Charity Cupcakes by Valerie MacEwan

My Southern Legitimacy Statement seems kinda’ obvious being as I am the publisher of the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. That said, I revel in the South. Love my neighbors as myself and sit on the porch with them. I am convinced that the smell of blooming magnolias must be the scent of heaven and I have yard dogs. Thought I’d throw in a little something I whipped up last week.

A could maybe be a true story … I’m not telling.


At first, the wooden lid on the small box sticks, holds tight, will not yield. Determined as it is to remain tightly shut, we’re more dedicated to revealing its contents. As unyielding as a tornadah, Daddy would have said. My cousin Shelagh grabs an old bent kitchen knife out of Mama’s silverware drawer and inserts it between lid and box. She wants to gently pry it open, trying hard not to splinter the walnut. The blade twangs and snaps in two.

“That was one of Grandma’s best knives,” my sister Ima Jean whines, “It’s silver-plate, mighta’ been worth sumpin'”

Shelagh says, “Shut up. It came from Goodwill and it was crap. I oughta’ know, I bought it. So just stop whining and be one with the process. Can’t you see Leslie’s upset?” She points to me with the broken knife handle.

“I am not upset! I’m fine, just want to get done with it. We’ve got less than three hours afore we need to get these cupcakes to the church sale. Hurry up. Oven’s pre-heated,” I look over toward Mama’s glass oven door. “The light’s still out, be sure you check often, we usually burn the tops off everything, on account of not seeing it right, not seeing it proper, Daddy wouldn’t go to Pig and get a new bulb… we’ll have to check on everything … it’s hard to see in there … ” I’m babbling.

“Won’t matter, will it? We just cut off the tops and add more icing than usual. Everyone there will buy one if you put your chocolate double-fudge  icing on it and add a few of them colored sprinkles. LesLes, people are fools for your cupcakes, you know it.” Shelagh finally gets the box open by twisting the knife carcass into the lid. She scars the walnut but by this time, no one cares, not really.

Once open, she reaches in and grabs the twist-tie. Twirls it counter-clockwise. Opens the plastic bag and scoops out some gray-colored flour. She sifts about half a cup of it, carefully replacing the larger pieces back into the bag.

“How much you gonna’ add to this batch?” Thompson asks.

“No more than usual, about a tablespoon or so.” Shelagh turns on the KitchenAid mixer and adds flour, baking powder, salt, and the gray flour. Puts the splatter guard on and turns the speed to 1, then lets it slap around for about five minutes.

By now Thompson has his own mixer out and is over by the kitchen sink. It’s a Hamilton Beach handheld, heavy as a roofing hammer, older than dirt. The cord is frayed and covered in fabric instead of plastic. Sometimes “antique” can be dangerous. He’s got a large stainless steel bowl. “I’ve got the butter and sugar done, want me to add eggs now? Yup, what was it Daddy said? Incorporate the eggs. Well, we sure do incorporate ourselves into today’s cake, don’t we?” He laughs at his own bad joke.

“Mom wanted to be part of everything we did. As long as I put in the walnuts and pecans, no one’s going to notice a little crunch.”

“Having our cake and eating it too.”

Shelagh and Thompson, my 93 year old twin second-cousins twice-removed, expect their friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors would not truly appreciate the ingredients in today’s cupcakes, no matter how much they loved my Mama.