AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Barbara S. Stewart
Lulu’s Christmas Cake
When I think about Christmas, the Christmas cake is my fondest memory. It’s the one tradition that means the most to me. I was seven the first year we did it, and it made such an impact that I continue to share it with those I love.
I was a dark-haired, wide-eyed, busy child, curious about everything. My dad’s mission was to keep me occupied and happy. It wasn’t the best time in our lives.
“Hurry, Daddy. Hurry!” I exclaimed, as we made our way into the grocery store. “We have to get the things to make the cake!”
I remember hurrying him through the store, packed with last-minute shoppers, on Christmas Eve. We waited too long to plan, but the idea had just come to us. He patiently pushed the cart as I charged in front of him to collect what we needed. This cake would be the most special cake we’d ever eaten.
“Cake mix,” I read from the list.
“What kind?” he asked.
“Do you think he’ll care?” I was nervous. What if we picked the wrong kind? My dad’s response made it all right.
“You’re right, Lulu; he won’t care. Chocolate,” he laughed.
“Chocolate,” he replied.
“How many, Lulu?” he asked, with the biggest smile.
“Oh my gosh. I don’t know. I didn’t think about that!” I panicked.
“It’s all right, Lulu, it’s your cake-your gift to him. We’ll do whatever you want. Since this is your seventh Christmas, let’s do seven.”
“That’s a good idea!”
We finished shopping and hurried home.
“Are you ready?” I asked, excitedly.
“Let’s go check in on Mom first,” he suggested, and reached for my hand.
My mom was dying of breast cancer. All I knew then was that she was very sick. It was 1983 and treatment was different from what’s available today. She was so thin and frail that it made me nervous to hug her. I was afraid I’d hurt her. I remember the hugs we shared before she got sick. How I wished I could hold her tight.
We went to the bedroom. She was resting in bed. Her mother, Grandma Pritford, was beside her. Mom was wearing a soft crocheted pink cap that Grandma made to keep her baldhead warm. We entered quietly, but she heard us, and opened her eyes.
“Louisa,” she said. Her voice sounded like she was whispering. She held her arm out for me. I stepped closer, and leaned forward to kiss her.
She reached to softly stroke my hair, and kissed my cheek. It was like she had to touch, had to smell, had to show me love.
“We’re ready to bake the cake,” I announced.
She smiled. “I can’t wait to share your birthday cake for Jesus.”
“Ready?” Dad asked.
“I love you, Louisa,” Mom said, as we walked away.
“Love you bunches, too,” I replied.
The cake was a distraction, but it was part of a life lesson. My parents explained to me that Christmas wasn’t just about Santa and gifts. The Christmas cake was my Dad’s idea to help me understand that the holiday was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The week before Christmas, I always had to mark one gift off my list for Toys for Tots, to give to another child who was less fortunate than me.
When we were ready to start making the cake, Dad brought a stool to the kitchen for me to stand on, and tied my mom’s favorite apron around my waist. I smiled, because I knew how much she loved it. I read the instructions for the cake mix from the box three times. He was there to help, but told me he was my assistant. I followed the directions to a T.
Dad took many pictures. “So we’ll remember,” he told me.
Finally, he put the cake pans in the oven. We went back to her room to sit with mom. As I remember, I’m sure I drove my dad crazy.
“Is it time yet?”
“When you hear the bell,” he said.
“Do you think we should check on it?” I asked, a few minutes later.
“It’s fine, Lulu,” he assured me.
“I don’t want it to burn. It’s a very special cake.”
“I know sweetheart, but I promise it’s fine,” he told me.
I can still see my mom’s smile when I remember those moments. This made her happy.
“Was that the bell?”
“No Lulu; ten more minutes.”
Ding. Ding. Ding.
At last, the timer rang out. It announced that the cake was finished baking. I ran to the kitchen, urging my dad to hurry.
“Come on!” He smiled as he opened the oven door for me to look.
He pulled them out of the oven to cool. Together, we went to get a plate from the china cabinet. I inspected each one, deciding which was the best one.
“I like this one,” I told him. It was crystal with butterflies etched in the glass. I still have it today, and it’s only used for the Christmas cake.
He carried it to the kitchen and carefully washed it.
“My mom gave this to your mom for her bridal shower gift,” he explained.
“Then it’s really special, right?” He nodded. “It’s so pretty.”
He placed one of the layers of cake on the plate. Then, handed me a spatula, and the container of frosting. I’d seen Grandma Pritford do it before, so I carefully spread a layer of frosting on the cake. He lifted the second layer on top, and I went to town frosting it. I can still see his smile as I carefully applied the frosting, careful not to get it all over the plate.
