Happy Birthday to me!
Well, to me and everyone else celebrating today. I share this birthday with baseball’s J.D. Drew, football stars Mark Gastineau and Joey Galloway, comedians Richard Dawson and Dick Smothers, musician Joe Walsh, and a trio of gorgeous actresses: Bo Derek, Sean Young and Veronica Hamel.
This was also Bobby Kennedy’s birthday.
I woke up a little over an hour ago after a pretty good night sleeping, and my 47th birthday started out about as good as I could ever hope. My wife Debbie Veasey was already awake and nearly ready to leave for work, but before she left she greeted me with a big smile, a hug and kiss, and a sincere “Happy birthday, honey!”
She had a birthday card for me too. One of those with a real nice message and signed off with her love. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Now here I sit alone at my dining room table just like many other mornings. A fresh, hot cup of Wawa coffee beside me, loaded up with their Irish cream, which I understand that they are discontinuing.
Wawa is one of life’s pleasures, the local chain store for food, cigarettes, newspapers, and other essentials of American daily living. Here at the Veasey Ranch, we buy bags of their coffee so that we enjoy the brew not just on the run, but right here at home.
The Irish coffee creamer product that Wawa produces at their dairy is my personal favorite add-in. It’s creamy and tasty, and along with a couple of packets of Equal, helps make the perfect pick-me-up beverage in my world. I hope the rumors turn out false about the Irish cream. Don’t you just hate it when some store discontinues some product that you have enjoyed for a long time?
So it is with me and birthday cakes. As a boy growing up in South Philly, my local corner bakery shop was a little place called Hier’s Bakery at 3rd & Wolf Streets.
You could live and die right there at that intersection, which was just around the corner from our little house at 2321 S. American Street. The four corners at the intersection of south 3rd Street and Wolf Street featured Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on the southeast, the Murphy-Ruffenach funeral home on the northeast, a doctor’s office on the northwest, and Hier’s on the southwest.
Those institutions are still on those same corners today, though the actual doctor practice has changed, the funeral home gone through a merger, and the bakery ownership has also changed a number of times.
When it was Hier’s back in those ‘Wonder Years’ days for me of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, they always featured a cake which would become my birthday cake every year.
This delicious object of my annual desire came with a chocolate cake layer on top of a yellow cake layer. Running between the two cakes was a delicious, thin strip of white cream. Surrounding the whole creation was the most incredible, full, sweet, dark-colored chocolate icing. And then at the top was another layer of that same white icing which ran through the middle.
I would always take a slice and eat the yellow layer first, making sure that my fork took the thin vanilla icing layer with it. This was only the opening act though. Then I would move on to the upper chocolatey world.
There was something about the interplay between this particular chocolate cake, chocolate edge icing, and white top icing that exploded in your mouth. I can taste it still this morning, even though I have not had a piece of that cake in about 25 years.
At some point during the 1980’s, whomever owned the old Hier’s business sold out. I did go in a couple of times and inquired about the cake, but the new owners didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I never saw my birthday cake again.
My guess is that the recipe is likely laying around somewhere, maybe in some drawer at the home of a former bakery owner. Maybe the recipe has been passed along, and the cake is being made today in some bakery out there that I have no idea even exists.
It is one of those little things in life that was a regular feature of my childhood that is now gone. It is something that was here, is gone seemingly forever, and that I do miss.
To find that same cake again one day would be a miracle akin to a Christian explorer locating the Holy Grail itself. Well, okay maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. I hope that little slice of heaven from my childhood is not repeating itself here in my middle-aged adult life with the Wawa Irish cream.
But one thing that I have learned over these 47 years that I celebrate the anniversary of today is that things change. But as to those things large and small that we have come to welcome and enjoy in our lives, the little things that make life just a wee bit more enjoyable, they will stay with us forever, at least in our memories.
I thank God for that childhood birthday cake. I thank God for Wawa Irish cream. I thank God for the woman that I woke up to this morning. And I thank God for these past 47 years. Happy birthday to me!