It’s funny how a memory you hadn’t thought about in ages comes to mind by way of a snippet of dialog or a photograph. Sometimes I don’t even know what jogged the memory. It seems to come out of nowhere. That’s how it happened today.
My age is showing. I’ve started regularly checking the obituaries from the area where I grew up to see if I know anyone, and more often than not, I do. As I looked at the list of people who met their maker the last few days, I noticed one named Smith. Smith is a common surname, but somehow my thoughts went back to 1971, the year we moved to town from the farm.
Clarinda, Iowa, is the county seat of Page County in Southwest Iowa. At the time, it had a population near 5,400, and it’s never fluctuated too much from that number since. We lived in a house two blocks north of the town square, across the street, and down half a block from the public library.
Our house was on the corner with an empty lot on one side where the old movie theater burned to the ground and flanked on the other by a tiny, well-kept white Victorian home. The front porch invited you to visit with a wicker rocking chair and wooden porch swing, often occupied by the residents, Sam and Mary Smith.
Sam was 89 years old, and Mary was 82. Maybe it was how their parents raised them, or simply how the world was back then, but Mom and Dad had a soft spot for the elderly, and Sam and Mary became friends of our young family. I remember going over to their house on weekend nights and watching the adults play cribbage, a game I could never understand.
The light of Sam and Mary’s lives was their daughter, Trula, who had died in 1930 at the age of 24. I don’t remember the cause of her death; the only significance is they spoke about their daughter as the eternally beautiful young lady she was when she passed away far too young. I didn’t realize it then, but Trula would have been older than my grandparents had she been alive. As an eleven year old, I saw her in my mind as her loving parents spoke of her.
Mary was a wonderful cake baker and spent the better part of her life baking beautiful cakes for weddings and special events. Apparently, our visits were an event because she blessed us with generous servings of homemade cake when we came to visit and usually sent us home with some to enjoy later. Her specialty was Burnt Sugar Cake.
I had never had burnt sugar cake before, but quickly, its delicate, mild, caramel flavor with matching icing became something I looked forward to at the Smith house. My birthday favorite was white cake with white frosting, but this cake was something so unique I don’t think I’ve ever had it since, and it’s been fifty years!
The memories inspired me to find a recipe for burnt sugar cake, and although I found several, I believe this link to the old classic from Betty Crocker is probably close to the one Mary used and I plan to make it in the near future. Try it out and leave a comment to let me know what you think.
Even if you don’t bake a cake, find an elderly person to love. It will do you both good.
Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4