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Publisher’s view: Milestone markers

We were barreling down the interstate in a navy blue Cadillac, south Louisiana June heat sticking our young legs to the backseat leather even though the air was pumping its best. “Keep your feet off the cake,” had been the mantra coming from my mother’s mouth behind the steering wheel ever since we’d pulled out of the carport. Our toes dangled, but we tried. Then we’d lean over and steal a glance at the blue-and-white Holly Hobby cake resting on the floorboard.

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

This was no sheet cake in a Pyrex dish, my friends—though those taste good too. My mama had spent hours baking and cooling Holly Hobby in a cake mold, then meticulously piping homemade butter-cream icing across its surface using fancy piping tips that held enough icing residue, when finished, for young girls to scoop out with small fingers or tongues.

The Cadillac blew a tire right around the Perkins Road overpass, and Holly Hobby hit the back of the front seat hard.

Thankfully, my sister and I were spared—Mom was happy about that. So when it came time to consider the cake and its utter demise, no one could get riled up about it. Disappointed, sure. But we were stranded in a crippled car on the side of I-10, and a crushed Holly Hobby seemed the least of Mom’s worries right then. We had my birthday party to get to.

Now my family was never much for pomp and circumstance, but we’d mark a milestone like any other Southerner: with food and friends and fellowship. Birthdays and weddings, graduations and funerals. They’ve always been a good excuse to get together and slap backs in laughter, tell stories that can only be appreciated after the dust has settled on the situation, and shed tears for those who have gone before us. Cousins played with cousins while the grownups recounted events we were never meant to hear. Adults would pause when young ears came into range—but if you’d linger quietly out of sight for a moment or two, they’d start up again.

These memories of gatherings and celebrations stick with me as another school year ends and we mark endings and beginnings again. I have two amazing godsons who graduated this year, and I swear they were born just 15 minutes ago. My father, suffering from a bad back, was bent on going to my son’s confirmation in May, because “We don’t miss things like that.” And we mourned, celebrated and buried a beloved pastor who was more like a grandfather to my siblings and me, and a mentor to my parents, and a soul spur to every life he touched on this Earth.

Time keeps ticking away and sometimes the best we can do, the least we can do, is mark the occasion with a ceremony and a celebration. And, of course,
a cake.

My grandfather on my dad’s side, in town from Ruston on account of my birthday, drove up on my mom’s Cadillac, pulled his brown El Camino over onto the shoulder and loaded up my sister, me, and what was left of the Holly Hobby cake. I actually don’t remember the birthday party at all, or what the crumpled cake looked like when placed on paper plates—we didn’t take pictures of our food back then—but I remember feeling an incredible sense of specialness. It was my birthday, after all. And we had survived what seemed like a sensational crash. And my family was there. And my mother loved me enough to make a cake and let me lick the icing. So who needs extravagant pomp and circumstance after all? I had people.