Monthly Archives: June 2022

The Wedding Cake

My son, Will Graham, sent me this picture from his travels over central Alabama. He’s a sales representative for Covetris, a large veterinary drug company. He calls or sends pictures often while on the road from Birmingham to Montgomery, from Tuscaloosa to Anniston and points between. When I saw this picture of a yucca plant I was immediately reminded of my sister’s wedding in 1952, particularly the cake Mamma baked.

Pat was the oldest girl of ten children and hers was the first wedding to be held in our house, Stone Gables. She was teaching school in Virginia that year having recently graduated from UVA where she’d met David Peck. During her spring break they came to Georgia to finalize plans for their June 12 wedding.

We were mighty intrigued with David Peck. Mamma was won over for two reasons: he obviously cared deeply for her precious daughter, and he was a master at reciting poetry. We all laughed and cringed at his dramatic presentation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Daddy discovered he was a very good conversationalist and was openly impressed that, with a doctorate in chemistry, David would always make a good living. We all were taken with David’s sudden peals of contagious laughter.

Pat wanted my little sister, Suzanne, and me to be flower girls. I was nine and she was six. We were eager to do anything for Pat so, though we weren’t sure what being a flower girl meant, we readily agreed. Suzanne thought she was to move to West Virginia and pick flowers for Pat so was very happy to learn she didn’t have to leave home. Ginger would be the maid of honor and, with Mamma’s help, make all our dresses. Our uncle, Burns Gibbs, aka as Uncle Pete, would officiate along with David’s father, a Methodist minister. Jackie would be in charge of decorations. And Mamma was to bake the wedding cake.

That whole spring was packed with preparations for the wedding. Daddy hired a family friend to finish plumbing our big old house. Mamma set us to work washing the dozens of windows. Suzanne and I greatly enjoyed skating with old towels on the newly waxed slate floor in the Hall where the wedding and reception would take place. The boys worked diligently trimming shrubbery, pulling weeds, and mowing.

Everyone was busy, but as the big day came closer and closer Mamma’s focus was on that wedding cake.

The hens had slowed down on their laying so the week before the wedding Mamma declared we’d have no more scrambled eggs. She’d need plenty for the cake. She started three days before the day baking layers, and it was good she started early. Because the first layers were very obviously lopsided. Daddy laughed and said she could pile extra icing on the dipped sides but Mamma didn’t think that was funny. Daddy patiently (which was hard for him!) began sliding thin chips of wood under legs of the wood burning stove to level it. It took two more bakings of layers to produce the perfect ones Mamma wanted. We kids were not sympathetic with Mamma because we thoroughly enjoyed eating all those lopsided layers!

At last the day before the wedding Mamma and Jackie hauled the fully iced cake to the buffet. Mamma told us not even to breathe until the cake was in place. Daddy admired it and said she’d be in practice for the next four daughters’ weddings but she shook her head and said, “This is my first and last wedding cake.”

When Pat saw the cake she was overwhelmed at its beauty, stood back admiring it, gave Mamma a big hug. “But,” she said cautiously, “it needs a decoration on top. It’s sort of–plain, don’t you think? I wish we had a little bride and groom to put on top.” Of course we didn’t have a bride and groom. Nobody had thought of that.

The morning of June 12, the big day, David overheard whispered conversations about the bride and groom figures. He quietly left and came back hours later with a little package. Pat opened it and squealed with pleasure. She herself set the bride and groom on top of the cake. Then Jackie said wait a minute, that she had one more idea. She came back in the house with her hands full of ferns and yucca blossoms. She carefully wound ferns into an arch, then hung two yucca blooms right in the middle over the bride and groom, perfect wedding bells.

It was almost time to get dressed for the long-expected occasion. All this time I had been so enthralled with preparations I hadn’t absorbed the devastating reality: Pat, my adored oldest sister, would no longer be spending school holidays with us. She and David would live in West Virginia, far, far away. The big beautiful cake, all our pretty dresses, the floor so shiny we could see ourselves in it, the house full of house guests–it was all so exciting. But suddenly I needed my safe place. I dashed out the back door, hid behind a big hemlock tree, and burst into tears.

Only at a wedding would anyone drive so far behind the house they would see a little girl crying under a hemlock tree. But there was a crunch of tires and there was Uncle Pete in his fine gray suit walking towards me. He knelt down where he could look me in the eye and next thing I knew I was crying on his shoulder. “Look,” he said. “I cried when my sister, your mother, got married. It’s okay. You’re getting a new brother, you know.” Somehow the idea that this very sedate preacher uncle had cried when Mamma got married made me want to laugh. Uncle Pete loaned me his handkerchief and said we’d best be going inside.

The wedding was beautiful. Aunt Ruth directed us to descend the stairs at just the right time. Pat was gorgeous and radiant in her elegant white gown floating down the stairs on Daddy’s arm. I think David winked at me as we all stood in our places in front of the big north fireplace which was banked in greenery.

And that cake with yucca blossom bells over the little bride and groom was the most marvelous cake ever, bar none. But it really was the last wedding cake Mamma baked, though there have been many more weddings at Stone Gables.

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Conniesville

As June slides towards July I think of summers at Pinedale when I was growing up. Remembering summers naturally brings up images of Conniesville, a complete miniature village of doll size houses we four youngest of ten built in the woods one year.

Stanley was the oldest of the four. He and Charlie had the best ideas and the engineering skill to develop them. Suzanne and I were happy to follow their lead most of the time. None of us objected to Stanley’s choice of a name for our village. He was smitten at the time by a little girl named Connie so we all agreed on Conniesville. I truly believe Connie never had any idea she had a village named for her.

