Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Granny Spring and Lamb Cakes

Granny Spring and Lamb Cakes
© by Liz Hoyt Eberle

I wrote this original fiction in 2005 and it was published on page two of the Faithwriters on-line magazine that spring. I've recently edited the story, given it a new ending, and now share it here with my love. I appreciate your time to read it. May you find a blessing in the story.

There were times I wished my parents had named me Vernal-Equinox. The name “Spring” carried too many demands. Truth be told, Mama and Daddy probably were not trying to be “cute,” but I had the misfortune to make my appearance into the world on the first day of spring and on my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Back in those almost-war years, Texas families had little time for imagination so names were passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter just like clothes were passed down to younger siblings and I was stuck with the name Spring.
During my first five years, my life was enchanted complete with an adoring audience at my feet. I was my daddy’s shadow and my grandmother’s pride and joy. Sharing names was only part of her delight in me. The name Spring fit Granny well and she lived up to it with ease and wit. She loved sunrises and new days and she could celebrate at the drop of a hat or create a feast from a few potatoes from the cellar. She never saw the bad in anything and her life radiated joy. She especially loved springtime, so by the middle of February, look out! Her favorite thing in the world—besides me—was to dig in the dirt. She planted zinnias and geraniums and petunias while keeping her vegetable garden thriving. She and Granddad had as much fun getting the garden ready as two little kids in a candy store.
Granny Spring thought that with another “Spring” in the family, she could have springtime all year round. And on our birthdays, she pulled out all the stops. She made matching dresses for us and two birthday cakes in the shape of lambs. It seemed to me that she lifted that heavy, iron lamb mold out of her oven as if it were a feather. Then she heaped huge globs of white, fluffy icing on the lambs and covered them with a thick layer of white coconut. For the final touch, she set the lambs on a bed of green coconut and the festivities began. Our birthdays usually lasted a whole week.
My life was about as perfect as it could be. Granny Spring would stand on her head if I asked her to and at home, Daddy was my life. I rode on the tractor with him and we milked the cow together. He showed me how to bait a hook and when I caught my first fish, he carried me home on his shoulders and told Mama every detail with laughs and hugs. He taught me to swim in the stock tank almost before I could walk and every year he and I went to the woods over by the west pasture to pick out our special Christmas tree.
I don’t remember much about when my little sister, Susie, was born because life didn’t change.  Not even when she started toddling along after me.
However, I remember far too clearly when the grownups started talking about Pearl Harbor. Something heavy hung in the air and even Granddad forgot to lift me high over his head when I went to visit. Christmas almost didn’t happen.
By Spring, I thought all was better when Granny Spring baked our lamb cakes. But the next day, Mama said that daddy was going to war. Her voice sounded angry when she said, “Charlie, you’re too old; the war is almost over.”
Daddy said, “Being a Marine is the right thing to do, Maggie!”
Mama slammed the back door.
But, for a few days they hugged a lot and even my daddy cried when he put me to bed at night. Then he was gone.
Daddy died somewhere in the Pacific the next year just after my sixth birthday. Mama said, “Charlie always thought he had to do the right thing.” She slammed the door a lot.
I was the big sister and expected to be strong and set an example. Well, I got strong, all right, and in the process, my childhood joy evaporated. Granny Spring’s eternal optimism began to annoy me and seemed phony. I could not understand why Daddy had to die or why Mama nearly killed herself to get a silly college degree. I suppose Granny Spring kept up our birthday tradition, but I don’t remember many celebrations of any kind after daddy died.
Then, when I was eleven, Mama changed our lives again. She got married. I thought Daddy would always be my daddy and I didn’t know how she could marry Paul. She even acted like she loved his boys, Paul Jr. and Michael, as if they belonged to her like Susie and me. My world had turned upside down again and sometimes I thought I would scream from the pain that squeezed my heart. I learned quickly the benefits of smiling on the outside and “acting nice.”