“We’re ready for the sprinkles!”
We decided that the multicolored pearl variety would be best on the chocolate background. I shook them out of the container. Laughing, my dad quickly gathered the ones that rolled away.
When Dad finished frosting the sides of the cake, I thought it was the most beautiful cake in the world.
“It’s so pretty!”
“Now we have to wait until midnight to have a piece.”
“Because it isn’t December 25th until then,” he explained.
“That’s a long time!”
“It’s a few hours,” he agreed. “If you fall asleep, I’ll wake you, I promise.”
“Should we take it to show Mom?” I asked.
“I’m sure she would love seeing it. I’ll carry it.”
As we entered the room, Grandma Pritford looked up, and smiled. Mom stirred, and when she saw the cake, she smiled and clapped her hands.
“It’s a beautiful birthday cake, Louisa. You did a wonderful job. I can’t wait to try a bite.” She tried to hide it, but I saw her look at my dad with tears in her eyes.
The next year, my mom died on September ninth. I was afraid Jesus wouldn’t get a cake because everyone was so sad.
As Christmas Eve approached, Grandma Pritford made a declaration. “We need to get some happy going on around here! Dale, Louisa and I are going shopping. When we return, we’ll be baking a Christmas cake.
I saw my dad smile as we went out the door.
“He smiled,” I said, when we were in the car.
“I know. Sometimes smiling is hard, but life goes on, and we need to experience it. What kind of cake shall we make this year?”
“A HAPPY, happy birthday cake.”
“Just like last year, only we’ll make homemade frosting,” she said.
When we returned, Dad seemed happy to do something fun. Grandma helped me bake the cake that year, but every year, until I was old enough to do it alone, Dad and I baked it together.
I think he feared, as I got older, that we wouldn’t do it any longer, but the Christmas cake meant so many things to me. Each year the cake was something “more” than the year before. When I was fourteen, I learned that white cake, white frosting, and coconut, was my mom’s favorite. I decided to attempt making it. I made the frosting homemade, just like Grandma taught me. The cake was fluffy, white, and beautiful.
My Dad cried. “This one is the best one, so far. This was what she always wanted for her birthday. Thank you for choosing to bake this cake.”
My dad was the most special man. I’m pretty sure that many girls feel that way about their fathers, but we shared so much together over the years. He became both parents to me, after my mom died, and he did a fine job with the mothering part. I won’t say that we didn’t have struggles; the teenage experiences, and changes in my body gave him a run for his money, but he always said the same thing when we dealt with anything troublesome; “We’ll figure it out, Lulu, us Welks always do.”
Sharing The Cake
Through my college years, I was always there to bake, and share the Christmas cake with him. In 1999 I baked the cake, but it was the first time we weren’t together.
Earlier that summer, I’d gone on a vacation to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. After an intern position, I landed an awesome opportunity to teach English Literature at the university I graduated from, the University of Jacksonville, Florida. I chose Kiawah for a bit of respite before I began my new career. On that vacation, I met an incredible man. His name was Thom Miller.
Walking on the beach, enjoying a beautiful afternoon in the sun, I saw him approach. We walked and talked. Later, we shared lemon aide, and more conversation. That evening, we enjoyed drinks and dinner. I had no expectations of our encounter, but it felt like instant attraction, on both of our parts. I was twenty-three when I met him. His rugged good looks reminded me of Gerard Butler.
I figured we’d have a fling, and I’d go home, but it turned into many back and forth trips, and weekend getaways. I shared my first Christmas with him that year. He owned the Do Drop In, a pub on the island. I drove straight there after work to meet him.
When I arrived, I went to the bar. Danno, the bartender acknowledged me, as I shrugged off my coat.
“What’ll it be, beautiful?” he asked.
“Really?” I laughed. “You have to ask.”
He set a glass of white wine in front of me, and snickered. “I keep thinking one day you’ll test my abilities as the talented bartender I am, and walk in here and ask for something exotic, to allow me to show you my mad bartender skills. I can do more than pull a cork out of a bottle of wine, ya know. Just once, Lulu-one time, walk in the door, sit at the bar, and ask for a Slippery Nipple or Sex on the Beach. ANYTHING!” he laughed.
Thom came from the kitchen. “What’s he yelling about?”
“He wants me to have a slippery nipple or sex on the beach?” I roared with laughter.
“He what?” The look on Thom’s face was priceless.
