I stepped out of the cool, so quiet it felt monastic, drug store, into the smothering Louisiana summer afternoon heat, orange push-up in hand, which, despite my best effort to inhale it as quickly as possible, slowly melted down my pudgy thumb.  Even as my favorite afternoon treat became a small orange river running down my arm, I stopped to pick one of the large purple flowers that grew in the unkept beds on the “down the bayou” side of Chouest Drug Store.  I called them buttercups, and I loved the way they smelled.  I remember walking into the house, my grandfather Freddie, who we called “Poppie,” laughing at my sticky fingers and yellow pollen-stained nose.

I marvel at how I have entire chunks of my childhood of which I have little to no recollection, but I remember many random, ordinary days in such detail, with such fondness, that I wish I could return. 

One such memory centers around the quickly approaching end of summer, my last few days at my grandparents’ house in Golden Meadow before I returned to Houma to prepare for the beginning of a new school year.   Their house was pure magic, and staying with them meant hours looking through the “spare” room, an attic-esque room which held all the memories of my mother and her six siblings’ youths.  

My mother’s Carnival Ball costume, pale green with hand sewn sequins and full tulle skirt, matching cone-shaped hat with swathes of tulle flowing from its peak.  Boxes of black and white photos, some people I recognize, most I do not, taken by Poppie, the only professional photographer for miles.  The Army uniforms Uncle Larry wore while serving in Korea.  The dresses Aunt Celena sewed, with off the shoulder ruffles and full skirts, that she wore when she entered disco competitions on the weekends.  Memories atop memories, stacked high.

I must have been five years old, and I remember asking Mommie, my grandmother, for a dollar so I could walk to Chouest Drug Store, just a few feet away from my grandparents’ home, for a snack.  She obliged, as she always did.  Walking into the store, I smelled a combination of doctor’s office and soda fountain, like sterilization and Coca-Cola.  I heard the tapping of my own footsteps on the terrazzo floor, and I remember the store as always so much darker than it should be.  I walked over to a small ice cream freezer, slid open the top, and grabbed my favorite treat:  an orange cream push-up.  A few days later, I stepped into my kindergarten classroom, wide-eyed and ready.  When we returned to visit my grandparents a few months later, Chouest Drug Store had shut its doors for good.  

This cake, with its alternating layers of Mandarin Curd and Orange Blossom Swiss Meringue Buttercream, as orangey and creamy as I remember that push-up, is my farewell to Summer 2020.  I choose to send her off with the recollection of one of my best days because Summer 2020 has given me some difficult ones. 

But I know that I am better because of it.  My family is stronger. My vision is clearer.   My hope is that when we look back on Summer 2020, the whole world will be better for having lived it.

And that is why I baked a cake….

Cake details, including piping techniques and recipes, are coming soon. Have a wonderful Labor Day!

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