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180730 July 30, 2018


Back in My Days: Birthday Cakes
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    I would not be surprised to find out that some of you pride yourselves on your cake decorating skills. For a long time now cake decorations have been becoming more and more elaborate and cater to any theme base which is popular. As you might recall, I posted a photo of my "official" birthday cake which was one from Sam's Club and was decorated with fancy red, green, and blue flowers and trim. Those type cakes are the ones we expect to get these days, but in my childhood days, that was not the case.

    My daughter Tiffany and her family were visiting last week and, since she missed my birthday last month, she decided to bake one to share with me while they were here. Although she has taken cake decorating classes herself, she elected to surprise me with a cake from my past. Back in my days cakes were almost always home made and the decorations I remember the most were fancy at the time, but in today's world would be very basic. Most birthday cakes in my family were adorned with some very hard sugar letters and candle holders and topped with simple candles. Many of you might have also encountered the type of lettering of which I am talking. They came on a cellophane covered cardboard sheet and were just a set of basic "Happy Birthday" wording and an assortment of letters to be used to spell out the name of the recipient.  All the letters were on one sheet and you had to turn it over and wet the back and wait for the letters to let go of the paper to which they were attached. Often they were found to be broken when they did come off and you had to carefully place them back together to form the word or name you were attempting to put on the iced cake. I found a couple of modern versions of them on the internet earlier this week. The second picture is more like the vintage ones we used back in the Fifties and Sixties, because it includes the candle holders.


    It has been many years since I have bitten into a cake decorated with this type of decorations, but they have a taste and texture I can never forget. I don't think anyone really liked to eat them, but they were edible and they cost money and nothing went to waste back then so they were either licked clean and stored for the next birthday, or put into my mouth and sucked on until the hard sugar dissolved. So what if they had melted candle wax on them? 

    Although Tiffany did not use one of these kits this year, she still went to a lot of trouble to make a vintage cake of my past. My most memorable birthday cakes (and one which now I am sure I talked about way too much when Tiffany was growing up) were the ones my grandmother made for me when I was still a pre-teenager living on East Clinton Street. I don't know where the idea came from but either I requested it or she surprised me with a very special cake one year (probably when I was eight years old or so) that could have been the inspiration for Dolly Parton's song "Coat of Many Colors" because she made me a "Cake of Many Colors." And, I am sure that just as Dolly's mother did in the song, my grandmother made each layer of my cake of many colors with the special ingredient called "love."

    To me it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen or eaten. I liked it so much it became a ritual for many birthdays to come to have a cake of many colors for my birthday. So, this year's birthday cake was the same design I had back in my days.

    I know I am not the only one who can remember a special birthday cake I had when I was a child. I would love to hear about some of your's that you can remember being special.

    In the meantime, since I have that song on my mind, here it is for you to enjoy as well.

Coat of Many Colors


        Memphis, TN -  Thanks for the feedback on last week's issue. My only reward for doing this each week is the joy I get from giving you a memory of something that happened to you in your own past. I accept that many of you do not feel comfortable in opening up your own feelings to the rest of the world, but as a journalist that is what I do. I have a very good time just remembering the things I write about and then researching them to see if I can find a picture or an article or a song to go with my story.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Country Visiting

Alice A. Brigman 

LHS '64


    While reading your description of visiting for the summer with your Aunt in Fayetteville it brought back memories I have of my mother's mother and daddy's place. They lived at Sharpes Cove and we visited there often, but I also would spend some time in the summer there. All during the school year when I was in the seventh grade I would go visit one night of the week. I would ride a different bus from my own and get off at their house. My grandmother and I had started a quilt and each week when I was there I would work on it. By the summer all the pieces were finished and we put it together and did all the quilting as she had a quilting frame that hung from the ceiling in one of the bedrooms.

    They had electricity, but no running water. They had a cistern where all the water came from for drinking, cooking, and taking a bath. Yes, the bath was a big metal tub and everything else was as you described like the outhouse and 'slop jar'. No air condition was ever thought of. The outhouse is still there although there is running water in the house, but only in the kitchen.

    We did go swimming in the creek that was about as far as you described where you lived from town (.3 mile). I loved the place and still do. I go there every week and cut the grass around the house. It takes me a little over an hour, but I take my mother with me and we enjoy the time there. I don't feel as you do about the country as I grew up in the country and was more or less isolated. There was only me and my brother and one house next door. There were three children, but they were younger. Those were the days....and I call the memories "The Good Old Days"!

Subject:    Acting Bug
Chip Smoak
LHS '66

    I know what it is like to get the acting bug like Tommy, George Vail, and Barbara Seeley Cooper.  My senior year at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, LA, I went out for the senior play, "Time Out for Ginger", on which the Patty Duke movie "Billie" was based.  The big difference between the two was that in the play the heroine played football on her school team and in the play ran track with the boys.  I won a major supporting role.

    In college I was crossing the campus toward my dorm but got side tracked by a Sociology instructor I had had conducting class under a tree.  A member of the class was a coo-ed I knew named Lucky Metz.  Lucky's Oriental heritage was more apparent than her Irish heritage.  After class was over I asked her where she was going.  Her reply was to read for a part in the student play for the next quarter.  I asked to tag along.  We went into the Little Theater and sat down.  A dowdy little old man came up with a legal pad to get us to sign.  I explained that I had only come to observe.  He said, "To h-ll with that.  Sign here and read here."  I won the major supporting role in "Dark of the Moon", a tale of witches and witch boys set in the Appalachian Mountains.

    My third and final thespian adventure was a play called "Hogan's Goat" a political drama set in the Boss Tweed era of New York politics.  I again won the major supporting role.

    The dowdy little old man I mentioned earlier was Professor Arthur Stone, fondly referred to by the members of the Tech Theater Players' casts and crews as Papa Stone.  He and his wife toured with circuses during the summers and performed as clowns.

Subject:    Summertime Memories

Barb Biggs Knott

Class of ‘66

Hi Tommy,

    I loved your memories of going to the country in the summer. It reminded me of my summers which were split between my grandparents on the farm in Loysville, PA and my grandparents who lived in Camp Hill, PA which at the time (late 50’s, early 60’s) would have compared to Huntsville at that time. My mom had remarried and we had moved to Huntsville in 1958 but every summer I would fly up to PA and spend summer with my grandparents. 

    In Camp Hill I did much as you, spending most days playing with friends and going to the movie house or swimming pool and walking everywhere (no big highways etc. to contend with). The other half of the summer was spent in Loysville at my grandparents dairy farm. My girlfriend would come with me for company and we loved playing in the barn, jumping off the hay loft, and sitting on the front porch swatting flys and riding on the old orange tractor down the lane to the mailbox or up in the field to pick cherries.  My grandparents also had the requisite chamber pots and their outhouse was a mansion…..cement floor, two holes, a screen window and feed store calendars covering the walls to entertain you while you did your business!.

    Such wonderful memories which my grandchildren will never be able to appreciate! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.



Happy Trails to You


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