Saturday, February 20, 2010


“I’ve found a picture of a wedding cake made from rice Krispies squares,” says Ruth.
Huddled round a tiny table in the window of the Italian bakery, we are drinking cappuccino and evaluating the relative merits of available wedding reception facilities. The street is bathed in the slanting shadows of the late afternoon sun. There we sit, future newly-weds, parents of the future bride, asking the questions that millions, maybe billions have asked before us. How many guests should there be? How much money is it reasonable to spend? In the final analysis, what is it that matters the most?
The questions might be easy, but the answers are conflicted. “I’d marry you in a ditch,” says the groom, meaning, “I just want to marry you. It doesn’t matter where.” And yet, when we compare ditches, community halls and golf clubs with fabulous patios, he definitely prefers the golf club with the fabulous patio and back-up room in case of rain. She, surprisingly, is leaning toward the community hall. “It’s a lot cheaper,” she says.
Here we are at a decision point. Having fleshed out the issue without reaching a conclusion, we change the subject.
“Really,” she says, “I can show you a cake picture on the Internet. It’s made completely of Rice Krispies Squares.” I am paying close attention, looking for subtle cues that will tell me how serious she might be. All four of us like Rice Krispies Squares. The guys like them even better than us girls. But the guys don’t seem to be thinking she’s serious. Maybe she doesn’t know if she’s serious.
I decide to take a position. “I don’t see why we couldn’t have Rice Krispies Squares,” I say. And then, compelled by a force I am powerless to stop I add, “I can hear your grandma rumbling though.”
I say it because I can actually hear it, though even before the words are out I wish I hadn’t. It’s a conversation stopper. Why do I say such things? Will I never grow up?
It stops the conversation because Ruth can hear Grandma rumbling too. The thought of it brings her near to tears, brings us back to the hours we spent cleaning out Grandma’s house, a fridge filled with tiny pots of coloured icing, the corners of cupboard stuffed with hundreds of flowers in multiple hues, leftovers from so many wedding cakes. . To Derek we offer an explanation for the sudden chill at the table. Grandma was a wedding cake artist, we tell him. He nods a sympathetic understanding. But he probably doesn’t really get it. To understand the passion of a wedding cake artist like Grandma, You kind of had to be there.
It’s a turbulent phase, this time of wedding planning. I remember it well from the long-ago days of our wedding, the negotiation, the fatigue, the balancing of perspective, the commitment to flexibility, the show-stopping incidents when we failed to notice that one of us was headed for emotional meltdown.
In the years following the marriages of her daughters, the years when the empty nest was made to seem emptier by the filling of new nests, my mother did something totally out of character. In the middle of summer, with the farming in full swing and the garden brimming, She took a week off farm wife duties to attend a women’s program at Olds agricultural college. She returned home rested and excited. She mentioned that she might see if she could decorate a wedding cake.
It turned out that she could decorate a wedding cake, first one, and then another, and another, and another, until the time came when she turned down more offers than she accepted, so great was the demand for her creative eye and her steady hand. Brides, mothers of the bride, whole families of the bride would sit in her kitchen leafing through picture books. Would they have two tiers, three tiers, four tiers. If they hated fruitcake, could she do cherry swirl chocolate, or maybe lemon spice? Did she really need more than an hour in the reception hall in order to assemble the cake on site?
We’d go to her house for the weekend. “Excuse the mess,” she‘d say. “We’ll just clear this away a bit to make room for supper. Careful, careful. Don’t touch the side of that layer. It’s not dry yet!”
After supper she’d linger over tea. We’d start the dishes. “You don’t have to do the dishes,” she’d say. Then, if we persisted, “Well, okay. You do the dishes and I’ll just get started at this again.”
The TV would be on in the kitchen. We’d visit while she made flowers. The clock would show 10:30 and we would head for bed. Midnight would find her making flowers. 2:00 and she might be there still.
“I used to look through Grandma’s wedding cake books for hours,” says Ruth. “I used to think about which cake she’d make for my wedding.”
We miss Grandma at this moment. Shew always had an opinion on most aspects of a wedding. She would have been a bit shocked by this current cake idea, but probably not daunted. If we’d chosen Rice Krispies Squares you can be certain they’d have been decorated to the pinnacle of perfect magnificence. But Grandma is gone and so is the afternoon.
The shadows on the street lengthen. Pushing back our chairs we four compliment one another on a good afternoon’s work. Reflecting on it a day later, I don’t think we made a decision about the cake. I don’t think we made a decision about the place for the reception either. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. It’s an emotional phase, this time of wedding planning.

No comments: