I have not posted anything in the last couple of days; not because I did not have anything to post, but I’ve been a bit busy. So today I’m going to cheat a little and cut and paste a blog post Jessica wrote a couple of years ago on her site. I was just reminded of this story (although I am reminded of it often) because of a card that came from some friends of ours up north where the Chocolate Cake Lady was mentioned and we were referenced as now being “The Chocolate Cake Lady.”
It struck me as sort of a shame that this lady, whomever she is, will never know that she impacted more than just my wife for a few nights, but for a lifetime and that kindness is being passed on. Most of Jessica’s friends have heard the story, but I’m not so sure that mine have. So, for those who do not know the story, I hope you enjoy it.
“The Unexpected Kindness of the Chocolate Cake Lady”
By: Jessica Benzakein
Growing up, nothing was ever for free… and that included kindness. If an adult was being kind to me, one could be certain that there was some sort of price attached to that kindness… something would be required, expected, demanded of me. I may not have known what or when, but I could be sure that it simply would be. I am not even sure how I came to know this little fact of my life… seems like I was born with the knowledge and thankfully so because it was probably quite key to my survival.
I was 5 years old or so the first time I remember entering foster care. 5 years isn’t very old, and yet it was old enough for me to know that I didn’t want to leave what I knew for the great unknown. Abuse is terrible, but at least it was a known abuse… but to go off to another place with unknown adults and unknown rules… well, the fear of the unknown was ten times worse than anything I had known up until that point.
Because we were removed on an emergency basis, we didn’t immediately go to a “family”. Instead, we found ourselves being left in the care of an elderly (remember, at 5 years old, anyone with grey hair was considered elderly) lady who lived in this wondrous house with this massively lush overgrown backyard – think cross between Alice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden – and wore her hair in a large bun at the nape of her neck. There was wood everywhere, lots of shadows and sunbeams filtering through, food in the pantry AND the fridge, and a croquet set in the backyard. It was magical and yet, I was on my guard at all times ready and waiting for what must surely be lurking underneath all that magic.
Each night, a train would pass nearby and toot its whistle rather loudly. Now, I am not proud to admit this, but my brother and I, even at our young ages, were scavengers. As soon as we heard the train’s whistle, we’d scurry out of our bed and head straight to the kitchen to gorge ourselves. (Did I mention the pantry AND the fridge had food in it? Amazing and something we hadn’t experienced before.) Like mice, we were hesitant… darting around, eyes on the lookout for signs that “Mrs. Elderly Bun” had heard us. The first night, we turned on the lights and there on the table was 2 slices of chocolate cake with this awesome chocolate icing and two glasses of milk. It was as if we’d died and gone to heaven. My brother and I wasted no time – we downed the cake and milk and ran back to our beds faster than you could say “died and gone to heaven”. I am pretty sure we both laid in our beds with silly, sugar induced smiles, still trying to lick any leftover chocolate from our lips until we drifted off to sleep.
Of course, me being the wiser and older one, knew that nothing came for free… come morning, there’d be a price to pay, and I was prepared to pay the price for both of us. However, the next day, as we quietly made our way out to breakfast, nothing was said… no evidence even existed of the night’s indulgence. It was as if it had been a wonderful dream that we had both shared. Trying not to push our luck, we spent the day hiding in the backyard. But eventually, night came and so did another train whistle…
I don’t know how many nights we were there, how many trains passed by, nor do I remember how many slices of cake and glasses of milk “magically” appeared. But what I do know is that at no time did “Mrs. Elderly Bun” demand payment for her kindness. For the first time in my young, little life, I had experienced kindness being offered “just because”. There were no strings attached to those slices of cake or those glasses of milk… nothing lurking underneath the kindness. I am fairly sure she knew how scary it was for us to be there. She knew that even though we came from a seriously abusive environment, that we still preferred that known environment over the unknown one we suddenly found ourselves thrust into. She knew that we were starving for more than just food. And she did what she could in a way that we could understand and relate to… even if we were too young to fully grasp the greatness she was sharing with us – that real kindness isn’t something you have to pay a price for… it just is.
I wished that I could say that life changed for me after that experience… that I found more trustworthy people in my life than untrustworthy ones… that kindness without strings attached was the constant instead of the exception, but I didn’t and it wasn’t. What I can say is that I never forgot the chocolate cake lady (as she is affectionately referred to now). Her no-strings-attached-kindness stuck with me. I knew it existed, and I never gave up hope of finding it again. That knowledge helped me to survive.