By T.W. Burger
My mother lived in Athens, GA, the bustling university town where I grew up. She liked to get her hair done by Judy, who ran a beauty shop out of her home in the country.
Judy loved birds and had half a dozen feeders out in the yard. She hated squirrels, who regularly conducted raids on the feeders, despite the risk of sudden death from the .22 rifle she kept propped up by the door in her shop.
A word to my more urbanized readers who are reacting with nervousness at the idea of a beauty shop operator having a loaded gun at the ready right in her shop. Understand that we in rural areas have a very different relationship with firearms than do city folks. While we do have our Rambo wannabes, for the most part country folk see guns as tools, mostly for hunting and perhaps a little bit for protection.
Back at Judy’s beauty shop, it is a regular occurrence that Judy will drop everything in the middle of a trim and set, grab the rifle, open the door, and blow one of the little rodents into that big pecan orchard in the sky.“ Lord, I hate squirrels,” she typically said as she leaned the gun back against the door. Mom said these interruptions with gunfire made her nervous, but she kept going back because Judy was such a good friend, and anyway she did nice work.
I was visiting Mom one time and happened to be there at Judy’s shop when they started talking about carrot cake. “I just decided I had enough with Leon and the carrot cake,” Judy said, making conversation after dispatching yet another squirrel to its final reward. Leon was Judy’s husband. Since she’d met him some years ago, he’d let there be no doubt that his favorite thing in the world to eat was carrot cake, a dessert Judy was entirely happy to bake for him.
The trouble is, Leon was fond of the carrot cake his mama had always served him, and liked his mama’s recipe a lot more than he liked Judy’s and was not shy about saying so. I thought that was foolish, given her artistry with the .22 rifle.
“I’d had it with that,” Judy said. “So, I called his mama and told her I just had to find out how she made her carrot cake. She told me to come on over, and I did. She took me out of the garage, where they keep this big, upright freezer. She opened it up, and there were six big ole Winn-Dixie carrot cakes, still in their plastic containers, pretty as you please.”
Judy’s mother-in-law said she had never baked a carrot cake in her life. She just waited until they were on special at the Winn-Dixie and bought a half -dozen of them at a time.“’What Leon don’t know, don’t hurt him,’ she told me,” Judy said.
So, Judy went out and bought herself a mess of Winn-Dixie’s carrot cake, freezing all but one. That same evening, she carved out a big piece and served it to Leon after supper and sat back to assess the results. Leon dipped out a big bite with his fork, put it in his mouth and started chewing. He closed his eyes, and gave out with a windy little sigh, and swallowed.“Oh, my, but that’s good,” he said.
He took another bite, and leaned across the table to whisper, even though only the two of them were home.“And, you know, I believe it’s even better than mama’s.”
T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.
He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a contributing writer for Classic City News, and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.