In junior high, I guess I was numb but I did notice when the kids teased me, “Well lookie here; Spring arrived in December this year.” Paul Jr. noticed, too and it made him mad. One time, even though he was a year behind me, he had a fight with a ninth grader for making fun of me. My step-brother was grounded for a week, but the teasing stopped. I sneaked new comic books to him while he was grounded and we talked in whispers for hours at a time.
No matter how sad I acted, Granny made time for me. She let me cry when I needed to and we had lots of special talks. She told me stories about my daddy and mama when they were young and when I was a baby. Those times with her were good… until she got to the Jesus part. I would pat Granny’s arm and say, “Yeah, but Granny, there’s lots of time for that.” Then I would smile, nod and pretend to look at the old Bible she always had by her chair. I would promise to think about it but I never did.
Mama and Paul made me go to church, but I sat in Mrs. Bains’ Sunday School and thought about planting flowers with Granny Spring and nobody knew I wasn’t listening. I wanted nothing to do with the God who killed my daddy so I tuned out all of them, even Granny Spring.
When Paul Jr. and I got our drivers’ licenses, sometimes Mama would let us use the car and take Michael and Susie to town for ice cream. One year, Paul took Mama all the way to Austin for a whole weekend to celebrate her birthday and left Paul Jr. and me in charge. The four of us decided to paint the kitchen for Mama’s birthday present. She cried when we yelled “Surprise.” I don’t remember when we figured out how much she hated yellow.
When I was a junior in high school, Michael was the one who convinced me to go the Spring Formal. He fixed up a date for me with an older guy he knew would treat me nice. I was scared out of my mind when the doorbell rang. Mama and Susie had to make me go down stairs. My escort grinned at my step-dad, Paul. “Spring is early this year!” Everyone had a laugh, even Granny Spring. I decided there would be no more dances. I think Granny approved, what with her being a Baptist and all.
Granny even agreed with Mama and Paul that I should attend the state university. Austin was a long way from home, but it was good to finally get away from all the things that reminded me of my daddy. I tried really hard for a while but I didn’t really like school and was somewhat of a loaner. English was boring and the boys were jerks so when I failed Biology, that was it. I was fed up setting an example and left the university at the end of the fall semester.
I caught a bus to Los Angeles three weeks before Mama knew I had gone. I quickly found a job at a café, got a cheap apartment nearby, and set out to live! My roommate, Mary Bell, seemed okay but she sounded a lot like my granny. Always happy, Mary Bell pointed out positive things in life and read her Bible a lot.
We made good tips, paid our rent, and I created a happy life! I learned to smoke, drink, dance, flirt, and to ignore Mary Bell’s lessons on eternal life just like I ignored Granny Spring’s lectures. I didn’t bother to write home but every year I sent Granny Spring a birthday card. One year I got a birthday card from her. I didn’t know anyone knew where I was.
In April of 1962, the world hit me in the stomach again. A letter came telling me that Paul Jr had been killed in Viet Nam. Paul Jr! Impossible. The funny, intelligent, one. The one who took my side when things went wrong. I loved Paul Jr. but I didn’t go home; not even when Michael came all the way from Texas to get me. Michael, though younger, could usually talk to me when nobody else could. But this time I got mad and told him to leave me alone! Forever! Granny Spring and Mary Bell claimed they had a loving God and their God took my daddy away. Then He took away the brother I had come to love. Their God did nothing while the world and my life fell apart. My sweet little brother—6’4” in bare feet—was gone forever, never to return, never to laugh again, never to pick up our mom and twirl her around the living room making Granny Spring laugh until her gray braids fell to her shoulders. Paul Jr. was dead.  My life was hopeless. I fell into a pit and found alcohol at the bottom.
In January, I lost my job and Mary Bell got married, but I started making good money selling flowers on street corners. Being seven months pregnant, people felt sorry for me and I flaunted it!
Luckily, I found a great corner to sell my flowers. The Salvation Army operated a homeless shelter a few doors from my “corner.” They let me come in to rest and I got a good meal pretty often. Surviving wasn’t easy, but I did it. I didn’t drink or smoke while I was pregnant. That took lots of courage, but the Salvation Army wouldn’t let me sleep inside if I smoked. Besides, I was determined to do what had to be done for the baby I carried.
