You really had to be there – but I’m kind of glad you weren’t. My sense of sharing only goes so far! (Addendum based on new insights since original post!)
Lucky for those of us who would ensue, my Mom, as first in her family to attend college, majored in Home Economics. Little did she know when she met my eventual Dad (also a first-in-family) at Louisiana State University that their future would include a Bakers’ Dozen, and they would be the Bakers, and the Bakers’ Dozen would be us – siblings thirteen! Each of us has his or her own version of this legendary event, even the two that weren’t here yet. I believe this is the first version to see print.
Our meals were economical, well prepared, and healthful, usually well done, and no one ever got sick from the menu. Gumbo, shrimp or crawfish etoufee, rice and the best gravy (no flour), fried chicken, even spinach with hard-boiled eggs, biscuits and syrup on Sunday nights, pecan pie, and Mom’s favorite, fig preserves (which none of her offspring liked). We sat around a custom-built triangular table with benches on the walls of the non-hypotenuse sides, barely avoiding two of the four accesses into the kitchen. The frame of each door had a sampler cartooned by a neighbor. We remember only three: “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”; “May all your troubles be little ones.”; and “Silence is golden.” I don’t remember any silence.
Of all the existentially inconsequential events in our communal life (this excludes weddings, religious rituals, academic and sports and music and Scouting accomplishments, even vacations), this is my personal highlight.
Part 1: In the beginning… This is way back when, and Mom’s “bargain radar” picks up that the local donut shop has a deal on day-old donuts. Our town has only one donut shop, and donuts are not on any health advisory “avoid at all cost” warnings. Donuts are a nickel each, sixty cents a dozen, twenty cents day-old. Mom calls to get on the list.
It’s a year later before she is called, she has almost forgotten, and, when she is asked, “How many would you like?” she responds, “I’ll take all you have.” Imagine our celebration when she returns home with the station wagon bulging with FORTY-EIGHT DOZEN! That comes out to five-hundred and seventy-six, comfort in every one!
This was followed by protests when she distributed some to neighbors, and some disappointment when some of the bags contained two dozen cookies rather than one dozen donuts. But still, there was glee all around.
The consumption strategy was breakfast some Sunday mornings, four dozen in the oven, four to each sibling, two each for the parents. Invariably, the countdown ended with someone saying, “Hey! I only got three,” after which attention would turn to baby sister Mary, four or five years old, whose lambish smile covered her “I didn’t know we were counting” apology. It worked every time.
Part 2: Revelations… Through the years at family gatherings, this memory has been a re-bonding catalyst, especially during more stressful events. The most poignant of these was at Mom and Dad’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.
Baby sister Mary is now thirty-one. She has managed most of our last family gatherings, including the last “y’all come” multi-generational family reunion, and she is managing this celebration, siblings and some spouses only. Unfortunately, it’s in a dining room in the hospital, where she is also toting a wheeled i.v. machine, following recent cancer surgery. “Somber” isn’t deep enough to describe our spirits. The discussion and mood lighten when someone brings up the forty-eight dozen donuts. I confess, “When no one was around, I would sneak into the utility room and grab a donut from the deep freezer. They were okay frozen.” The ice is broken, then down comes a trump card, from brother Bill: “I know. I heard you coming, so I grabbed one and was hiding in the closet.”
In subsequent gatherings, even sister Chris admitted indulging in this thievery. I don’t remember how many others followed suit. The brothers didn’t surprise me, but I was appalled that the sisters would claim equal opportunity at such a young age!
Mary continued on her journey for five years, traveling the same journey at a two-thousand mile distance with her sister-in-law, my late wife Maureen, who followed her ascendancy by twelve days. R.I.P, Mary and Maureen, 1996. My sister-in-law Anne, a three-time survivor, mentioned “survivor’s guilt” – hopefully, that has passed, and passed with everyone so afflicted, because we all applaud everyone’s victory in that battle.
Part 3: Confirmation… “Forty-eight dozen” was also a consoling memory at Mom’s funeral celebration last year. R.I.P. Mom, 2012, at the age of ninety-three. Of her ninety-three descendants, most were present and heard the Bakers’ Dozen Baker’s Dozens tales. At the celebration of Mom’s life, baby brother Tommy, sibling #13, who was six years from being born at the time of the original donut bonanza, stood to offer his revelation: “You guys must have missed some. I found this plastic container at the bottom of the freezer. I opened it up and found DONUTS! And, they were still good!”
Lots of somber in this post, but we are in All Souls and All Saints month. We are counting blessings, and the donuts are the least of these.
Addendum:… An additional revelation in our recent family vacation, 2018, further embellishes this legend. Brother Bill revealed that he was riding shotgun when the bonanza happened, and was first to hotly dispute the sub-distribution by Mom to some neighbors. He also related collaborating with younger brother Francis to see “how many we could eat.” Bill was wise enough to stop at nine, leaving Francis to take the brunt of Mom’s chastisement at learning twenty-two were missing. Francis had completed the cycle by consuming a baker’s dozen in one caper.