Read Christmas Cake Online

Authors: Lynne Hinton

Christmas Cake (5 page)

BOOK: Christmas Cake
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“Okay,” Lana responded. “Thank you, Miss Margaret. I don't know what I'd do without you and Miss Jessie.”

Margaret smiled. “Just make a good grade on your test and promise to take care of us all when we're sick, and that will be a plenty.”

Lana smiled. “That's a promise.” She squeezed her daughter on the shoulder. “I'll be back real soon, sweetie,” she said.

Hope nodded slowly and watched as her mother walked out the door and down the back steps. Margaret stood with her on her hip for a few minutes. She liked the feel of the child in her arms. She rocked her a bit from side to side as they heard the car pull away. She felt Hope's brow too and noticed that the little girl seemed a bit warm to the touch, but not too hot.

“Well, I think I have a couple of Popsicles in the freezer. Do you think you might like to have one of those?” she asked.

She felt the little girl nod her head against her neck.

“How about you sit here at the table and I'll get us a couple.” She slid the little girl into a chair. “You like cherry or grape?” she asked.

“Cherry,” the little girl replied, and placed her hands on the table.

Margaret walked over to the refrigerator and opened the small freezer door on top. She searched inside and found the box of Popsicles. She had bought the box over the weekend as she was preparing for the surgery and the treatments. She knew she would appreciate them when she was home from the hospital. She pulled a couple out and shut the door.

“Here's cherry,” she announced to her guest and handed the Popsicle to her. She grabbed a napkin and wrapped it around the end. “I think I've got orange,” she announced, sitting down beside Hope. She unwrapped hers and smiled at the orange treat.

“Nothing like a good Popsicle when your stomach hurts,” she said.

The little girl nodded as she licked.

After they finished and had washed their hands, Margaret walked with Hope into the den and turned on the television. Hope picked a channel that was showing cartoons and sat on the floor. Margaret grabbed a pillow from the bedroom and a quilt from her linen closet. She made a nice place for Hope to lie and watch television and then walked back into the kitchen to clean up. She peeked in the room a few minutes later and noticed that the little girl was already asleep.

It wasn't long before she saw the car drive up and watched as Jessie hurried up the steps. Margaret met her at the door. She held her finger to her lips to let her friend know that Hope was sleeping close by. Jessie nodded.

“I'm so sorry,” Jessie whispered. “I just turned on the phone,” she added, walking in beside Margaret and then leaning so that she could see Hope asleep in her friend's living room.

“I hate that this happened,” she said to Margaret.

“Why?” Margaret asked. “This is how we do things here, remember?”

“I know, but with everything going on for you, you don't need a sick child in your house,” Jessie replied. She turned to her friend. “How long have you had her?” she asked.

“Oh, you just missed Lana. And it's fine. I've got an iron stomach, remember. I don't ever catch these little bugs. I just get cancer,” she added, punching Jessie in the arm.

“Right,” Jessie responded.

Margaret could see her friend's concern. “I'm fine,” she said, trying to reassure Jessie.

“I know,” Jessie replied. “You're going to be fine,” she added.

“So, where have you been?” Margaret asked.

“With Louise,” Jessie said. “I stopped by there after my walk.” She leaned against the table. “Beatrice put her in charge of the holiday cookbook and contest.”

“What?” Margaret was very surprised. “Is Beatrice sick?” she asked, wondering if her friends weren't telling her their own problems anymore, if they were protecting her from something.

“She's just acting different,” Jessie said. “No, nothing's wrong as far as I know,” she added.

Margaret shook her head. “And Louise, is she sick?” She smiled.

Jessie laughed. “I know, both of them are acting pretty strange.”

“Well, I never thought I would see the day when Louise was handling a Women's Guild project that Beatrice started and then turned
over to someone else.” Margaret scratched her head in amazement.

“We live in different times,” Jessie announced.

“That's for sure.”

The two friends paused for a minute.

“Have you told Charlotte yet?” Jessie asked.

Margaret looked up at her friend. Then she turned back to notice the photograph on the refrigerator she had been studying earlier in the morning. She shook her head. “Not sure how to,” she replied.

