Dear Friends: My Holiday wish for all my readers is that you are warmed by the love of family and friends at this special time of the year, with good things to eat and drink, and of course, something good to read. Earlier this week I posted a piece about my lemon pound cake, and the story of how my sister Susie and I developed the recipe. Today, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote two years ago, for Atlanta Magazine. I hope you won’t find it too sad, but at this time of year, I think our thoughts turn to those who are no longer with us. Let’s raise a virtual glass to their memory. And to to all of you, from my house to yours, here’s wishing you a joyous holiday and a splendid New Year!
My sister’s Decatur neighborhood was pretty sketchy ten years ago. Renters came and went, often in the middle of the night. So, on that frigid winter day when we spied a house with a pile of shabby furniture plopped in the middle of the yard, we hardly gave it a second glance. It snowed, and the furniture took on an artful frosted look. But when the thaw came, we noticed something odd growing out of the melting muck. The weather was frigid, but we couldn’t resist walking over to get a closer look. On a dare, I dashed over and picked up the mysterious item, and ran, laughing, to where Susie stood waiting on the curb.
“Look!” I said, breathlessly, holding out the treasure. It was a cake plate, of antique milk glass, with an elegant scalloped edge and a graceful fluted stand. It was perfect, and we couldn’t believe someone would leave it behind. But they had.
Neither of us could give up claim to the cake plate, so we decided it would alternate homes, from her Decatur cottage to my Avondale bungalow. On Christmas Eve, after early children’s Mass, we’d hurry over to Susie’s for her open house. There would stand the milk glass cake plate, adorned with Watershed’s chocolate cake – she’d gotten the recipe from the AJC one year. By New Year’s Day, the cake plate was back in Avondale Estates, for my traditional oyster roast, offering a luscious lemon cream cheese pound cake. By Easter, the plate would be pressed into service for our mother’s three-layer carrot cake with maple-cream cheese frosting.
When we moved to Raleigh six years ago, we quit throwing the New Year’s Day oyster roast. Not long after our move, our mother passed away, and eventually, Susie moved to Florida to help care for our father during his final illness. Christmas Eve suddenly didn’t seem quite so festive any more, now that we weren’t all stuffed into her tiny cottage, nibbling on honey-baked ham and chocolate cake, with the kids sipping their ritual “children’s champagne,”–really just sparkling apple cider–from Susie’s Waterford flutes.
When we did move back to Avondale Estates three years ago, in November, it was a foregone conclusion that the New Year’s Day oyster roast would be reinstituted. Susie missed the party that year, but the cake plate was there, and so was the lemon pound cake.
In July 0f ’07, the unthinkable happened. Susie was on the way to visit us in Avondale – where we’d planned a Fourth of July dinner on the grounds. She never made it. Leaving the interstate in Adel, she was killed in a horrific traffic accident. After we got the news, I met my brother Johnny in Tifton, where we made arrangements to take my sister home one last time.
A few weeks after the funeral, I was poking around down in the basement, looking for Tupperware to pack a batch of cookies for a weekend house party. I didn’t find the Tupperware, but I did find the milk glass cake plate, which I hadn’t seen since our move to Raleigh. I guess it’s mine now, by default. I guess, too, that later tonight, I’ll be digging through Susie’s cookbooks, looking for that bittersweet chocolate cake recipe. Maybe tonight, after we return from early children’s mass, even though her niece and nephew are now grown and of legal drinking age, we’ll even toast my big sister’s memory, with a glass of children’s champagne.