When I was in high school I took cooking as a challenge, particularly baking. I was much more ambitious then than I am now. There’s nothing like energy and not knowing how hard something is to get one into a project. The kitchen was Mother’s domain, and she rarely allowed me to do much besides stir vegetables or see if the fried chicken was ready to turn. But she had taught me how to bake desserts.
So I decided to bake a white cake from scratch for Mother’s birthday, a three-layer cake which I planned to decorate. For those of you who haven’t done this, you have to separate several eggs, i.e., separate the whites from the yolks, without piercing the yolk, in order to make a white cake.
I set to work in the kitchen of our house on the farm, sifting flour, separating the eggs, creaming butter and sugar. Glancing out the window over the dining table, I saw thunderclouds gathering, but that was nothing unusual for July 5 in Tennessee. I poured the batter into the cake pans and put the pans in the electric oven, feeling a trifle smug.
I don’t remember what I did after that–probably I lounged around in my cutoff jeans and read a book, which was what I usually did on a summer day that was not promising for tanning. Then without warning the sky turned an odd greenish-black, growing darker and darker, and the power went out. Mother and I went in the garage since it only had one window and waited for the storm to go through. My dog Dusty whined to come in, so Mother let him in the garage, a rare treat for him.
The storm blew through quickly. We learned afterward that a tornado went through a couple of miles away. After about 15 or 20 minutes the power came back on. I reset the timer for the oven and watched the cake pans anxiously. But it was no good. The cake layers had fallen when the power went out, and no further heat could save them. Each layer was about a half-inch thick, dense and rubbery.
“I’ll bake you another one,” I said to Mother. “Do something simpler this time,” she said. I threw two of the layers in the trash and took the third one out back to give to Dusty.
Dusty looked at the cake layer, and looked at me. He looked at the cake again, looked at me, and wagged his tail. Then he picked up the fallen cake, carried it out in the field, and buried it. It would be a very rainy day before he dug that up.