Layer cakes are joyful, towering celebrations. Even in these super busy times, it’s nice to dust off the cake pans and bake a layer cake at Christmas. I like Red Velvet and Coconut Cake, but I have to say my favorite just might be Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake. It was my grandfather’s favorite holiday treat, too. The Southern sweet tooth reigns in supreme glory during the holidays. Divinity, fudge, mints, melt-aways, cookies, and pies all had their place, but he loved Caramel Cake the most.
You might think baking a cake during the Holiday Rush as absolute sheer madness and decide you’d rather pick one up at a bakery. I can understand; there’s no doubt the holidays can be hard. I admit to a bit of holiday melancholy. It might be triggered by a song, a little taste of something, or even an aroma wafting through the air. Sometimes it’s the glimmer and twinkle of a sparkling ornament in the tree. I feel my throat tighten so much it hurts and find my eyes full, holding back a tear or two. Generally, I am a very happy person, but I think that during the holidays I just miss the folks I’ve lost a little bit more. Undoubtedly, both of my grandparents are at the top of that heavy-hearted list.
My grandfather, whom I called Dede, was a mountain of a man, nearly 6-feet tall with sculpted, strong arms and massive, thick hands. Rumor has it he was only in one fight in his adult life. His appearance was foreboding, but the truth of it is that he was a gentle giant. He’d cry at the sound of a church organ playing his favorite hymn and tended his flowers just as well as he did the vegetables that helped to feed his family. He was a hard-working man and had grown up in the country, fishing and farming his entire life. Dede only attended school until 8th grade; he had to go to work and help support his family, but he was an avid reader. When I was a child, he would tap my young head and say, “Get it up here, they can’t ever take that away from you.”
My grandmother was from a more privileged family and had attended college. They fell in love at a fish fry on the Savannah River and eloped. (I still can’t believe it! Can you imagine how scandalous that was?! And, to defend my grandmother’s honor, their eldest child was not born shortly thereafter.) My grandfather was a Greyhound bus driver and made a solid middle class living; Mama says they never went without. He amassed a good deal of land and he also put his three of his daughters through college, a nod at the education he hadn’t been able to achieve.
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