One of the Army ladies who wore those silly bonnets always looked out for me. One day she said, “Spring, it’s getting close to your time. Do you know who the father of your baby is?”
When I got pregnant, it had been dark in my tunnel of a life, but I knew the father of my child and had absolutely no use for him. I made sure he did not know. I looked at the floor and lied, “No, of course not.”
“Have you decided what you are going to do about your baby.”
I laughed.  “I thought I made a good decision when I didn’t kill it.” The lady in the bonnet didn’t laugh. I looked away and said, “People told me to get rid of it and I had the money then, but, well, I guess something inside just wouldn’t let me. That’s about as far as I’ve thought.” Deep down, I suspected Granny’s prayers had made it from Texas to California and infiltrated my heart.
The bonnet-lady talked to me a long time, sort of like Granny used to. She found a clinic where I could give birth, and helped find a family to adopt my baby.  On the first day of spring, my baby girl was born. I held my daughter a long time that day. I checked her fingers and toes and I tickled her cheek. I whispered to that tiny, new life of mine, “You’ll never know this, but I love you. Honest, I really love you. Your real name is Spring.”
Then a nurse took her. I gave away my child, my baby, my life. My heart screamed in pain. For the first time, I wanted to go home.
My body snapped back pretty quick, I got a job at a nice restaurant, and found a decent apartment where I felt safe. Pretty soon, I finally realized that the hole in my heart would never go away and that giving birth to new life had changed something inside me. That fall, with the last ounce of nerve I had, I packed my few belongings in a battered suitcase, and caught a bus for Texas. There was no fatted calf, no beautiful ring, and no party when I arrived home but Granny cried and hugged me till I couldn’t breathe.
I managed to carve out a pretty good life back in my hometown and of course never told anyone about my own baby, Spring. My little sister, Susie, still lived in town and we learned to talk again. We had some good times together even though she took on the role of “the wise sister,” since she was a mother. Mostly, I listened quietly and nodded.  Her three kids were sweet and I especially loved her youngest. She had named him Paul.
Michael came home from medical school at Christmas and I went to church with all the family. I even listened some. Michael and I had long talks, almost like back in high school days. He seemed to demand less of me than anyone and he looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know if the sadness came from his own loss of Paul Jr. or if he sensed the private pain I carried. Or both.
In March, I helped Granny prepare her own flowerbeds because Granddad had gone to the nursing home while I was away. I helped her with the yard and even enjoyed the old stories she told while we worked.  Her eternal optimism didn’t grind on my nerves, either. I listened when she talked about Jesus and I found myself smiling some of the time.
Sure enough, she pulled out the stops for the first day of spring and our birthdays. Everyone gathered at Granny’s. Mamma and Paul loved having the grandkids around and Michael even brought a girl home. He hadn’t had a serious girl friend before but she fit in pretty well, even though she intended to be a woman doctor.
The day of the party, Little Paul saw me coming up the walk and ran to jump in my arms. I wondered if I would always call him ‘Little Paul.’ He laughed at my tickles as I carried him into the house. When we walked into the dining room, Little Paul had his arms around my neck, whispering tall tales in my ear. Granny Spring flashed me a big smile and asked me to light the birthday candles. I guess if I hadn’t been holding my sister’s baby, I might have fainted. But I just looked at Granny’s sweet face. Mamma came in the room about then and said, “My goodness, Mother, why on earth are there three lamb cakes this year?”
Granny wiped her hands on her apron, leaned over to smell the arrangement of spring flowers Michael brought, and smiled. “Just seems fitting, I guess.”
Granny kept making three lamb cakes every spring until she died five years later. She left the lamb-cake molds to me. She’s been gone twenty years now and while it hurts, I keep up the tradition of making three lamb cakes every spring.
Yesterday, the letter came. It was signed “Amber.”  My husband held me close all night while I cried. She will be thirty-three years old on March 20 and wants to spend her birthday with me. I wonder how she’ll feel about the lamb cakes.