Jessie nodded. “You want me to call her?” she asked.

Margaret considered the offer and then glanced up at her friend. “Since you're here, why don't we both call her?” And she turned to the little desk in the corner of the kitchen where she kept her address book and Charlotte's phone number. “What time is it in New Mexico, anyway?” she asked.

 

 

Hummingbird Cake

3 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1½ cups cooking oil

3 eggs

2 cups chopped bananas

1 cup crushed pineapple (include juice)

1 cup coconut

1 cup nuts

1½ teaspoons vanilla

 

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and stir by hand. Pour into 3 greased 9-inch cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

 

 

ICING

2 sticks soft margarine

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese

1 box powdered sugar (16 ounces)

 

Mix ingredients with mixer and spread between layers and on top.

W
hen the call came in from North Carolina, Charlotte was trying to figure out how she was going to fit one more person in the shelter. She was already over the occupancy limit, but she knew she was going to have to find one more bit of space. She was not going to turn anyone away.

The hospital had called about a young woman earlier that morning. The social worker said that she had nowhere else to go and was recovering from the most recent and most dangerous attack from her boyfriend. She had a broken pelvis and two fractured ribs. She was young, not quite twenty, but she had no family nearby and nowhere else to go. She was over the age limit for foster care and the hospital wouldn't keep her any longer.

This victim, like so many of the others Charlotte served, had fallen through the cracks in the broken system that tried to assist battered women. Charlotte knew that if she didn't find this woman a bed and a
place in the shelter, she would end up back with her abuser. Charlotte had seen it happen too many times.

“I found the cot,” Maria was yelling from the closet that was down the hall from the office. “I hope she's a really small person,” she added.

Charlotte assumed she was referring to the condition of the cot and that it couldn't hold a lot of weight. Recalling what the furniture was like for most of the shelter, she knew it was probably not in great shape.

She got up from her desk and headed in the direction of the volunteer who was trying to help her set up a space for the new client. Immediately she saw what Maria had meant. The legs on the cot were bent and wouldn't be able to hold a child, much less an adult.

“That's the only one left?” she asked, glancing behind the woman and looking into the closet.

Maria nodded. “The other three are in the back bedroom. Loretta's children are using them.”

Charlotte sighed, remembering Loretta had been in the shelter for only a couple of weeks and her children were too big to share cots and too small to send to another facility. She had faced situations like this numerous times since she had taken the job as executive director of the battered women's shelter in Gallup, New Mexico. She had been there for only a couple of years, but she had learned a lot, including how to make room for twenty people in a house that was supposed to hold only ten.

“Let me see if I can fix it,” she said.

Maria handed the bent cot frame to Charlotte, who stretched it out and placed it in the hallway. She tried to straighten the bottom legs, pushed and pulled, thinking she could snap it back in place, and then
she just gave up. “How about the air mattress? We still got that?” she asked.

Maria nodded. “It's in the garage,” she replied. “I'll go get it.”

Charlotte tried to fold the cot back up but after her handiwork, it was completely broken. She pulled it down the hall, out the front door, and placed it on the porch. The next day was trash day, and she would place the broken bed next to the garbage cans when she left that afternoon.

She stood for a moment at the door, trying to see if Maria needed any help finding the mattress. She was planning to go out to the garage when she heard the phone ring. She considered not answering it for fear that it would be another request for space. Finally she walked over and picked up the receiver.

“Charlotte speaking,” she answered.

“Jessie and Margaret calling,” Margaret said. Her voice sounded cheerful.

“Hey!” Charlotte responded. She quickly moved around her desk and sat down. She was always glad to hear from her friends from North Carolina. “What's going on with you two?” she asked.

“We were just thinking about our favorite woman preacher and decided to check on whether or not she was done with her life searching and wanted to come back home.” Margaret wanted the conversation to be as uplifting as possible.

“Hello, Charlotte.” Jessie had taken the phone to greet her as well.

“Hey Jessie,” the young woman responded. “Well, this is a lovely surprise.” Charlotte could feel her smile widen. “Ya'll having a cookbook committee meeting?” she asked.

