Kittie Howard

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Pineapple Upside-down Cake

I'm thankful that Thanksgiving exists, that preparations trigger a pause to think about what's really important. And, like you, thoughts of my many blessings have swirled in my head.

Happily, my mental list appears endless. A few of those blessings: an understanding, loving husband who's also my BFF; a wacky, fun-filled, often dysfunctional family; friends who go Way Back, new friends who go with the flow; Nature's beauty...the spider that lives in a crevice outside our front door...a neighbor's dog whose tail wags and wags and loves hugs; and You, dear, dear Reader, for being who you are...for your comments, for sticking with me...Thank You and've enriched my life.

Today's story, a story without a moral or hidden meaning, remains a family favorite every Thanksgiving. This story jumps a bit, from the farm to when we'd moved into town. I'm now in fourth grade. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina would destroy the New Orleans house I describe. Anyway, I hope you enjoy our family favorite.


Great Aunt Winnie, my grandfather's sister, lived in the Garden District in New Orleans, but in one of the more modest homes in that exclusive area. Her daughters, Winifred and Josephine, both spinsters, lived with her in the white-sided, two-story house with a deep front porch they had called home for decades.

Family lore maintains that Winifred once had a suitor and wanted to marry, but Aunt Winnie, newly widowed, pressured Winifred to reject the suitor. She did. And, so, Winifred and Josephine, born a year apart, both on November 1st, grew to dress alike, sit alike, and speak alike (almost in a whispered Southern drawl). In fact, my great-cousins looked so much alike that if it weren't for Cousin Winifred's earlier sprinkle of grey hair, we kids wouldn't have been able to tell them apart.

Like their mother, Winifred and Josephine wore their light brown hair in buns neatly pinned at the nape of long necks. I remember watching Winifred and Josephine fix (Southerners use 'fix' for everything) their hair one morning: each combed her long tresses in the same direction, switched to the opposite side in tandem and twisted her hair up, into a bun, again, in tandem.

The sisters then turned from the mirror, and faced me, both smiling in tandem, their make-up free, very white oval faces beaming with love. However, even at that tender age, I thought the hair ritual a bit odd, but remembered to return their smiles. My parents had sternly warned us (in the way that parents do) that Sarah, Dan, and I had to smile a lot when our Old School relations visited for Thanksgiving. And we weren't to speak unless spoken to, both smiles and quietude the hallmark of well-bred children.

Actually, Winifred and Josephine looked like younger versions of Aunt Winnie. But, unlike Winifred and Josephine, Aunt Winnie had snow-white hair, also parted down the middle, and was a bit plump, not fat, just a soft and cuddly petitness that invited warmth. My grandfather's sister also had deep blue, very kind eyes in a round face that crinkled into gentle wrinkles when she smiled.

Aunt Winnie and her daughters smiled a lot. Wherever they sat in our house, the trio would sit very straight, hands folded in laps, and nod and smile at whatever was said, with Aunt Winnie replying for the three, if an answer were required. Aunt Winnie always sat in the middle.

Of course, even in our spacious house, not every room contained three straight back chairs. So, my parents faced a logistical problem re-positioning chairs so Aunt Winnie and Winifred and Josephine could sit, hands folded in laps, and nod and smile. But my father held a deep respect for Aunt Winnie, his only aunt from his father's side.

Now, it just so happened that about a month prior to Thanksgiving and Aunt Winnie's visit, my parents had purchased an electric skillet, a relatively new kitchen gadget. With the purchase came a recipe for a Pineapple Upside-down Cake. My mother gave the recipe a try and, with cries for More, made another. These successes put this recipe into the running for Thanksgiving dessert. (Pumpkin pie was totally unheard of Back Then.)

We kids became the happy dessert tasters in the days that followed because Thanksgiving desert made my parents nervous. No one had been known to out-bake Aunt Winnie. Not that my parents held that goal. Since neither could bake their way out of a burnt pan, the object was a non-burnt dessert. Now, my mother could make a scrumptious batch of fudge. But fudge remained fudge and not a Thanksgiving dessert. So, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake became the Chosen Dessert.

And everyone sat around the Thanksgiving table, much like in a Normal Rockwell painting, and, with a lot of nods and smiles, thoroughly enjoyed a picture-perfect turkey and all the trimmings. In Southern fashion, the meal lasted several hours. Everyone told stories, including us kids. But the best part occurred when Aunt Winnie related stories about when she was a little girl. And when our aunt finished, everyone nodded and smiled, for we had all fallen into doing that. And it was actually very nice.

When it came time for dessert, my mother returned to the dining room with the prized Pineapple Upside-down Cake centered on a treasured serving plate. Everyone beamed. The electric skillet had baked the pineapple rings a deep golden yellow. The red cherries that centered the lucious pineapple rings begged to be plucked by young fingers.

As my mother approached the table and the chair where Aunt Winnie sat, her foot got tangled a bit in an area carpet. The Pineapple Upside-down Cake flew from the serving plate.

The soaring cake seemed to suck the air out of the room. I don't remember a sound, but can still feel my eyes frozen wide, not believing what young eyes saw. After hanging suspended for long seconds, the cake made a rapid descent, straight toward Aunt Winnie's plump lap.

Aunt Winnie nonchalantly turned her daintily folded hands upward, caught the cake, and calmly placed the Pineapple Upside-down cake back onto the serving plate my mother had rushed over. Aunt Winnie then positioned the rescued cake on the table. Amazingly, the cake looked as golden and scrumptious as before, not a crumb out of place, nor a cherry rolled astray.

Everyone nodded and smiled. No one uttered a word about the cake-that-almost-was, except that it was delicious. Truly!

No comments: