than a couple of hours. I have some extra clothes for her in case something happens, and here's some juice and a couple of toys.” She handed Margaret the bag.

Margaret took it from her and began waving her out the door. “Go, it's all right. Hope and I will be fine, won't we, sugar?” she asked.

Lana waited and then felt her daughter's brow again. “I think the fever is gone now. I gave her a couple of Tylenol and she feels cooler to me.”

Margaret nodded. “I'm sure it's just that bug going around. I know a few of the other children from church were sick Sunday.” Margaret had stopped by the nursery before the worship service to speak to one of the workers. She had commented how low the number of children was that morning. That was when she heard about the virus going around.

BOOK: Christmas Cake
5.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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