I am gonna bake a cake. I hope I don't screw up the icing this time because last year, I did. Last year, I used regular granulated sugar. I thought sugar was sugar! And I wanted it to be a surprise, so I didn't ask for help. I was eight then. Now I am nine. Almost all growed up, right? So I think I will try again, only this time, my sister will help me and we will surprise Gramma and Grampa.
Today is their anniversary. They were married in a little town in Ontario called Thessalon. There was no big wedding, just a priest and a couple of friends. Probably in the library at the Rectory. It was a Wednesday, such an odd day for a wedding, but probably the only day they had free. I know what dress Gramma wore. It had tiny blue and white dots. She had a hat with a veil that grazed her eyebrows. Grampa wore a suit; probably the only suit he owned . After all, who needs fancy clothes when you work in a lumber mill. Gramma was the cook/housekeeper there. Grampa worked hard (even with a bad heart).
For some reason, I am home from school today-maybe chicken pocks recovery. So mom has me go to the grocery store with her. It is on Clio Road in Flint. We get there about 11 o'clock in the morning, dad driving us so we could be done before he goes off to work 2nd shift at 3. I select the cake mix and the sugar-the right kind of sugar this time. I am so excited and I get one of those little tubes of icing to write Happy Annivesary on the icing. I selected red, of course. Only I never get to make the cake. We never get to celebrate Gramma and Grampa's special day.
We are in the checkout lane when someone starts to cry, and then more and more do the same. My little baby brother is in the buggy seat and it upsets him to see mommy crying. I didn't understand, "Mom, what is going on"? Over the loud speaker, the store manager announces something that sounds garbled to me but everyone goes silent. The president is dead, he says. His voice crumbles. And he says it again. Then the wailing rolls out from the back of the store to the magic-open doors in the front. They need to close the store for the rest of the day, so please make your purchases and thank you for shopping with us.
Dad (who always stays outside in the car listening to the radio until mom is done shopping) comes in and pays for the bags of food and we leave. We go home to a small black and white TV to see Uncle Walter as we call him, talking and trying not to cry. I still didn't understand what has happened. Who would want to kill the president and take away the daddy to those two cutie pie kids we always see in Life Magazine? WHY would anyone do that? The TV is barely off for the next 4 days, school is cancelled and we all spend a lot of time in church, praying, comforting and trying to understand.
Gramma asks to be taken to St. Mike's church and she prays her rosary for hours, Grampa later joins her from his job at AC Spark Plug. He gets off the bus at the corner of Saginaw and 5th Avenue and goes inside to sit with her. They light some candles and then slowly walk the 3 blocks home together. It is their 41st anniversary and they would do no celebrating.
And I would bake no cake ever again for them. They never celebrate publicly their special day again. Two and a half years later, Gramma dies on Good Friday just a year after we move to a new house Grampa has used his retirement savings to buy, so us kids could be safer and we could all live together under the same roof.
I can close my eyes today and remember all the sights, smells and sounds of that day in November 1963. For some reason, good or bad, I have etchings inside my brain that are permanent snapshots of everything that happened that day and could draw them out for you. I think this day is my first step to no longer being a child, learning of adult events that make life not so nice. The saddest part was knowing no one could fix it. Like we depend on our parents or grand parents to kiss a boo boo and it won't hurt anymore, or glue the dolly and she will blink and cry her tears again. Only, the hurt will come again and the dolly ends up in the garbage can and a few years pass, to more whys and pain and anger.
We try to protect our children from similar events but they WILL happen. I remember going thru some with my kids, such as Challenger, wars, 9/11 and family deaths. The best we can do is tell them the truth suitable for their ages but most of all, love them and assure them, that love will never go away. Even if I never got to make that cake for my Gramma and Grampa, I was assured of one thing....that they loved me. That is what I want to pass on. So all those years ago, even in a sad, dark time of my life, I learned something worth celebrating. It may not be with a cake or gifts or a party. It is actually very quiet. But it's there.