Coal River Road, St. Albans, WV
When the box arrived on our doorstep, Grandmother called her best friend, Ora, who showed up soon after. In the kitchen, they opened it to see what they had painstakingly chosen and ordered from a novelty catalog weeks earlier.
One thousand daisy-shaped plastic key chains in a variety of neon colors, glowing with possibility.
Imprinted in the center of each ring was her signature tagline, “Cakes For All Occasions DOROTHY A. BRYAN” in metallic gold on a black background. Grandmother was a 1970s marketing genius.
I stole an orange one and stashed it in the wooden box under my bed.
Before Dorothy was a Bryan, she was a Davis and in the 1940s she honed her cake-decorating skills at several bakeries before striking out on her own with D. Bryan’s Sweet Shop in the 1950s.
When she outgrew the home-based bakery, she and Ora opened the Kountry Kitchen on Walnut Street in town. Because of her cake artistry, the governor’s office chose her to bake a 250-pound cake for the celebration of West Virginia’s Centennial in 1963.
Some years later, she closed the shop and went to nursing school.
Right before graduation, she had emergency gallbladder surgery. During recovery, Granddad promised her a new car if she would forget about being a nurse.
Mom tells me today Grandmother once told her she grew to hate that car.
By the 1970s, Grandmother was back in business, based in her home kitchen. When I asked her why she decorated cakes, she said, “Two reasons. One, I love who I am when I make something beautiful, and two, I make my own ‘pin money.’”
I had to look it up. It’s money given to a wife from her husband as an allowance. This was my first lesson in irony. Or was it sarcasm? Maybe a little of both.
She used that money to buy those key chains, much to Granddad’s chagrin.
Grandmother was in her fifties when she described the creative flow and how she felt about herself when she was in it. It took until I was in my fifties before my heart heard what she meant.
The wooden box from my childhood is long gone. Its contents disappeared into tubs filled with a lifetime of keepsakes. As I riffle through yellowed newspaper clippings and sepia-toned photos, I find it. An orange plastic daisy.
It has lost its luster, the black center scratched. The chain is missing.
Now, I keep it with me in a car I love. It’s as if Grandmother is riding right beside me.