“Drinks, Thom–liquor,” Danno chuckled.
“Pour, Danno,” Thom said. He set the drink in front of Thom, and we settled in to wait, as Ike, the cook, prepared dinner to take back to Thom’s. “I’m glad you’re here,” he whispered the words in my ear, and kissed my neck.
This was new, we’d only shared long weekends – this was a week. I think we were both anxious.
When we finished our drinks, we headed to Thom’s house. I walked in, and turned quickly, mocking shock.
“What is it?” he asked.
“No tree? No decorations?” I asked.
“Not really my thing,” he replied.
“It will be now! How can you celebrate without some Christmas spirit?”
“I have eggnog and Southern Comfort; isn’t that enough?” He smiled, and caressed my cheek, before leaning to kiss me.
“I can have Christmas without a lot of things, but not a tree or the Christmas cake.
“We can get a tree. We’ll go out tomorrow and get whatever you want to decorate it. I don’t know what a Christmas cake is, so you’ll have to guide me on that one.”
I smiled because he was willing to do these things for me.
“Would you like another glass of wine? I’ll light the fire on the porch and we can sit out there while you tell me about this cake,” he proposed, looking at me, with the biggest smile.
“What?” I asked.
“Just you, Lulu. You’re adorable. I’m so glad you’re part of my life.” He held his arms for me to step into. “I love you.”
His arms were heaven to me. He kissed the top of my head before he released me. We took our drinks to the porch, and I snuggled close to him on the sofa.
“Now, tell me about your cake.”
“It’s a Christmas tradition that I love.” I closed my eyes, remembering my mom. Thom noticed and eased me a little closer.
“Dad started it as a distraction, but I love it so much. I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. I’ll probably still be making that cake when I’m an old lady.” Thom’s smiled warmed my soul.
“When my mom was sick, his goal was to keep me occupied. It was the Christmas before she died. I think he knew it wouldn’t be much longer, and wanted to make her last Christmas special. I’m not sure he knew the impact of the idea of the cake going forward.”
“He explained that Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I decided if it was his birthday, we needed a cake. It was just something special that stuck with me. Each year the cake kind of evolves. Do you like coconut?” I asked out of the blue. I needed to change my thoughts because I felt so sad.
“I love it.” He looked at me.
The look was so endearing. I felt a lump in my throat. I choked back my tears. It was breezy and a strand of hair blew in my face. Thom tucked it behind my ear, leaned closer, and kissed me. I melted into his arms, and cried.
“I only had seven Christmases with her, and the last two are the only ones I remember, because she was so sick.” He stroked my hair, and drew me nearer.
“Thanks for telling me about the cake. I look forward to sharing your tradition.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me.”
The next morning, we were up and out of the house early. Our excursion took us off island, on a mission to find a Christmas tree and decorations.
“Real?” he asked, as we drove.
“It’s your house.”
“It’s your wish,” he laughed. “If you want a real tree, then real it is.”
We stopped at a tree lot, and looked around. It seemed to take forever, but finally, we found one just the right size. We took the tree back to Thom’s to drop it of, standing it in the garage until we returned with a stand. Inside, we quickly moved things around so we’d be ready to start decorating when we came back with decorations. A corner in the living room was the perfect spot.
“What all do we need?” I asked, when we got to the store.
“A tree stand, but the rest is up to you,” he said. As we wandered the aisles, there was a big smile on his face.
“Why are you smiling like that?” I giggled.
“You make me happy, Lulu. Watching your excitement over this has me caught up in it,” he replied, kissing my forehead.
“What kind of decorations?” I asked.
“Whatever you choose. I’ll help with whatever you need, but this is your special project,” he said with a ‘chk’ and a wink; a quirky habit of his that I loved.
“Hmm…” I thought a moment. “Fun! Our tree will be fun!”
“Our tree. I like it,” he said, emphasizing the word, and grinned.
I grabbed white blinking lights that were replicas of lights used in the 1950s. I put them in the shopping cart. I looked at the ornaments, trying to decide what would work best for a fun tree. Finally, I found balls in all the primary colors, and added them to the cart. We made our way down the aisle, and I turned around to find strings of artificial popcorn. Plastic cranberries found their way into the cart, too. With each item I added, Thom’s smile grew wider.
“This is fun!” I squealed.
“It is,” he laughed.
“Pick something else!” I told him.
He looked around and found garland that looked like peppermint candies. He added them to our stash. Then, with the biggest grin, he added a package of ceramic gingerbread men.
