The Marriage of Work and Play

By Julie A. Stewart, Writer and Urban Farmer

The 17th Spirit & Place Festival has me thinking about my dad. Most nights found him in his workshop, refinishing furniture. He worked full-time as maintenance man. In winter, he shoveled snow, and in summer, he worked in the garden until dark. He did not take us swimming or ride bikes or play board games.

But he did make cakes.

When my dad was 16, his mother died. He quit high school to apprentice with a baker, going to work early and coming home to help with chores and the younger children. Later, he earned his GED, joined the Marines and got a job at St. Mary’s hospital, where he worked for over 40 years fixing anything that broke. He took side jobs for extra money. He made silver dollar pancakes on Sunday mornings and handmade Shaker boxes for the church bizarre. But his greatest works were his cakes.

“He did not take us swimming or ride bikes or play board games. But he did make cakes.”

For our weddings, white cake with buttercream frosting and raspberry filling, decorated with sugared grapes. Tiers of chocolate cake with handmade sunflowers or roses, created days ahead of time and laid out on wax paper to set. Cakes frosted to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.

He made chocolate roll cakes filled with whipped cream for my birthdays and sheet cakes for church dinners. There were egg-shaped cakes on Easter, decorated with each of our names and small cakes presented to each grandchild on his or her first birthday. Grinning, he presented his masterpieces like a kid with a mud pie. For him, baking cakes was the perfect marriage of work and play.

“It is our choice to see life as work or play.”

With my own children, I am lucky to be able to build sand castles on the beach. We go for bike rides to the library and play cards or watch movies in the evening. Still, my daughter’s and my favorite way to play is to bake a cake. She pours over cake design books, carefully selecting her choice: cupcakes for her teacher, made to look like red apples, cupcakes made from a pumpkin which we bake and scoop out the flesh, and a heart cake of her own design for Valentine’s dinner.

It is our choice to see life as work or play. I thought of this a couple of years ago, when I heard writer Michael Perry talk about rebuilding an old truck for fun. This year, many of us made an effort to attend the Spirit & Place Festival events. At the end of a long day of work, it was the frosting on the cake.

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