He came home last night, kissed me and asked me what needed to be done.
In between the fritters being fried, the vegies being nuked, the long-forgotten fish fillets being rescued from the oven, the lamenting that the other fridge was not cold and then rejoicing at finding that there were two cold bottles of ginger beer in the kitchen, we asked each other,
‘What did you do today?’
I answered first.
‘You know, I’ve been busy all day, but I can’t really tell you what I’ve done. I feel like there’s nothing to show for it – oh, except for the quilt-block on the ironing board which I sewed during my lunch break.’
He laughed. ‘You know, I feel exactly the same. I know I was busy, but feel as if I didn’t achieve anything.’
We each grabbed the plates of dinner, the drinks and cutlery, took them outside and lit the mosquito-repellant candles. We looked at our plates, said ‘Thank you God’ that the food had miraculously appeared on clean plates…
A few years ago, my entire side of the family gathered in Brisbane – to visit our brother and family, and to celebrate Christmas together. For three weeks our three generations buzzed around Carl and Kylie’s home, shuffled between the airport, car hire companies, accommodation, shopping centres, and everything else that busy families do at Christmas time in and around Brisbane. Chris’s birthday is just before Christmas, so remembering to celebrate it became my special task.
Chris and I with three of our children house-sat in a home that was perfect for our needs. I discovered they had an extra freezer in their garage so I devised a scheme to make Chris a birthday cake made of ice-cream–his favourite type of birthday cake. The house was across the road from a large supermarket, so it wasn’t too tricky to gather the goods I needed, or to hide them in the garage freezer.
Whenever Chris disappeared, I added another layer to the ice-cream cake. The cake had layers of vanilla and salted caramel icecream with frozen raspberries and blobs of nutella mixed through. I even piped whipped cream over the top, just like one of those birthday cakes you buy from the supermarket.
Several days before the birthday, my sister-in-law Kylie and her daughters called in to spend some time with us.
‘Great!’ I said. ‘It would be so much easier to surprise him if you could take it home with you.’ We smuggled it out to Kylie’s car, safely surrounded in its lined cake tin and snuggled in between layers of ice-packs in a $2.99 Coles cooler-bag.
Chris’s birthday was possibly the funnest birthday he’s had for ages, travelling all around the sights of Brisbane. The entire family planned to get together early in the evening to celebrate. But the timing blew out, as it often does.
During the course of the afternoon, Kylie texted me about several changes of plans. She seemed to be most concerned about Chris’s birthday celebrations. I texted her back – that timing didn’t matter. As long as the cake was okay, all would be good.
As I arrived at Kylie’s later that afternoon, she and my sister Annie were fussing in the kitchen adding the final touches to the cake. They’d gathered inspiration from a Family Circle magazine and the cake had gone from an almost-like-a-supermarket-ice-cream-cake, to ‘A Christopher’s Super Special Deluxe’ with golden toffee castles towering above crushed Crunchie bars, caramelized pop-corn and Maltezers, all smothered in a rich, gooey caramel sauce. I barely recognized it – but was so very proud and thankful of their extra efforts.
The family gathered and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ Chris blew out the candles, made a wish, and giggles erupted from behind me.
I sat close to Chris while he cut the cake, eager to see the layers. He drew out the first cake wedge. Annie and Kylie hovered above my head still giggling. At the moment that we could see layers, they burst into laughter and retreated to the kitchen.
I followed them, put my hands on my hips and didn’t say a word, except perhaps ‘Don’t you want any cake?’
Kylie blushed and pulled a squirmy face.
‘It was such a hot and busy day when you smuggled that cake into the car,’ she said. ‘I dropped the girls off here, there and everywhere, and we got home really late. The next morning I went to my exercise class, and there, on the floor by the front seat of the car was the Coles cooler bag. It had been there all night.’
Despite the near disaster and an extra-hot Brisbane summer, the ice-cream cake was perfect. Every layer was distinct from every other layer. There were nutella blobs just big enough to melt in your mouth in between spoonfuls of ice-cream and the tangy surprise of miraculously-still-frozen raspberries. And the mountain of gold, chocolate and caramel on top covered a ‘meltitude’ of sins.
Hopefully, Kylie realized long ago that all was forgiven instantly–that’s what Christmas is about. We’re really thankful to her for being a wonderful host …and especially for a great Christmas birthday story.
And, especially that Christmas, we were also thankful to Coles for very effective cooler bags.
Oops! And Happy Birthday Chris!