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Forget Your Troubles; Make Someone Else Happy

A daughter pays tribute to her mother by baking one last chocolate cake.

Kathryn Slattery and her husband, Tom

My mom had certain sayings she repeated so frequently that I came to think of them as Mom’s maxims. “Don’t be a snoop.” (Often intoned around Christmastime.) “Only a fool tells all he knows.” (Nobody wants to be a fool.) “Know when to leave a party.” (No one loved a party more.)

And the maxim that really stood out for me because I saw her put it into action so many times: “When you’re feeling blue, do something nice for someone else.”

For Mom that often meant baking, and she didn’t necessarily have to feel blue to do it. I can still picture her in her kitchen, her gingham apron tied with a big optimistic bow, her red hair dusty with flour, wrapping thick slices of her famous favorite chocolate Bundt cake (that’s what we called it) in cellophane.

The last dozen years of her life, when her vision started failing, Mom lived with us in an attached in-law apartment. All that separated our households was the wall between our two kitchens.

I could hear the thump of her cabinet doors, the clink of her Pyrex measuring cup against the side of a ceramic bowl, the whir of her Sunbeam electric mixer, the creak of her oven door. The chocolaty aroma wafting through the wall signaled that a slice of Bundt cake might be in my future.

She always baked for her Bible study luncheons at Grace Church. If anyone was feeling down in the dumps or ailing or grieving, they were sure to get a slice. As one of her friends told me at her memorial service, “She showed that she loved us with her baking.”

It had been several years since Mom’s death, and my husband, Tom, and I decided to tear down the wall between the two kitchens and turn the space into a new kitchen and bedroom for us. The day before the contractors came, I took one last walk around Mom’s kitchen.

There were the three rows of extra-bright halogen lights Tom had installed to help her see. The temperature dial on the oven still had the blob of fluorescent-orange paint I’d used to mark 350 degrees. Mom was gone. Her Bible study had disbanded. And tomorrow her kitchen would be gone too.

I closed the door to the apartment behind me, feeling blue. I went upstairs to check my e-mail and was startled by a subject line: “Grace Church Bible Study Reunion.” From Fleming Rutledge, the pastor and Bible study leader.

“Kitty, I know you were not an official member of our Bible study,” she wrote, “but would you join us at our upcoming Reunion Luncheon to stand in for your dear mother? And one more thing, if you have the recipe, would you please bring her wonderful chocolate cake?”

What about the crew coming the next morning to tear down the wall and remove our old appliances, Mom’s oven and mine? I’d just have to bake the cake tonight and store it in the freezer in our garage.

“Yes!” I typed and hit send.

That night I lay in bed, comforted by the familiar chocolaty aroma that lingered in the air. Just before I drifted off I thought of Mom’s maxim: “When you’re feeling blue, do something nice for someone else.” What could be nicer than her chocolate Bundt cake?

Try Mom's Famous Favorite Chocolate Bundt Cake for yourself!

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