As I suppose happens with many villages, ours had an overall plan but developed into further buildings and streets as the weeks went by. We chose an area where the topography was nicely undulated to give our village slopes, as well as even terrain and a mountain or two. The whole village was only as large as a normal living room. We each picked the site for our own house. I think mine was on the northeast corner not far from a leaning sourwood tree. I liked the patch of soft green moss which would be the lawn for my manor. We each also chose a village business or institution on which to work.

We hauled small rocks and stones from a nearby brook. From time to time someone would visit a clay bank, wet the good malleable gray clay until it was almost soupy and lug it up the hill in an old worn out kettle. Finding the perfect sticks for ridge poles and rafters was very hard. My roof collapsed several times before I learned how to strengthen it by watching the boys’ tactics. I was careful and subtle about my spying for fear they would shoo me away to make my house on my own, or that they would become even more prideful than they already were.

Charlie had a toy dump truck he’d received the Christmas before. We used that to help build the streets. Our streets meandered romantically around hillsides, had tunnels even where they weren’t needed and, of course, bridges. I can just see right now Charlie’s earnest expression as he created one of those tunnels, as if it were the construction of a tunnel in the Smoky Mountains.

I know we were awfully grimy when we went in from playing. But I only remember Mamma being slightly frustrated a time or two. When we explained what we’d been doing she smiled and shrugged her shoulders before grabbing a bar of Octagan soap.

After some weeks our village really took shape. Charlie had created a bulldozer business in a low place where he could dig nice red clay. Stanley built a grocery store with a semblance of a gas pump in front. Suzanne built a shop for selling fabric and made a sign that she would take in sewing. I thought a bakery and a library were musts but the roof kept falling in on the bakery and my library was quite crooked. We all worked building a church which turned out really nice except that the steeple ended up like the leaning tower of Pisa.

We held a town council over which Stanley presided. Our main order of business was the naming of the streets. It boiled down to each of us naming our own street and then voting on the main streets, whether they would be Hickory Avenue, Rosemary Street, Churchill Boulevard or just plain Main Street. Or maybe one was Spruce Mountain Road.

Okay, so I’ve taken a few writer’s privileges in describing our village. After all, it was a long time ago. How would I remember all those particulars? But I do remember vividly the fun we had, the finished village, how Mamma and Daddy were so impressed they brought house guests to look at Conniesville. I remember the disappointment when a big rain came and several of our charming buildings collapsed. That soft clay melted in the deluge. I remember we endeavored to plant small trees the appropriate size for the little houses. As the summer turned into the hot days of August those trees wilted and turned brown.

It was a magical summer of innocent play. Yet now I can see foreshadowing of who we were to become. Stanley became an entrepreneur owning, among other small businesses, a gas station with a line of groceries. Charlie followed several careers including years as a forester, running a sawmill and other large equipment. Later, both boys teamed up in building car washes all over Georgia, now known as Carwash Specialist. Suzanne and I became happy homemakers. She developed seamstress skills, making wedding dresses for her twin girls, along with a doll repair business. And I–well, I’m just telling the story.

In later years I told my children about our village. We were even able to find remains of our little houses, piles of small stones here and there in the underbrush. But mainly, in our minds, something of that playful summer even still survives, echoes of a village named Conniesville.

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Songs in the Night

Though I love to hear cicadas “sing” and whippoorwills answer each other, nighttime when it is dark of the moon can seem so long. I don’t like caves and caverns where darkness is thick and overwhelming. When we drove years ago through long West Virginia mountain tunnels, I had a tendency to hold my breath until we could see daylight at the end.

The darkness of sorrow, of injustice, of illness, tragedy, and distress can stretch before us like a never-ending tunnel. One seeks sleep hoping with unreasoning hope that the horror will be gone when one wakens. Instead, our consciousness returns and we realize with a dull ache that the darkness of sorrow or pain is still our close companion.

I just came home from attending a beautiful funeral, that of my husband Charles’s partner of forty years, Dr. Eugene Talmadge Maddox. They practiced veterinary medicine together at Cairo Animal Hospital, founded by Dr. Maddox in 1963. The eulogies at the funeral were funny, touching, and inspiring. His pastor reminded us all that Dr. Maddox is now enjoying the delights and amazing rewards of heaven.

But no matter how wonderful the knowledge that Dr. Maddox knew Jesus and is now with Him, we still grieve. His sons, his dear wife, Patsy, grandchildren and great grandchildren are going through a dark time. They are comforted, yet the fact remains Dr. Maddox will not be telling his colorful stories, playing with his grandchildren, or giving his sons advice.

A tragedy recently occurred in my extended family. A beloved young man of seventeen was killed in a single car crash on his way home from an after-school job. It was a rainy night and somehow his car didn’t make it around a curve but slammed into a tree. Our whole family, especially his immediate family, is in a state of heavy darkness.

I find Psalm 42:6 very comforting, very reassuring. It says “Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me.”

I woke this morning with lyrics of an old song in my head. It’s a song I learned from my missionary brother, Orman, many years ago.

In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet

God leads His dear children along.

Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet

God leads His dear children along.

Some through the water, some through the flood

Some through the fire, but all through the blood,

And some through great sorrow, but God gives a song

In the night seasons and all the day long.

I’m sure the writers of this song, Jason Saetveit and Richard Hall, must have known great sorrow through which God gave them a song.

I pray you can listen for the song in your darkness, not just the song of a whippoorwill, but a song in your very soul, a song of peace that passes understanding, a song from Him who knows sorrow down to the very bone and feels it with you, the one who also can give you joy again.

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