This is Keri. Keri and I were freshman college roommates at the University of Georgia. 17 years later, we are still best friends, and our children are like cousins to each other. Last year, due to a long, complicated, and of course very serendipitous turn of events, I met the Cake Lady Betty Compton through Keri and friends at the Anatoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, NC.
Last night, I returned to Cedar Grove, for a book signing I had scheduled to take place at the garden. I got to reconnect with old friends, like Meghan (pictured below) and I sold and signed copies of the book, both of which I expected.
What I didn’t expect, however, is what an amazing event the community would come together to create. Completely unbeknownst to me, Betty’s family and community was so excited that she was featured in the book, that they took my little book signing in the garden and turned it into a full-blown, country-style Pig-Pickin’, Cake-Walkin’, dance party. Betty brought her famous pound cake:
And eight other people brought cake for the cake walk, like this one, which was later won (and eaten) by Keri’s son, who graciously shared it with the rest of his family, me, and Jasper.
The music group that Betty has been playing and singing with for the last 10 years, “Pickin’ and Grinnin,'” not only provided the musical accompaniment to the cake walk, but they delighted everyone with their renditions of songs by Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and other traditional country and bluegrass artists. Betty herself, even though she was the guest of honor, managed to find time to sit in on a few songs.
And then there was the pig.
Betty’s husband, Dwight, bought a whole pig, and her son roasted it, starting at 5am yesterday morning. Betty’s sisters made the two hour drive from Nash County to be there. Friends and family brought side dishes: all manner of baked beans, breads, banana pudding, green beans, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, green salad. It was nothing short of an extravagant feast, and it was delicious. I was absolutely blown away by the generosity of each and every individual that gave to this event, and it reminded me of some of the wisdom I had learned from Betty: “when you are in a community, you know each other’s gifts, you wrap around each other’s gifts.” From the set-up, to the eating, dancing, celebrating, cake-walking, and clean-up, there was a natural and spontaneous sense of that wrapping around each other’s gifts, and the responsibility was shared, and therefore lightened, by everybody. In this time of social and political uncertainty, dare i say, upheaval, I was struck by how the simple act of creating fun and celebration with your own head and heart, and the things and the relationships you have available to you, can create a richness that money can never buy. I think this is sustainability in its highest sense, and I think it is healing. The garden has a history of this healing; as Anathoth’s website explains: “The story of Anathoth Community Garden began in 2005 after a murder occurred down the road from the Garden site. Cedar Grove United Methodist Church held a prayer vigil for healing and peace at the site of the murder. Mrs. Scenobia Taylor was present at the vigil and had a vision that she was to donate 5 acres of her land to the church for the healing of the community.” This has become what Anathoth is today, and I experienced a little bit of that healing last night. Thank you to keri, Betty, Dwight, Anathoth, and the community of Cedar Grove, for wrapping around each others gifts. I am grateful to be a part of it.
And later that night, Keri and I enjoyed some cake:
The next morning, Jasper and I enjoyed that distant cousin of cake, the Pancake, and meandered around Hillsborough until we found the local bookstore, The Purple Crow. The proprietress, Sharon Wheeler, was happy to learn about the book, and ordered some for her store. So here’s a footnote about buying local: most any bookstore you walk into will order a title if their customers ask for it, so asking for Cake Ladies in a store that doesn’t carry it is a great thing to do. And if you want the convenience of online ordering while still supporting your local bookshop, you can order on indiebound.org and have it shipped to you through your local bookstore.