She changed me.
Her name is Keri, and although she started out as a student in a few of my classes, she ended up becoming a friend for life, someone whose innate light defeated the chilling darkness of her early years.
Keri was treated as harshly as a person can be.
Yet when I think of her, it is her laugh that comes to me first.
Whenever I think of her, I remember the day she walked into our kitchen–having just returned from running a trail race with Byron–and clapped eyes on the chocolate cake sitting on the counter.
“You want a piece?” I asked her.
“Fuck, yea!” she almost shouted.
For me, an important component of hospitality is bounty. It doesn’t feel gracious to dole out small bits and act as though a tidge is generous. Nay, if I’m handing things out, it seems mean-spirited to be chintzy. Were someone to give me a printed apron, and please, for the love of Martha Stewart, may no one ever give me a printed apron, it might say “LOTS ISN’T HALF ENOUGH.”
That day, I discovered Keri and I are of a mind on this issue.
Without thinking, I cut Keri the piece of cake I would have wanted.
I cut Keri a hefty piece of cake.
I cut Keri a piece of cake the size of a block of expired cheese in a dumpster, a kilo of coke, a glock.
It was the size of my smile whenever she banged into the house holding a little present for my two-year-old. It was the size of my heart whenever she shucked off holding my baby, saying, “Naw, I’d just drop him” before stroking the softness of his pudgy leg.
When I slid the plate towards her, Keri got it. “Fuck!” she howled. “Look at the fucking size of that piece of cake. I love how you’re all not shy about the cake–and look at that frosting. You stood up to that cake and gave it half an inch of frosting. Now THAT’S frosting!”
With the speed and focus that never leave someone who’s been hungry, she downed the entire thing in under a minute.
“Jesus, Keri. You weigh, like, 99 pounds on a good day. How did you manage that?” I asked, happy and impressed.
“Ah, you know me and sweet stuff. I fucking love cake. I just don’t know how to cook it. You make it, and I’ll come here and shove it all into my face, ‘k?”
That piece of cake is something Keri and I have not forgotten.
A good piece of cake should not be forgotten.
That’s why I’m glad I’ve carried on my mom’s habit of recording notes on recipes, tracking when and why they were made. There is no better diary than a few hasty, splotchy words jotted next to a recipe.
With the chocolate cake that filled Keri’s stomach, there is the story of how I was driving home one day when I first heard the recipe on NPR.
And, of course, there are all the notes–mini-stories within themselves–that surround my print-out of the recipe, which lives in a three-ring binder in our kitchen.
6/10/03: “Crisis Cake”–tube pan won’t close–cake everywhere. Paco rolls over, eats rice cereal. Allegra loves neighbor Tyler’s swing. John Colbert here last night-
1/12/05: For Chrissy, Sean, & kids–over for falafel
6/16/05: Made for Grandma’s Marathon party. Paco naps with Buzz & Woody. Allegra helps Byron put patio furniture together
6/15/06: Made as cupcakes for Grandma’s Marathon party. Byron twisted ankle at Oxbow race last weekend. Paco naps with Bat-a-ring (metal one), & Allegra loves swimming class
11/13/09: Made x2 for 10th anniversary open house
Two entries for this next date, one written by me and one by Byron (at least we had our stories straight):
3/24/12: Made for Jocelyn’s 45th bday–Allegra is running track & reading Hunger Games. Tommy & Paco are playing Legos and going to see The Lorax; Byron bikes and runs on early Spring warm day
Made for Joce’s 45th birthday. Always better the next day. I make it today. Paco & Tommy going to Lorax. Allegra running track
Nov. 24, 2015: Olson-Browns coming for Thanksgiving. Leggy skiing at West Yellowstone
For every note written on the recipe, there is also a time we made this legendary cake but neglected to add to the record.
There is no note for the day Keri had her first piece, big as a block of expired cheese in a dumpster, a kilo of coke, a glock–
–that piece of Dump-It cake the size of my smile whenever she banged into a room holding a present for Allegra, who would grow up to love swimming lessons and swinging and putting together patio furniture and reading the Hunger Games and running track and skiing in West Yellowstone. That piece of cake the size of my heart whenever my beloved friend shucked off holding Paco, the little guy who rolled over and ate rice cereal and napped with Buzz, Woody, and a Bat-a-ring and played with Legos and went to The Lorax.
I don’t know why I forgot to make a note on the recipe that day.
I like to think it’s because I was too busy enjoying Keri’s laugh and offering her seconds.