Mack Williams: Recollections inspired by pastry

  • Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014 1:11 a.m.

The other day, I noticed something of Rowan County in the snack section of a local convenience mart here in Danville. Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” but in the case of these pastries, some little slices of, or rather “from,” my old home had come to me.

On some of the little cakes’ labels, there was the Rockwell zip code, and on others, the zip code of Salisbury. Having by chance spotted the zip codes before seeing the baking companies’ names, I already knew that they were from “home” (still feels like home, even though I moved away in 1974).

Right next to them, there was a box containing similarly wrapped slices of “Cheerwine Cake.” Just the name spoke their place of origin. (And if there had been no label, the particular shade of red would have given them away.)

In another box, there were pastries whose labels proudly proclaimed them to be “ugly.” I purchased one, along with a Cheerwine Cake. That slice of Cheerwine Cake was delicious, and the other cake (or rather, “clump”), the “unsightly” one, was equally delicious as well!

In my childhood, I always thought of Cheerwine as a special treat. I had seen it branch out from being a liquid to ice cream. With its great amount of carbonization, more so than any other soft drink, I had also seen it in a kind of “gaseous” state. When I saw those little red cakes, it became evident to me that Cheerwine could also exist as a solid. I thought that since it could evidently exist in matter’s three main states, then perhaps a new element should be included in the Periodic Table, the one represented by the letters “Cw.” (There is a fourth state of matter, but “plasma Cheerwine” sounds like something scary from the old TV show “The Outer Limits.”)

There was another box with pastries bearing the face of “Sara Lee.” This inspired a “neighborhood memory” from my childhood along the Old Concord Road. Sarah Lee Fredericks lived across the road from me, down from the Clines. In our Southern fashion (in which the middle name is not neglected), she was similarly, and always referred to as “Sarah Lee,” (only a one-letter difference between her name and that of the cakes).

Sarah Lee owned a horse, and she let me ride it one day as she led it by the reigns. I was very nervous the whole time and never rode it again. Maybe it was the idea of riding something that had the capacity for “unbridled” thought and action.

Before the Fredericks moved in, the Earnhardt family lived there. I remember seeing an old black-and-white snapshot of not just a snowman, but a “snow family” (one wore an apron) which had been built in the Earnhardts’ yard.

I also first watched TV on the Earnhardts’ similarly black-and-white screen. I remember watching it with the lights turned off, which seemed to make the white seem whiter and the black seem blacker.

My best-remembered television show from this time was “Highway Patrol” starring Broderick Crawford. His police fleet of late 1950s Buicks all had the characteristic four decorative rings, more like “four holes” in the side near the front. My brother Joe had a green-and-white Buick of the day, similarly “perforated.” (Bonnie and Clyde’s old car has many more holes, but despite those holes not forming a design, there is, a concentration of them on the driver’s and front passenger’s doors.)

Little things can trigger recollections of when I was growing up. In this particular instance, a few memories were retrieved at the sight of little cakes (and “clumps”) wrapped for preservation until such time as they can be consumed. Within my mind, there are similarly enclosed “slices” of memory, which, just like those cakes, can be unwrapped and savored.

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