I wish I could remember why we were all in Dallas. My family likes to celebrate as many holidays together as we can: Thanksgiving, the weekend before Christmas, Texas/Oklahoma football weekend. You know, the usual. I know we were at Edgestone 1, the house Nana and Papa lived in before moving to the single-story house next door.
A group of us sat around the kitchen island. Or on the sofas in the living room. Wait. Maybe we were eating at the dining table. Nana would have been in the kitchen, doing whatever it was she did in there. Usually, she hummed and opened cabinets and moved from one end to the other as though pulled by some invisible force. Then, voila, she’d drift away to reveal a conjured pan of something delicious cooling on the counter.
We must have been eating because my aunt mentioned cake. “My favorite was when Mom made sheet cake. Remember that? You’d know it was cool enough to eat because she’d open that can of frosting, stick a knife in it, and set it on the counter beside the pan.”
My aunts remembered that, but we grandkids didn’t. Someone asked about the cake flavor.
My aunt frowned. “You know, I don’t remember that. Hey, Mom! What was that sheet cake you used to make when we were kids?”
The humming stopped. “Banana.”
“That’s right.” My aunt snapped her fingers. “God that was good.”
The conversation fragmented, as it always did. People got up, drifted away, their places taken by someone else who eased effortlessly into the flow.
Papa wandered by. Stopped and looked at his brood. He ticked off numbers on his fingers. “…Seven, eight, nine. Nine people and you’re all talking at the same time.” The mock disgusted wag of his head accompanied him back to his room. Maybe he didn’t do that then, but it wouldn’t have been unusual.
I don’t remember my aunt leaving the group, but on her return, she held a square of cake in her hand. No plate, just a small piece of cake with a smear of cream cheese icing on top. She popped it into her mouth and said around it, “Nana made cake.”
I can only imagine that we looked like a video of Black Friday shoppers. Elbows flew and we jockeyed for position even before we reached the cake. No one used plates. That was the beauty of the icing can. You cut a small hunk, then shifted over to smear icing on it before giving way for the next in line.
Someone probably said something about loving “Nana’s banana cake”, but with the loud voices crying “don’t eat it all” and “save some for everyone else”, the possessive was drowned out. For the next day or so, anyone who entered the front door was greeted with, “Nana Banana Cake is in the kitchen”.
The weekend ebbed and flowed, as those weekends did. Friends and friends-who-might-as-well-be-family dropped by. Some sport or other played constantly on a television. Far too many people crammed into a small sitting room to drink coffee in the morning. An aunt mentioned, incredulously, that there was still a piece of Nana Banana Cake left after two days.
Late that evening, Papa wandered through the kitchen. He shot a furtive glance over his shoulder but somehow didn’t see us. He hunched over the pan. A knife scraped against plastic. When he walked away, an aunt went to the kitchen to investigate. She held up the pan to show us that Papa had left only a tiny sliver of cake behind.
Laughing, she yelled, “Dad! Why didn’t you just take the whole piece?”
His voice drifted down the hall. “Someone else might have wanted some.”
I don’t remember when that was, but Nana has made her cake many times since then. Or so she says. It may just be that last bit of cake refilling the pan over and over again. No one has ever admitted to eating the last bite.
Michelle Hanley writes about people who do the best they can with what they are given. She finds inspiration from her family, fairy tales, and those odd blurbs on news sites that can't possibly be true stories. When she isn't writing, you can find her on a paddleboard, fly fishing, gardening, or reading. Look for her other work in Dread Naught but Time, MOJO, Gingerbread House (4/30), and Pure in Heart Stories (5/14). Twitter: @mhanley254