Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cake and Comics

The end of winter melting into the beginning of spring was always a time of anticipation in Linda’s family. Tim’s and Dad Ted’s birthdays were still officially in winter, occurring before the spring equinox, March 21, and Linda’s and Gus’ birthdays followed near the start of April. Mom Nancy was born at an altogether different time of year, in the fall, and her temperament reflected the difference of her birth month from that of the rest of her family.

As special as receiving birthday presents was, nothing compared to the birthday cakes with sliced almonds on the sides and soft pink and yellow buttercream flowers winding around the cake tops on green frosting vines. The cake was always a yellow cake, and it came from the Galaxy bakery chain where Mom occasionally bought an almond coffee ring with caramel streusel. The ladies who worked at the bakery wore lacy hair nets that smashed their permed hair close to their heads, making them all look like their hair had been styled by the same hairdresser from the same salon.

Linda had a sweet tooth and craved chocolate from an early age. By the time Linda and her brothers had reached double digits, they had at least as many cavities in their mouths as they had years in their ages. A favorite snack after school was a 16-ounce bottle of cola and frosted chocolate cupcakes with a sweet white cream filling that surely contributed to the gang of three’s metal-filled smiles. One school year it seemed to Linda that she spent every Saturday in the dentist’s chair. How she hated the sound of the drill and the smell of tooth enamel being ground away.

On Sundays after church, Nancy and the three children would take two different buses to the West side where Dad was working as a restaurant cook to pick up the family car for their regular summer outing to Ford Island to meet Mom's ethnic lady friends and their children. The Ford Island picnics were the only opportunity for the women and children to gather to catch up on gossip and games, because everyone lived in different parts of the city, on the East side and the West side, on the South side and the North side. Mom often made fried chicken for their picnic basket, and the boys would bring their baseball bats and mitts to play with the other boys. The girls sometimes brought their dolls, but more often just brought themselves and their ability to make up and tell stories to one another. The mothers played Mahjong on card tables brought from home.

At the downtown block where they transferred buses after church, Linda, Gus and Tim were each allowed to spend one dime on comic books at the corner newsstand. The boys invariably chose superhero comics, while Linda’s choices reflected no single interest, although Wonder Woman comics were definitely a favorite, followed by comic books about Katy Keene, a triple threat model, actress and singer billed as "America's Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions" by Archie comics. The occasional odd choice for Linda would be the comic books that contained two or three horror stories in one issue, and she would remain scared from those stories for months after reading them.

Linda liked to dream about how an ordinary career woman like Army Lieutenant, Diana Prince, hid a secret identity as princess of the Amazons and Wonder Woman. As a superhero, Wonder Woman belonged to the Justice League of America, fighting in the company of Superman, Batman, Aquaman and the Green Lantern, to name just a few. The comic book covers described Wonder Woman as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules,” which whetted Linda’s appetite for stories about the Greek gods and goddesses. Linda’s new favorite book would soon become Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.

Nancy and the children always stopped at a nearby donut shop to have a snack after they got off the second bus, near the restaurant where her husband, Ted, worked. Those were the days when donut shops and bakeries typically had lunch counters that served great American sandwiches such as egg salad, ham and cheese, and hot turkey and hot roast beef sandwiches for not much money, and lunch counter waitresses wore white uniforms and hair nets topped with white half caps. For the children, eating such American food represented a treat and a departure from their usual fare of ethnic food prepared by their mom at home.

The glass case at the donut shop held the specialty donuts, the ones covered with chocolate, white and pink frosting and different colors of sprinkles and shreds of white sugared coconut. Mom always chose a French crueller donut with its eggy taste and holey insides like a cream puff pastry. Gus and Tim favored the no-hole donuts filled with cream and covered with frosting and rainbow sprinkles, because you got more donut than the ones with holes. Linda’s choice was chocolate through and through with chocolate filling and chocolate frosting. The family would sit at the lunch counter to eat their donuts and drink hot chocolate for the children and coffee with cream and sugar for Nancy. Most Sundays were spent this way.

There are more stories about Linda’s family’s sugar-filled appetites, which we’ll have to save to sweeten another night of storytelling.

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