12: The Cake Lady

12: The Cake Lady

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The Cake Lady

Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories.

~Buddy Valastro

Long before the popular television show Cake Boss made decorating cakes a fascinating hobby to watch, my mom was whipping up her own creations in the privacy of her own kitchen. She is known around our town as The Cake Lady—Donna McCoy, the “Real McCoy” of baking.

When I was nine I helped her cater a wedding. I was so excited to finally be able to attend one of the magical ceremonies, seeing the fragrant flowers, flickering candles, beautiful dresses, and of course the centerpiece, my mom’s towering creation. I was only allowed to carry a few dishes and the napkins to the table to restock. I watched my mom carefully slice into the grand cake, cautious not to tip it over. She proudly served the delicious slices to eager guests. They congratulated her on how scrumptious it tasted. She smiled and graciously thanked them.

Those hours spent at the wedding were unforgettable, but I also remember the mess we faced when we got home. Piles of dirty dishes, bowls full of icing, catering supplies stacked and ready to be washed. My older sister and I pitched in and helped my mom with the less than glamorous side of her catering business. I say “business” lightly. She rarely made a profit because she didn’t charge enough. Baking was more of her hobby.

My sister Mellanie and I always had the most amazing birthday cakes. From castles to creatures to fabulous fairies… my mom could bake and create whatever we asked. Mom would come home from working all day, throw a cake in the oven and sit up most of the night decorating it. One year, she was asked to do a Wonder Woman cake for a lady down the street. She bought the pan and painstakingly squeezed the icing tube forming each and every detail of the cake. She carefully placed the cake in a box and carried it to her car. She came back in to get more supplies. When she returned, she discovered our Boxer/Bulldog, Ginger, standing in the back seat of the car devouring the cake; she had forgotten to shut the car door! My mom screamed at the dog and I am certain shed a tear or two before she came back in and started all over.

We were proud to be known as “The Cake Lady’s kids.” We just weren’t thrilled with the mess the cakes left behind. As teenagers, we were required to clean the kitchen before we were allowed to go out on a date. We fussed and fussed as we dumped icing in the trash, slammed pans in the dishwasher, or hand scrubbed and sanitized Mom’s icing bags.

“I am sick of cleaning this mess!” I yelled at my sister.

“Agreed,” she replied.

Mom would quickly remind us we were a team and she needed our help. The little money she made from cakes helped pay for my cheerleading uniform and helped my sister with college expenses, so we stopped complaining… briefly… until the next time cleanup duty rolled around.

As the years flew by, Mom still baked and decorated cakes. I had one of the most beautiful wedding cakes in the state of Georgia. It was five stories tall, sitting on top of a fountain with staircases connecting to smaller satellite cakes. Ribbons, roses, and tiny sparkles gleamed all over it. It was spectacular. My husband, a Georgia Tech graduate, had a customized cheesecake for his groom’s cake and a traditional, chocolate cake with Buzz the mascot sitting on top. They were mouth-watering as well as stunning.

Our first daughter, Alison, arrived and “Grammy” made her a special first birthday cake. It was a tradition in our family: a stand up teddy bear. She stood the solid cake bear on top of a large sheet cake alongside a ball made out of cake. Alison’s cake was a huge, edible toy box. She squealed with delight.

As our other four children and my sister’s three children arrived, each was ushered in with a one-of-a-kind baby shower cake followed by a special Grammy-designed birthday cake every year. The kids got whatever they asked for. She still baked cakes for others, but the cakes for her own family were amazing. She always swore she would never do another one like it, then someone would order it and she could never tell anyone no.

My mom has been decorating cakes now for over forty years. Her reputation as “The Cake Lady” is cemented in our rural Georgia town. She has baked those memorable first birthday “smash” cakes for clients and later been asked to do that same child’s wedding cake. Now, she is honored to be doing their grandchildren’s birthday cakes.

An artist in her own right; she has never been a wealthy businesswoman, but she never intended to make a profit. She was given a talent to share with others and she does so willingly. My sister and I tell her all the time to charge more money, but she does it for pure pleasure and occasionally will make a dollar or two.

She is slowly passing her legacy on to us, teaching us how to bake and decorate. My own daughters eagerly sit around the kitchen table to watch and learn her trade. We still leave the “heavy, complicated stuff” to her, but my sister has introduced the use of fondant and other modern styles to the “family” business.

I attended a wedding reception recently for some of my mother’s dedicated clients. I am now an elected official in my hometown, but I stood right beside my sister, slicing cake and serving it to the guests. Old habits die hard, but I loved every minute of it.

“Did your mom do the cake?” folks asked.

“Of course,” I proudly replied.

“I no longer have to clean up the mess. I get to do the fun stuff!” I whispered to my sister.

Mom taught my sister and me about life through her years of cake baking. We learned to clean up our own messes. And Mom showed us about loyalty through the way she treated her customers who supported her. Baking taught us responsibility, showed us the joy of working together, and brought our extended family together for many sweet events and milestones.

~Amy McCoy Dees

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