(by Laney Rosen)
The sight of little orange squares was so inviting. One would not imagine such a find to be an actual lifesaver. But you never know what you will do (or perhaps how low you will stoop) until that moment arrives. Unfortunately, that moment arrived very early in life for me. I remember those days vividly, hearing the crunch of a plastic wrapper in my five-year-old hands, savoring the taste of the artificial cheese that I found next to a dumpster behind a grocery store. Dumpster finds were the highlight of my small world. Not knowing when or where my next meal would come from, I did not turn up my tiny nose to food from the trash, or anywhere else for that matter. Finding unspoiled food was like Christmas.
My parents met through prison letter writing. My mother started writing to my father when she was in her sophomore year of high school. My father was imprisoned for theft. He stole $35 from a gas station and jacked a car with three friends. He served 25 years, and when he was released, my mother quit school, ran away and married him. I was born seven years later to a couple of modern-day Bonnie and Clyde wannabes who never should have had children.
I have no memories of my father, who died in a car accident, intoxicated, when I was four. The same cannot be said about my mother. She split from my father and never spoke of him, running from state to state for four years, hiding in abandoned houses until a concerned citizen called the authorities. She would leave me alone for days, usually with no food, and I never knew where she was or when she was coming back. I was in one foster home after another, then spent five years in an orphanage before being adopted into a loving family.
My mother died of cervical cancer in her 30s.
I searched for a long time to understand the circumstances that changed my life’s path, only to come up emptyhanded. Eventually, I was able to find peace at the thought that some things are best left alone, although a tiny part of me will always hold out for answers. But having a sordid start in life made me determined to grow up and have a Hallmark family. So, like every good Hallmark movie, I have a couple of dogs, a great husband, and an adorable child who I was blessed to adopt. My daughter CeCe is 12 years old and is not yet much help in the kitchen but enjoys cooking and trying out new recipes. She makes more of a mess than anything. It is always humorous to see what she will come up with and to see what ingredients she will forget. A cake where she added double the amount of oil is quite a unique taste; only a mother can smile gracefully and say, “Yum!”
I enjoy holiday baking the most, and CeCe, wearing her holiday apron, loves to sprinkle the cookies with abandon (be careful not to break a tooth). She wants us to be on one of those TV baking shows like “Nailed It.” She is ever changing what she wants to grow up to be, but recently she told me she wants to be a baker in Paris, and wants me to move there to help her. She also wants to have a science lab above the bakery. Sounds good to my imagination.
Anyone who knows CeCe would describe her as charismatic, but most people don’t see how shy she is, hiding behind Mama’s skirt when she feels nervous or scared. We are very close because of this, but I don’t have a shy bone in my body. We are a loud family, so we crank up the music and dance while we cook, the dogs waiting patiently for scraps to fall, which always happens with CeCe in the kitchen.
Most of us take so much in life for granted. We see a news clipping or a movie about hunger, but if we don’t experience real hardship, we don’t really see the world in real time or real colors. I still cannot pass a dumpster or see wasted food without recalling such times in my childhood. And seeing life this way at such a young age made me start to look for the silver lining in everything, to be a dreamer, to see the good that could be had in the world if only you grab onto it.
And I have.
Laney Rosen is a writer and actor who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She can be found on Backstage.
Ugly Duckling Cake
13 - 15 oz. box yellow cake mix
16 oz. can fruit cocktail with juice
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 c. shredded sweetened coconut
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1/2 c. evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Combine cake mix, fruit cocktail, eggs, 1/2 c. coconut, and vanilla, beating well.
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 in. pan, and sprinkle brown sugar over all.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Combine white sugar, butter or margarine, and evaporated milk in saucepan, and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and punch holes in cake with a straw.
Poor sugar mixture over cake, and sprinkle remaining coconut over the top.
Add optional sprinkles for decoration.