The two women laughed. They knew Charlotte didn't know about Beatrice's latest project.

“Funny you should mention that,” Margaret responded. “We were calling to get a recipe.”

“Are you serious?” Charlotte asked. “I was just kidding.”

“I know you were, but you know how we love to put cookbooks together down here.”

“Really?”

“Cakes actually,” Margaret explained. “This one is just for cakes.”

“Cakes,” Charlotte repeated.

“That's right. So, what's your favorite cake recipe?” Margaret asked, sounding very professional.

“Cake?” Charlotte asked again. “Well, I guess that would have to be hummingbird cake.”

“Hummingbird cake?” Margaret asked. “What is a hummingbird cake?”

“It has pineapple and coconut in it. Real fresh-tasting. One of the women here at the shelter makes it,” she added. “But are you really looking for cake recipes?” she asked.

“Hmmm…hummingbird cake. Sounds interesting. You ever heard of hummingbird cake?” Margaret lowered the phone and asked Jessie.

Jessie considered the question and then shook her head. “What has it got in it?” she asked.

“Coconut, pineapple,” Margaret replied, raising the phone again. “What else is in it, Charlotte?”

“Bananas and nuts. It has a cream cheese icing,” Charlotte said. “But you didn't answer me, are you really putting together another book?” she asked.

“It's the truth. Beatrice is doing another cookbook for the church. A cake cookbook,” Margaret replied.

“Beatrice doing another cookbook?” Charlotte repeated, laughing. “Why is she doing that? Is something wrong at the church?”

Margaret slid the receiver down past her chin. “She wants to know if something is wrong at the church,” Margaret noted to Jessie.

Jessie smiled. She knew Charlotte was just teasing about Beatrice but she didn't realize how close to the truth she was. She lifted her eyebrows in Margaret's direction. “Do you want me to leave?” she mouthed the words to Margaret.

Margaret shook her head and held out her hand for Jessie to hold.

“Margaret, you still there?” Charlotte asked. “Is something wrong with the Women's Guild?”

“Actually, Charlotte, something is wrong with me,” she finally responded.

There was silence on both ends of the conversation. Charlotte waited for more from her friend. She was stunned by the answer.

“The cancer is back,” Margaret added.

Charlotte didn't know what to say. The news hit her hard. She leaned back in her chair and swiveled around to look out the window. She saw two of the clients outside pulling weeds from around the fence.

“Where?” she finally asked.

“In my liver,” Margaret replied. “I start treatments in a couple of weeks.”

Jessie turned away. She could feel the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. She knew how hard this conversation was for Margaret.

“When did you find out?” Charlotte wanted to know. She could feel the sudden shallowness of her breathing.

“A couple of weeks ago. I hate having to tell you over the phone,” Margaret said. “I didn't know how to tell you.”

Charlotte closed her eyes. She knew the possibility of recurrence in cancer patients was always there; she had just never allowed herself to think about that with her good friend Margaret. Ever since they had gotten the good news about the first surgery and about the lack of necessity for further treatments, she had only had positive thoughts about Margaret and her prognosis. Once the cancer came back in her other breast, she considered it a bad sign; but Charlotte thought they would eradicate it completely with the chemotherapy and radiation.

“Are you doing the chemo by IV?”

“Yes,” Margaret replied. “I'll have the portacath put in next week,” she added. “We won't know for sure when the treatments start until after that.”

“Everybody going with you?” Charlotte asked, referring to the three friends from the cookbook committee.

“They won't have it any other way,” she replied.

“Oh, Margaret.” The tears started to fall. “I'm so sorry,” Charlotte said. “I wish I were there. I wish I could be with you too.”

“I know,” Margaret replied. “That's part of the reason I didn't want to tell you. I didn't want you to feel like you needed to come.” She shook her head remembering how Charlotte had come back for the second surgery and stayed with her for more than a week. “I'll be fine.”

Charlotte waved at the two women outside when she saw that they were waving at her. It was Sophia and Victoria, two younger women who had been in the shelter for a number of months. They had arrived about the same time and had become great friends to each other.

