1988: Wads of Dough

“Jenny, you know that money that Daddy’s been having you hide from me since last year?

My eyes grow wide. “Well I need it now. You must have a couple hundred saved up!”

Excited, I reply “Yes Daddy! It’s all in my closet on the shelf.”

Impatiently, I wait for Dad to retrieve the money but he returns empty handed.

“Jenny, I thought you said you hid the money on your top shelf.”

“I did, Daddy. I put it all in tissues.” Dad looks bewildered.

“I wrapped the money in tiny tissue envelopes so you wouldn’t find it. Just like you wanted me to.”

“Wait a minute! Jenny, you put the money in tissues? How? You’re scaring Poppa.”

“Well each time you gave me five or ten dollars I wrapped each one in a tissue.”

Dad puts his hands up to his face and shakes his head. “Motherfucker!”

Why is Daddy mad? Is he mad at me?

 Shaking his head in disgust, Dad boils over, “Jenny, I threw the fucking money in the garbage! All of it! Why the fuck would you put real money in tissues? You know Daddy doesn’t trust the goddamn banks. That’s why I gave it to you.”

I gaze down, blankly. Why did he throw the money away? Isn’t this what I was supposed to do? Wasn’t he saving it?

 Blaring, he explains, “Jesus Christ! I was cleaning last month and I found all those tissues in your closet. I thought you were nuts saving used tissues. So I threw them all in the trash. My fucking luck!”

My heart sinks. Oh no!

 I run to the closet. Way in the back, I find two tissues that Dad has overlooked.

“See Dad, just like this.” I unwrap two five-dollar bills, and hand them to him.

“Yes those were it! Fucking shit. Not even enough to bet the late double. But what can Daddy do except laugh, right? I guess we’re going to starve again this month, baby girl.”


1988: Chocolate Cake, Please?

Today is my 7th Birthday. Dad is still head chef at Camp Chingachgook until the end of the summer. He stayed up late last night to prepare a special cake for me. My first birthday cake.

He doesn’t cook his cake like other bakers. They use a cake pan. But Dad fills a deep aluminum soup pot two-thirds filled with batter. The cake cooks for two whole hours. When it comes out of the oven, Dad dumps the pot upside down with his right hand and catches the cake in the left crook of his arm. Last year he missed, and the cake went on the floor. Motherfucking cock sucking son-of-a-bitch, Jenny. Your Father’s beautiful cake is ruined and it’s all my own fault!

Last week, Dad asked me, “Jenny what kind of cake do you want your Father to make for your birthday? My famous dark chocolate with mocha frosting, right? That’s Daddy’s best!”

I ponder Dad’s idea. He’s right. You do love chocolate cake the most. Truth be told, I’d rather eat the densely moist chocolate perfection all by itself, minus the frosting. But I know that other people like frosting so I nod, “ok.”

“What do you want Daddy to put on the top of your cake?”

This is the most important question anyone has asked me in a long time. Maybe ever.

Your favorite shapes…heart, star, and ?

 I animatedly tell him that I want three shapes on the top. “A heart, a star, and a—square!”

Dad looks puzzled, but intrigued. “You want those three shapes only on the top of your cake?! You don’t want it to say ‘Happy Birthday’ on there?”

I nod “yes,” and then “no.”

“Okay, Jenny. You’re a very strange child. You know that, right? But Daddy will do as you wish.”

I hear him mutter incredulously under his breath, “a heart, a star, and a square.”

Yes, exactly. And I’m not strange. This cake is going to be so great. No one has ever seen one like it.

 Proudly, I keep imagining the finished result.

When I wake up Dad informs me that my Godmother, Madeline, and Godfather, Neil, are both coming to take me to the Sagamore for my birthday.

Yipee!! I can’t help but grin at the thought of spending the day with Madeline and Neil. They are the grandparents that I never had.

 But Dad is less enthused. “They better have you back on time for your cake. I don’t know what I’m going to do if they are late. The camp kids will go nuts and devour your cake, and I won’t be able to stop them.”

I lower my head in despair. Of course you can stop them. Just don’t put it out. We won’t be late!

We have a perfect day at the resort. Except when I become anxious about returning to camp and quickly run down a long hill towards the car. Somehow I stumble. Bam!! Both knees skinned. I’m so stunned that I don’t cry. My knees burn. I wonder if they will ever grow back.

By the time we return, Dad shoots me a disappointed look as he glances at my bloody injury.

Sorry. I tried to hurry back.

 After Madeline and Neil tell Dad about my brutal injury, he informs us of the bad news, “Well, that’s too bad that you were late. I told Jenny not to be late. Well I was right. The cake is all gone but two slices, and those are for you and Neil.”

They try to urge with him that I should have a piece instead, but he insists that I’m being punished for not listening.

Dad brings the last two pieces out on a paper plates. I can see one pointed edge of the star, and one corner of the square.”

I hold back my tears by digging my nails into my thighs. Water fills my eyes in such a way that if I were to blink or glance down, it would all run out. Then he would kill you for sure. So I dig my nails a little deeper into my flesh. Happy Birthday to me.