“Lulu, your excitement is contagious. I haven’t put up a tree in the ten years I’ve been in the house, and here you are, and the idea of a fun Christmas tree makes me smile.”
I was looking for one more thing, and turned the corner to look on the next aisle.
“There it is!” I proclaimed. I found a star, made of multicolored beads, and white lights for the top of the tree.
“Perfect!” Thom said, as I placed it in the cart.
We went to pick up groceries, and what we needed for the cake, and something for diner tomorrow. We were going to the resort for Christmas dinner.
We stopped by the pub to pick up something to eat that evening. Thom went to the kitchen, and Danno set a glass of wine down in front of me.
“Was he humming Christmas tunes?” he asked, leaning on the bar to talk to me.
“Why yes, I believe he was!” I laughed.
“Really?” he shook his head. “Lulu, I’ve been working here for eight and a half years, and I’ve never heard him humming Christmas tunes.”
“That’s good, right? I mean that he’s humming them now?” I asked, with a grin.
“It’s just an amazing thing,” he said, as Thom returned.
Danno poured him a glass of bourbon, and Thom sat beside me. “What’s amazing?” he asked.
“You,” I replied.
Thom put up the tree, while I sorted the decorations, organizing them in the order they’d go on the tree. Once the tree was in place, he went to the garage for the ladder. He placed the star on top of the tree, and began stringing the lights, still humming. My heart swelled.
As the afternoon came on, the temperature dropped considerably. Thom lit a fire in the gas fireplace.
He was enjoying this as much as I was. He’d look over his shoulder at me, and his grin would break into a smile. He had his camera, pausing often to take pictures.
“So I’ll always remember our first Christmas.”
I fixed eggnog with Southern Comfort, and we began adding the ornaments.
Finally, we finished. I thought I was looking at a masterpiece! I knew Thom did, too. He couldn’t stop grinning. While we ate sandwiches from the pub, we admired our work.
“Wow, you too,” I laughed.
“It’s the fun that you wanted, but it’s really beautiful, too.”
He rose and turned off the other lights so that he only light came from the tree, and the fireplace. He went to the entertainment center, and I saw him digging in the cabinet. Finally, it appeared he’d found what he was looking for. He fiddled with something, and music began- Christmas music. No words–just music. He turned the volume so that it was loud enough to hear, but we could still talk.
“Nice,” I said, as he returned to the sofa.
He put his arm around me, and eased me closer. “Thank you for suggesting the tree. I haven’t shared this with anyone in a long time. It’s nice. I’m glad you shared it with me.”
I turned into him, to kiss him.
“I love you, Lulu.”
On Christmas Eve, I made breakfast, and we talked about the day, as we ate.
“We can make cookies, so you’ll have them after I leave…”
“Shh…” He scooted closer, pressing his lips to mine to stop me. “Don’t talk about that.”
I smiled, and rephrased. “I’ll make some cookies for Santa.”
I whipped up chocolate chip cookie dough. Thom rolled it into balls, and I noticed for each one he popped in his mouth, only one ended up on the pan.
“There’ll be no cookies to bake,” I laughed.
“It’s good,” he smiled. “But more importantly, it’s us making memories, Lulu.”
Thom manned the cookie-baking project, while I began the cake preparation. This was no cake made from a mix; it was homemade from scratch. Thom was right there beside me helping, measuring, and dumping, while I mixed it together. When the cookies were finished, the cake was ready to go in the oven.
“I love this time with you, Lulu. I didn’t know what was missing in my life until you came along.”
“I feel the same way.”
After I slipped the cake in the oven, he pulled me into a hug. “I need to run to the pub and pick up last night’s receipts. Want me to wait for you?”
“No, go ahead.”
“Want me to grab something for lunch while I’m there?”
I nodded. “You know what I like.” I turned to find him looking at me with a sexy grin, and a raised eyebrow. “Go!”
An hour later, he walked in the kitchen through the garage door. I’d just taken the cake from the oven. He set his things down, and inhaled deeply. “Damn it smells good in here! The tree. The cake. You.” He came up behind me and put his arms around me, teasingly nibbling on my neck.
When I’d finished making the frosting, he frosted the cake. He scraped the last bit of frosting from the bowl and licked the spoon.
I added coconut to the cake, while he helped clean up from the frosting. “Done!” I said, finally.
“Now we can relax, right?” He eased the cork out of a bottle of wine, as he asked.
“Now we can relax,” I agreed.
It was after five. He went to the porch to light the fire, so we could sit out there. It was cool, so I grabbed a blanket, to wrap around us.