“I could see if I can get someone to cover for me.” Charlotte was trying to figure out if she could take off a few days and go back to be with her friend.

“No, no,” Margaret said sharply. “There's no reason for you to
come. This is a simple surgery. I won't be in the hospital overnight. I don't want you to come. It's too much.”

Charlotte knew it was impossible to think about taking days off any time soon. She was understaffed as it was, and now that they were beyond the occupancy rate, she was going to have to figure out how to help some of the women transition out of the shelter and into permanent housing. None of the volunteers was capable of that.

She knew it was the worst possible time for her to think about leaving the shelter. It was getting to be the holidays, and she knew they were difficult times for the women. Some of them would want to go back home and try to make it work with their abusive husbands. Everyone needed extra support during the last months of the year. Charlotte knew she couldn't get away.

“I'm so sorry,” Charlotte said, the only thing she could think to say.

“I know, me too,” Margaret replied.

“Well, how are you doing with this?” Charlotte asked.

Margaret took a few moments before answering. She smiled at Jessie, and Jessie seemed to understand that Margaret needed privacy. Jessie got up from the table and went into the den to be with Hope.

“I'm okay,” she responded, but she knew she didn't sound very believable. “Well, I mean, I'm trying to be okay.”

“Are you scared?” Charlotte asked.

“A little,” Margaret replied. “I dread the treatments and all the hospital stuff, all that probing and pricking.” She paused. “Of course, maybe some women would like that part.” She was trying to add some humor to the somber conversation.

“That's true,” Charlotte responded. “I've got a few women staying here who would love a little probing and pricking, especially the pricking.” She smiled.

Margaret was surprised at her young friend. She could tell a lot had changed for Charlotte since taking a job out of a church. She seemed much looser.

“Seriously,” Charlotte noted, “you okay, really?”

Margaret took in a breath. “I'm okay,” she said. “And I'll be fine. I'll make sure they call you when the surgery is over.”

“What day is it again?” she asked.

“It's Wednesday, first thing,” Margaret noted.

“Okay,” Charlotte responded. “But I want us to talk more, at least twice a week from now on.”

Margaret smiled. “Of course. I would like that very much.”

There was another pause in the conversation. Charlotte wanted to ask her friend what she thought about the prognosis, how she felt about it, whether she thought of death; but it was all too much. She didn't know how to ask such questions.

“So, what's this cookbook thing that Beatrice has got going?” It was the best that she could do.

“Holiday cake cookbook,” Margaret replied, sounding relieved that the hardest part of the conversation was over. “She thought it would be a good idea to have a contest to name the Hope Springs Christmas Cake and then do a cookbook with all of the recipes included.”

“Well, it sounds like a lovely idea. Are you in charge of editing all of the recipes?” Charlotte asked. “Or are you the judge for the best cake?”

“Neither. I'm just gathering a few cards and handing them over,” Margaret responded.

Charlotte smiled. She knew Margaret didn't mind the project and she also knew that Margaret was doing more than what she was
saying to make the cookbook and the contest a success. Margaret was a very supportive and loyal friend, especially to Beatrice.

“You want me to send you the hummingbird cake recipe?”

“I think that would be nice,” Margaret replied.

“You think I might win?” Charlotte asked. “Or do you have to live in Hope Springs to have the winning recipe?”

“I don't know the rules,” Margaret said. “But I think that since you once lived in Hope Springs and have served as the pastor of the church, you have as much right to enter a cake recipe and be the winner as anybody else.”

“Then I'll mail that recipe card to you right away.”

“I'll let Beatrice know,” Margaret announced. “She'll be glad to know you've taken up baking.”

“I bet she will be.”

The two women hesitated.

“Tell Jessie I said hello and that I love her,” Charlotte said. “And Margaret”—she turned back around and leaned her elbows on the desk—“I love you too.”

“I love you, Charlotte. And everything is going to be fine,” Margaret said.

“I know,” Charlotte responded. “And I'm the one who is supposed to be saying that to you.”

Margaret smiled. “I'll talk to you next week.”

“Tuesday evening,” Charlotte said.

And the two women hung up their phones.

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