60: Cakewalk

60: Cakewalk

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Cakewalk

Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.

~Vince Lombardi

In sixth grade, when I was a nerdy, gangly, awkward girl who got brutally teased for being weird, I became obsessed with winning something. I entered raffles and drawings, tried to make bets with everyone I knew, and repeatedly called the local radio station in a desperate attempt to be the hundredth caller. I didn’t care what I won; I just wanted to win something so that I could feel like a winner. Unfortunately, I never won anything, so I started to think that winning wasn’t possible for me. I was destined to stay a friendless loser forever.

My dream was to win the middle school spelling bee, and I am still convinced I could have done it, but my chances were ruined by an elderly middle school principal who desperately needed a hearing aid. Tragically, I was disqualified in the first round by the old, deaf man who claimed that I spelled D-R-E-A-M, as B-R-E-A-M. I was furious. I threw a fit on stage and had to be escorted out. Things got ugly. I mean, come on, who would spell Dream with a B? How idiotic can you get? Obviously I knew how to spell dream. That was an easy word!

After this sad and unjust defeat, I officially gave up. I knew it was not my fate to win anything, so I stopped trying. Then my mother took me to the Hospital Fair. Every year in our town, our hospital hosted a festival to raise money for new equipment and supplies. Everyone in town looked forward to it. It wasn’t like a real fair with a midway or rides. Basically, it was a gigantic yard sale, some games put together by local church ladies, bake sales, arts and crafts booths, and stands selling BBQ chicken. I liked the petting zoo best, because I liked to watch the goats pull down people’s pants with their teeth, and I always looked forward to buying a lemon half with a peppermint stick stuck in the center.

The year I was in sixth grade, it poured and some of the activities had to be moved inside the school gymnasium. My mother had been asked to bring a Pistachio Dream Whip cake, which was green and disgusting, to the cakewalk. Since it was raining, she thought I might enjoy watching the indoor event. I am pretty sure that cakewalks no longer exist, so I should explain what one is. Several people bake a variety of cakes and line them up on a table. Each cake is assigned a number. People enter the cakewalk and pay a fee to play. Then they stand up on a stage and walk around in a circle, like fools, while bad music plays. My cakewalk was set to Michael Jackson’s Thriller—the whole album, not just the song. Then, just as in musical chairs, the music stops and the players halt on a square taped to the floor. The church lady in charge of the cakewalk pulls a number from a hat and calls it out. The person standing on the square with that number wins the cake of the corresponding number. When they win their cake they are out of the game and get to go home to joyously eat their cake and the game continues until all the cakes are gone. The thing with the cakewalk is you never know what cake you’re going to get—some cakes are better than others. They’re all donated by local women—some of them are good bakers, and some of them make Pistachio Dream Whip cake.

When we arrived at the cakewalk, my mother dropped her cake off on a table laden with every kind of cake imaginable, most of which were gross confections I would never dream of eating. Except one. There amidst the Bundt cakes and the Red Velvets was the most beautiful sheet cake I had ever seen. It was the cake I imagined every year on my birthday—a smooth, white, rectangular fantasy, covered in pastel colored icing roses with little green sugared leaves. Usually on my birthday I got a lopsided layer cake gooped with canned frosting. Not that I minded, because it’s very nice to have someone bake you any kind of cake, but I secretly longed for the professionally decorated cake that number eighteen surely was.

My Cake of Dreams was made by a lady who had taken a professional cake decorating class and prided herself on making fancier cakes than anyone else’s, so not only was the cake spectacular-looking, it was also homemade—not some cardboard-tasting store cake. Store-bought cakes were not allowed in the cakewalk. Luckily, sixth grade girls were. As soon as I spotted number eighteen I knew I wanted to spend my allowance, a whopping three dollars that I had saved up, on participating in the cakewalk. My mother thought I was crazy, but I was insistent.

“You know, your chances aren’t good. It’s like gambling. You hardly ever win, so just be prepared to be disappointed,” she warned.

I decided to take my chances. As the music started, I concentrated on number eighteen. When I got close to the eighteenth floor square I would slow down. I almost knocked some people out of the way to get to it in time. Each time we stopped and I was on a different number I prayed:

“Please don’t let me get stuck with the German Chocolate, God. I hate German Chocolate, and not the Pistachio Dream Whip either, because I could have just stayed home and had that mess. Please let me get number eighteen.”

Seven cakes were given away and number eighteen remained.

“So this is Thriller....”

I stopped on number eighteen. I prayed harder than I had ever prayed in my life. I started to bargain with God, thinking that he owed me one for the spelling bee incident. The old lady pulled a wad of paper from the hat and it took her what seemed like fifteen minutes to unfold it. Then she had to pull her glasses down. It looked like she couldn’t read the number.

“Please let her say number eighteen! I have to go to the bathroom and I feel like an idiot on this stage and I really want the pretty cake. Please let it be me.”

“NUMBER EIGHTEEN!” said the woman.

I almost had a heart attack. I didn’t move for a few seconds. Did she really say that? Did God actually hear my pleas? YES! I floated, as if in a dream, to take my beautiful, perfect, icing-rosed Cake of Dreams.

I WON THE CAKEWALK!!!

This was easily one of the finest moments of my entire life. We ate the cake for a week and I got all the roses. I couldn’t believe my luck. Sometimes I still can’t, and whenever I get discouraged and think that winning isn’t possible, or that my dreams can’t come true, I remember the cakewalk and know that no matter what, I am a winner.

~Victoria Fedden

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