“I love this. I’m going to hate when you leave.”
“We still have four more days,” I reminded him.
“When do we eat cake?” he asked.
“Really?” Surprised, he turned to look at me.
“Really,” I laughed. “It’s not Jesus’ Birthday until the 25th.”
We settled in to watch the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie.
Finally, it was time. Thom was like a kid, excited for the cake. I put twenty-four candles on it, and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. When we cut the cake, Thom proclaimed it the ‘the best cake ever.’
“Lulu, that was special. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“Thank you for letting me. I know it’s a silly thing, really, but it really tells the meaning of Christmas.”
“A great tradition that I hope I can share with you for many years.”
I loved the Christmas cake tradition. There have been many over the years. The tradition came to mean something to other special people in my life. These two memories are among my favorites.
I'm Barbara, I read. I write. I come from the northeast, born in Havre de Grace, MD, and grew up in Pennsylvania. In my teens we moved to the Space Coast area of Florida. Now I live in Middleburg, Florida (Jacksonville area) with my husband, Gene.
I've worked in the electronics industry, and most recently in healthcare. I give back by volunteering whenever I can, and in 2009, I received The American Cancer Society's HOPE Award for volunteerism.
The stories I write come from my heart. I'm never sure where they are going until I get there. Most often, a song begins to paint a picture that becomes a love story. Sprinkled through my stories are humor and sadness based on real life experiences shared with family and friends. I write with emotion, pulling from memories and events that made me who I am. My readers tell me they feel like they know the characters I share with them. I like to call my writing 'the sound-track of my life.'
A reviewer on Amazon recently said, "This isn't a romance, it's a love story." (readingmaven)
As a writer, I hope you continue this journey, travel with me, see what song inspires me next, and I hope that you see more growth with each page you turn.
I love to read; it's a gift that was shared with me by my mom - Alis. She introduced me to her favorites like Little Women, Christy, and the Nancy Drew books. Books are an escape, a journey into new and different places and I've been many places I never dreamed of. My favorite genre is romance. I to explore and support other authors who paint a picture through words that allow me to feel the story. Some of my favorites are Adriana Trigiani, Maggi Myers, and Nora Roberts.
Visit Barbara S. Stewart's Website: http://barbarastewartwrites.com/
Rock and Roll Never Forgets (The Rock and Roll Trilogy #1): http://amzn.to/1MWe5Ve
When I Look To The Sky (The Rock and Roll Trilogy #2): http://amzn.to/1jpdyCs
Feel Like Makin' Love (The Rock and Roll Trilogy #3): http://amzn.to/1jpdFy0
Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under: http://amzn.to/1MWeeI6
Read GPI's Review of TATE
Sweet Surrender: http://amzn.to/1MWeirs
Lulu's Loves: http://amzn.to/1MWegjo
1. If money was no object what would take out the number one spot on your Christmas list?
2. What was the first book you read that made you think “wow this is what I want to do, I want to be an author”?
The first book that made me think I could do this was written by a friend - Stranger Than Fiction. It made my creative juices start! I've always been a story teller, but it was kind of that thing where I thought, "If she can, I can give it a try." After a few rounds of rejection, it took me over twenty years to believe in myself enough to hit SUBMIT on my very first book - Sweet Surrender.
3. What does Christmas mean for you?
Christmas has so many meanings to me, of course the birth of Jesus, but most importantly to me is that it was the day of the birth of my mother - Alis. Each year I would try to make sure her special day so didn't get lost because of the hub-bub surrounding the holiday. I lost her in 2006 and each year I'm trying to add a butterfly to my tree in her honor. I miss her. Christmas is about family.
4. What’s your guilty pleasure, the one thing you hate admitting out loud?
Guilty pleasure that I won't admit out loud... I had to think hard on that one. I'm not much of a "closet anything", but I guess my rock concerts in the car blasting and blaring CLASSIC Journey with Steve Perry is one. I sing like a fool (in every aspect of the idea!). When I put the car in park, I step out like nothing happens! ha!
5. What’s next for you in terms of writing?
I am still a work in process. My ninth book is releasing VERY soon and with each one I publish I receive the best comment - "This is even better than your last one." I am growing - pushing all of my boundaries. Lulu's Loves is my first step into a sexier story. To this point they have been sweet and suggestive. I took a leap of faith on this one in the content as well as "kicking it up a notch." I have another on in the completion stages of the story and will be getting it cleaned up after the holidays - tentative title is Just a Tad.