Carrot Cake

Yesterday was my birthday. For my birthday, I made myself a cake.

But not just any cake.

This was a carrot cake.

And not just any carrot cake. It was my grandma’s carrot cake.

I hadn't intended to make a carrot cake. Although just a few weeks ago I told someone how I always used to request Grandma's carrot cake for my birthday, I thought I'd probably have an apple pie or cookies or something like that for my birthday treat instead.

But Wednesday, the day before my birthday, Grandma Collins passed away. She decided it was time to go join her "boyfriend," as she so lovingly called my grandfather.

Grandma made sure she waited for all 11 of her children to gather at her side. And then she decided it was OK to go, that it was time to go see the husband she'd been missing dearly for just over a year.

And so, because Grandma's carrot cake was the only kind of cake I’ve ever truly liked and ever requested regularly, I baked a carrot cake in her honor.

And with each ingredient that went into the bowl, I added a memory of Grandma Collins.

Naturally, my memories began in the kitchen, not only with her carrot cake but also with the amazing fried chicken she’d make. With the bright red hot dogs she’d boil in a pot on the stove for us kids when we stayed at her house. With the tin of chocolate chip cookies she kept on the counter—always with a slice of white bread to keep the cookies soft.

There were the colorful plastic mugs she bought so each grandkid would have his or her own special cup for drinking water or Squirt or milk whenever we’d come to visit. The countertop dishwasher she’d hook up to the sink after dinner was done. The big pantry full of surprises just outside the kitchen in their little apartment.

At the kitchen table, we played board games (Scrabble, naturally, was a favorite) and twisted colorful string together into friendship bracelets.

Some of the items from the kitchen found other uses in our visits to Grandma—particularly her mixing spoons, which always served as our microphones as we performed along with Lawrence Welk in the living room.

In that living room, Grandma’s wooden rocker with the soft cushions always sat to the right of Grandpa’s big recliner. On her footstool, which also rocked, without fail you would find a crossword dictionary and a folded, half-finished crossword puzzle.

In that living room, I remember spending many afternoons watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and the news with my grandparents. I remember the hard candies—Werther’s and peppermints and those little bright yellow butterscotch disks—she kept on an end table for whoever needed a treat.

Grandma was always kind and generous when us grandkids visited (which was often)—letting us whip up magic elixirs with her lotions and creams and perfumes in the bathroom, allowing us to take over their bedroom when we were older so we could sprawl across the bed and watch first Nick At Nite and later whatever music videos came on MTV. She watched over us while we played recklessly in the backyard, hopping over the creek and squealing at snakes.

Grandma was the one who encouraged Grandpa to show us just once more how he could squeeze water from a rock. She was the one who would turn around in the front seat of the car and remind us kids—always, without fail, no matter our age—that the car wouldn’t start until all seat belts were buckled.

Whenever things went wrong, Grandma was there with a hug. Or a cookie. Or a piece of her carrot cake. Even when things went well, she was there with the same.

But here’s the thing about carrot cake. You can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting.

And that’s the thing with Grandma—you can’t have Grandma without Grandpa.

Grandma was a strong-willed, independent woman until the end, with a feisty streak she shared with all the Collins women. But in my memories, whenever Grandma is there, Grandpa is there too.

So, as hard as it is to think that she’s gone, it’s OK. Because now she’s back with Grandpa, where she's happiest.

And she’s left us all more memories than we can count ... and, of course, the recipe for her carrot cake.


rachel. said...

aw, jules. that's really beautiful. i'm sorry to hear about your grandma, but she's rocking away with her boyfriend :) and that cake looks amazing. i know she was thrilled you made it. xoxo.

Barbara said...

This is beautiful, Julie. You do her proud.