Of all the people in our family, my mother was one of the least competitive. She loved to talk, but she seldom bragged or tried to one-up her friends.
It seems ironic to look back and realize that my mom was the only one of the family to win a blue ribbon at the LA County Fair.
She won it for her orange cake. The recipe came from the side panel of a Swan’s Down Cake Flour box, and the grease-stained, faded piece of cardboard was tucked into the broken-backed green American Woman’s Cookbook she always used.
I remember two things that made the cake special. The first was the cake flour. This was the only cake my mom made with cake flour. The rest of the time she used a mix. I never knew there was such a thing as cake flour until I helped Mama make this cake.
The other thing was the number of oranges the recipe took. Some of the juice and peel went into the cake, but LOTS of peel went into the frosting. I helped my mom grate the rind off of at least six oranges, using the pyramidal grater that stood up by itself. Mama kept an eye on me, making sure I got all the rind off but didn’t grate the white pulpy stuff too. It wouldn’t help the flavor of the frosting.
The winning cake stood three layers tall, a pleasant orange tint, with the fluffy speckled frosting between the layers and standing in peaks on the top.
We saw it on display in the glass case of the Home Arts building, with its blue ribbon, First Place, showing proudly. The judges had cut one slice to taste, but the cake still stood tall and beautiful for the world to see.
I was reading The Pink Motel during silent reading in the fifth grade. It belonged to Alice Goldstein. She had loaned it to the classroom library. Alice had told all the fifth grade girls how good it was, and I had finally gotten my turn to read it.
Now I wasn’t much of a reader back then. I was good at reading, but I wasn’t book crazy like so many of my friends. I didn’t seem to be able to find books that grabbed me, until I started The Pink Motel. I looked forward to silent reading time so I could get further into the story.
Today, though, I wasn’t feeling so good. Mama had given me orange juice at breakfast and sent me to school though I protested I was sick. Unfortunately, during silent reading, with my head bent over the beloved Pink Motel , all the orange juice came up and splattered over the book, my desk, my lap, and the floor.
“Eeeewww” burst out from my classmates, and Mr. Harrington, the teacher, walked briskly over, gingerly picked up The Pink Motel with finger and thumb and dropped it in the brown metal trash can by the door.
I went to the nurse, then home, and I never finished The Pink Motel. I was also never really friends again with Alice Goldstein. Either she never forgave me, or I was never brave enough to approach her after barfing on her book.
My mind goes immediately to feet when I think of summer. When you start walking around barefoot or put on sandals, summer is here.
To get to the mailbox to mail a letter for my mom, I had to cross Lincoln Avenue. Now this was no problem during the cooler months when I was shod in my Keds, but barefoot in summer it was a challenge. The concrete sidewalk was cool enough to walk on, but the black asphalt road burned. The solution was to walk on the white-painted crosswalk lines, not between them. They felt smooth and cool under my bare feet, even cooler than the sidewalk.
If I wasn’t barefoot, I was slapping along in thongs. My cousins called them zories, and nowadays they are called flip-flops. (Thongs are something else:). Mom bought us a new pair of zories at the start of summer each year, usually one or more sizes bigger than the year before. The new ones felt funny for the first week or so until they got stretched, squished, and worn, in just the right places to fit your feet perfectly.
My brother discovered that the center thong of the sandal would collect tiny rocks, sticks, and shells in the space where the rubber passed through the sole, and if he pushed the thong’s cap through the sole, he could clean out the debris into a little pile. When we were bored in the back seat of the car or in front of the TV, we would empty out our zories to see who had the bigger pile of gravel and twigs. The things kids will find to amuse themselves.
Here is a five-minute exercise on Late Evening and a 90-second one on Crossing the Finish Line
Up above the tops of the tall pines, bats swooped. The sky still glowed with a remnant of blue light so we could see the bats. Before us at he center of the fire ring, the ranger was feeding a bonfire and the smell of burning pine reached our noses. I shaded my eyes from the fire to watch for the sudden flit of bats in the twilight. Sharp squeaks accompanied the swoops as the bats caught their supper of insects. The light slowly drained from the sky, bats were hidden, the bonfire ruled the night.
Never a runner, this is how I see crossing a finish line:
“Yay! Go Go Go!” people are shouting on the sidelines of the track, for the fast girls running a half length ahead of me. My heavy shoes slap slap slap on the gravel, pushing to the finish line, last to cross, forgotten
I didn’t like the exercises I wrote today, so I’m putting up this one from 4/26:
No benches or planters near the Baskin Robbins, so we sat on the curb of the parking lot. My cone was nutty coconut, pure white and sweet with huge chunks of walnuts and almonds protruding from the surface. His was cookies and cream. We sat side by side in a red zone, our knees up under our chins, licking around the cones to catch the drips. They came fast on a hot August evening in Claremont. As the ice cream shrank down into the waffle cones, the conversation turned serious.
“So, shall we get married?”
I helped him peel his black Lycra shorts down over his hip and thigh, scraped raw and embedded with gravel from the road. He winced and bent his head back in pain. He breathed deep, in and out, to keep from crying. Blood rimmed the edge of the peeled place, and the center was pink and white. While I hurried to get the first aid kit, he hobbled to the shower to bathe the wound.
“Not too hot,” I called. No answer.
When I returned, he was gingerly allowing the lukewarm water to run over his thigh, sluicing blood down the drain. Eyes closed, teeth clenched, he turned his face toward heaven in agonized supplication.