For Our Jersey Girl: Oh My God, CAKE!!!!!
On the cake: Love Ya, Jersey Girl!
A few of us gathered on this day to remember our friend Ellen L. Bliss, who passed away in late November. She was 66. All of us who were there hung out with Ellen in the 1980s and 90s, but perhaps not so much after that, as Ellen moved far away from us at a certain point. Our intention was to share some memories and honor our friend.
One of Ellen's favorite things in the whole wide world - and mine too - is white cake with white icing. Back in the day, there was a grocery store chain here called Riverside, and later BiLo, that sold excellent cakes from their bakery.
The icing was always the best part: probably some combination of lard and confectioner sugar with other good stuff mixed in. Once in a while there would be an occasion that would involve someone ordering and picking up and bringing a cake to work. And we had a mutual friend Celia who, much to our glee, would wander in and say: "Oh my God, CAKE!!!" with great enthusiasm. This amused Ellen endlessly!
Eventually, that grocery store chain went under. But I found the icing again. I was at a retirement party a few years ago, and we were eating cake. It was from the Penn State Bakery. The cake was pretty good. But the icing, oh my goodness. Well, the icing was FABULOUS!!!
Speed forward a couple of years to last December, when I got to enjoy my own retirement cake, courtesy of the Penn State Bakery. We got something like a quarter of a sheet cake, and my husband and I ate a lot of it (for when you retire in Covid times, you get a Zoom farewell party, and you get to eat your cake alone), and froze the rest for later. Oh my, we'd get it out and just eat the icing, it was that good!
When we decided to have the lunch to honor Ellen, I wrote a note to her very good friend Karen, who was with Ellen until the very end. I know she lives pretty far away, but I asked her to join us if she could, and I mentioned I was ordering a cake. She wrote back that she had to work, but, "Please have a piece of cake (white with white icing, her favorite) in Ellen's honor and say 'Oh my God, cake!' in that Celia tone of voice."
So, to make a long story short (or sorry, maybe it's too late for that!), so it was that I ordered a white cake with white icing from the Penn State Bakery. They sent me a confirmation email that made me laugh. Of course, I am parodying and paraphrasing here, but it went something like this:
Thank you for choosing Penn State Bakery!
You have a bakery treat to be picked up.
Please come to the road between our building and the building next door.
You will see truck dock doors. Please come up the stairs next to dock #5.
The door at the top of the stairs will be left unlocked.
Ring twice and ask for Reginald.
The secret code word is "Rutabaga."
We'll leave the light on for you.
And then I picked up the cake, and when it was time to eat it, we all gathered around and said, excitedly, "Oh my God, CAKE!!!" And Judy, who was our boss years ago, brought a can of SPAM, which was a running joke between her and Ellen all these years, as Judy was one of the few people we knew who actually ate the stuff (and Ellen even bought Judy her very own SPAM earrings). And we talked and shared a story or two.
I remember some work stories Ellen told, that endlessly amused us, and so we told them over and over through the years: about how the phone rang at work, and somebody picked it up and answered it like this: "The person who knew the answer to that question is DEAD!" *and hung up*
And Ellen actually had a story about a cake. And how it was a cake for a big event, you know how that goes. So there was a lot riding on it. And how somebody ordered the cake, and they brought it to the event, and when they opened the lid, it did NOT sport the message it was supposed to, but instead, it bore these words:
BON VOYAGE, FLO AND FRITZ!!!!!!!
So when we opened the top of the cake box to look at it for the first time, I admit I did hold my breath, waiting to see if it bore the words I told them to put on it, or whether Ellen would somehow send me a message directed at our unknown friends Flo and Fritz! (But no, of course, it said, Love Ya, Jersey Girl, just as I ordered. Somewhat to my vague disappointment, if I must admit it.)
When we had finished our meal and were just getting into the cake, the power went out at the restaurant. Completely out. Down for the count. And then it went right back on, with the clamor and excitement that always goes with that. And I said, "Thank you, Ellen," as having power again was a good thing. (Although, I guess if the credit card machine had no juice to ring us out, all those meals would be free!)
There are so many stories I could tell about Ellen, and they are all sitting inside me, waiting to be said. But there isn't room here for all of them and in the end, there were even a few that could not ever be told. So I'll carry them with me now, unspoken but remembered, and safe. Your memories are safe with me, my friend.
But I will tell you just one last story. And this one starts out with a big thank-you to Karen, who is one of Ellen's truest and longest and best friends. The last few days of Ellen's life, I was in close communication with Karen, who was in Massachusetts at the hospital with Ellen. Five of Ellen's best friends in the whole world were with her those last few days, and I offer blessings for every single one of them. We are so grateful you were there to shower her with love before she stepped into the Next Place.
Karen asked if there were any messages I wanted her to share with Ellen. The doctors had discontinued Ellen's medications and anticipated that her passing might very well be imminent. I was bowled over by the severity of the situation, as I had no idea it had gotten to that. (And I had spent the evening before looking into booking a rail trip up to see Ellen quickly, but alas, it turns out it was way too late for all of that. There was no time left.)
I call my friend Ellen "Boot," as I described in my posting last week about Ellen. She was Boot and I was Boot. That's how we greeted each other, online and everywhere else. I asked Karen to tell Ellen, "Hey, Boot, I love you!" And Karen did. And she sent me a note saying that Ellen received my message, and she smiled. It was one of my dear friend's last smiles in this world, and it was for me. Ellen passed away later that night.
Now, I'm crying as I type this, so I'll close and go sob somewhere privately for a while, as I have been doing. Goshdarnit, life HURTS sometimes, doesn't it? Grief is its own manifestation of love, and it will take its own good time. *wipes eyes* Anyway . . .
I don't remember much about Ellen's taste in music, except that she liked Springsteen, as any decent Jersey Girl should (and quite a few Pennsylvania gals too, I must say). And I know she and I both loved this song and found it meaningful, so I believe that here and now is the time to share it: Springsteen and crew, with If I Should Fall Behind.
Sweet dreams, my Bootie, until we meet again.
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