The date that our relationship began is unknown. But [embarrassing] pictorial evidence suggests it was circa 1988, around my first birthday. I was the dominant one from the beginning.
I’m of course talking about chocolate. Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Extra chocolate icing. And it’s Chocolate Week on the Cooking Channel this week. So this is my contribution.
For most of my life, I’ve associated the comforting smell of a baking chocolate cake with time at grandma’s house. She always did it right. After the long drive to Milwaukee a few times a year, it didn’t matter what awful time we dragged our luggage into the house — through piles of snow or the humidity of summer, the kitchen was always warm, the lights always on, and the lingering smell of the double-layer chocolate cake that had just finished baking filled the entire house. If you were smart, you didn’t ask if you could help frost it. Because no one frosted a cake like Grandma.
Thus, these were not normal chocolate cakes. Typically, three wooden skewers made an appearance — for the sole purpose of keeping the top layer from sliding over the extra frosting. And from that first one she made me in 1988 to the most recent one we devoured over this last Christmas, they serve as the backdrop to a lot of “growing up” moments and my special relationship with my grandmother [the one who looks like Betty White].
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would spill the beans on her unspoken house rules. A giant wedge is totally acceptable for breakfast and absolutely expected after dinner.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would break it to Dad that as a kid, I waited until everyone else was asleep so I could tiptoe downstairs to share a second [or sometimes third] piece with my night owl Grandma and laugh at The Golden Girls.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would dish on the first crush stories we swapped when I hit middle school. Hers was in the 1940s. Russ.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would describe all the juicy details of our first kisses and first loves, stories that somehow transcended both generations with a similarity unlike any other.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would reveal its healing superpower for a broken heart. And it would never admit that an extra piece was always in order when Grandma told her broken heart story to comfort me. A few times.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it couldn’t resist repeating the “I think this guy is the one” story. Grandma never minded hearing mine a million times, and as I get ready to marry him this fall, I can hear her own similar story echoing in my memory.
If that chocolate cake could talk, it would congratulate Grandpa for a job well done as the new cake master in the house. Because if that chocolate cake could talk, it would admit that Grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease has been a tough pill to swallow in recent years. Those conversations are fewer and farther between. The memories a bit cloudier.
Now it’s my turn to cut the big piece for Grandma, and an extra piece when Grandpa isn’t looking. Now it’s my turn to tell the stories while she smiles and gives a knowing nod. It’s my turn to clear the table. It’s my turn to laugh at re-runs of The Golden Girls late at night, and it’s my turn to be the last one to turn out the lights. And if that chocolate cake could talk, it would probably think better of it. It has the power to bridge a gap even when there’s just not much to be said.
But boy if that chocolate cake could talk.