For the whole of our lives, my mother and I had a troubled relationship. My presence set her off, often with dire consequences for me, but the one place where we sort of got along was the kitchen. I liked to cook and bake. She was a talented cook and baker and allowed me to be her sous chef. I cut and diced and chopped and sliced and poured and pounded and wrapped and cleaned, enjoying myself despite her criticism. She loved to make elaborate meals for dinner party guests, with fancy desserts that often took days to make. When I was able to persuade her to go to the movies or see friends for dinner when my father worked, I made dinner for my sister. Often, at her request, I’d make cookies, cakes, even pies. The first time I baked cookies, when I was about seven, I learned the hard way the difference between the use of baking powder and baking soda. Too much baking soda and whatever you bake tastes awful. It was a powerful lesson. Three years later I had reason to remember what I’d learned.
Shortly before my tenth birthday, my mother and father were expecting a large group for dinner so my mother and I began our preparation several days before. The dessert was going to be a special cake with walnuts that had to be chopped finely and orange rind that had to be sliced thinly with no pith, then marinated in brown sugar. While she was busy setting an elaborate table, I decided to bake a cake using the leftover ingredients. I even frosted it with an apricot glaze she had taught me how to make and put the cake in the bedroom to cool.
That night, after dinner had been served, my mother brought out the cake she had made—a gorgeous concoction. The first guest to taste the cake made a face that looked like trouble. Soon more people were tasting and not eating. My mother tasted the cake, smiled her “company” smile and said, “Nancy made the cake, I guess she still has a lot to learn about the difference between baking soda and baking powder.”
Shocked, I said, “I didn’t make the cake.”
Soon there were murmurs of support from guests: “It’s all right, dear, you tried.” “It’s not terrible.” “Next time you’ll do better.” I kept shaking my head, trying to tell the truth. No one seemed to want to hear me. The worst was when my mother said, “I’ll have to watch Nancy more carefully to make sure she uses the right ingredients and the correct amount.” She brought out the cake I had made and offered it to the guests, claiming it as one she’d made. I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t worth what I knew would be my mother’s delayed wrath, especially since I didn’t think anyone would believe me.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were blamed for something you didn't do? How did you feel?
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.