By Leslie F. Miller
1. Peepop's Bite
In the space between his dwindling mind and his lost body, my Peepop Marcus nurtured one of the few remaining original items in his mouth: his sweet tooth. He had a gentle way of eating—like a well-mannered aristocrat—which belied the ferocity with which he loved cake. He had an endless fix, too, with my Grammy Ruth's sour cream, sponge, chocolate, and apple cakes always in wait under a dented aluminum cake cover. (We all knew that a perpetual supply of Mandel bread was "hidden" on top of the refrigerator, as well, and that it could be had for a slide of the green vinyl chair.)
Though Peepop was always trim and small, Grammy gave him the look of "put that down!" as he reached for a slice, the look of "how dare you!" as he attempted to take a second. He pushed her cakes on us like they were crack, hooking us not for money but for Grammy's self-esteem. When we thought we'd kicked the junk in favor of smaller jeans, he took offense. Grammy, too, was always torn between the need to have you eat it and the need to click her tongue once you did, the Jewish Grandmother's Dilemma.
At my wedding, Peepop became a little cake depraved, cutting a slice from my husband's and my ceremonial plate with the giant cake knife. He was in a hurry for that first bite, knowing well that Grammy could cut him off at any moment.
2. Serena's Bite
My daughter's love affair with sugar began in the womb. Beginning in my fourth pregnant month, almost every day, I drove myself across town to the Giant, our closest grocery store, where I would buy a single square of white cake with white icing. I'd sift through the plastic boxes, tossing them willy-nilly in my search for the corner slice. If there was none, I'd hold up the other pieces to be sure I had the biggest with the most frosting. I half expected my infant daughter to enter this world covered in buttercream.
At ten, Serena is so addicted to sweets that nearly every meal ends with either dessert or a junkie-style tantrum. Weekend breakfasts must be topped with a cinnamon Bismarck or chocolate donut.
After overnight visits with her grandmother, my daughter and husband share, in secret, aunt Margaret's chocolate cake. They hide the pan of dark, gooey moistness amid camping accessories, old files, and guitar amplifiers in the basement. Every so often, I catch them sharing a slice like a secret, and I must hear it. My daughter, like my husband, offers the last bite. It's delicious logic. Though the last bite is sweeter, its singularity edging out the first bite for Most Precious, to give me a bite in the middle is to sacrifice two. Or three.
3. My Bite
For my addiction to cake, I have blamed my mother, who introduced me to canned frosting by the spoonful. I have blamed the baby in my stomach for her sugary subliminal suggestions. I have blamed my husband, Marty, who brings the stray slice home from his work at a Catholic school, where someone celebrates his or her birth – or half birthday, for those summer babies – nearly every day. He leaves the foil-wrapped wedge seductively posed on top of the bread box so that there's no mistaking its profile. I have blamed his Aunt Margaret, who always knows he is coming and bakes a chocolate sheet cake to send home with him in her nonstick pan, which he can, when he returns, trade for the next cake, as if this were a chocolate relay race she needed his help to win. I have blamed friends for leaving visible, when I visit, the residue of last night's dessert.
But blame for my first, middle, and last bites rests squarely on the shoulders of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, baked and slathered in more butter, sugar, and vanilla. It is the fault of cake itself.
I am cake's bitch.
Leslie F. Miller is a published poet, essayist, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and her first book, Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt, will be published in April 2009 by Simon & Schuster.
photo by Dinty W. Moore