J. Blair Brown
J Blair Brown is a freelance writer and the author of the children’s book “Leroy and the Legend.” She is the former radio talk show host of “Livin’ the Dream! with J Blair” and “J Blair Presents” where she has interviewed several noted individuals from the entertainment industry. She has developed a workshop on how to become a freelance writer, and is a public speaker on the topics of Cultural and Gender Differences in the Workplace.
A Senior Moment..........
WHAT ‘RETHA MEANS TO MESometimes I find myself DAY DREAMING of days gone by. Sitting on the sofa in that big brick house on Maclay Street, my siblings and I belting out tunes played on that old turntable. Using hair brushes, wooden spoons or simply closed fists as mics – you couldn’t tell us nothin’!Even at just six years old, I recognized that ‘Retha demanded RESPECT! Of course, I didn’t understand the relevance of it all – that would come much later. But the spelling lesson wasn’t completely lost on me. I knew that R-E-S-P-E-C-T meant something important (why else would she have to spell it?). THINK about it.AIN’T NO WAY even CHAIN OF FOOLS couldn’t feel what ‘Retha put down! On every single recording, you can feel that NATURAL WOMAN, deservedly dubbed “Queen of Soul,” throwing everything she had into each ‘track’ (they were called “records” then).My vocal chords were developed by mimicking ‘Retha’s SWEET, SWEET BABY (Since You’ve Been Gone). Imagine a seven year-old singing, “Hey baby! Take me back. Consider me, please. If you walk in that door I can get up off my knees! I just been so blue since you been gone!” (What can I tell you? I had a very colorful childhood.)And though it was certainly no SPANISH HARLEM, at any time of the day or night, you could hear someone somewhere in some part of the neighborhood GROOVIN’ to ‘Retha. Maybe Kenley’s Bar, the Shake Shop, Chicken Brown’s Pool Hall or a neighbor. ‘Retha was everywhere.‘Retha helped me through several heartaches. UNTIL YOU COME BACK TO ME (That’s What I’m Gonna Do) became my mantra around the time that guy broke my heart in the 6th grade. And while it would be quite some time before I would ride on a valid FREEWAY OF LOVE, through many trials and heartaches, ‘Retha’s voice often talked me off the proverbial “ledge,” gently reminding me that A ROSE IS STILL A ROSE.There is much more to say, many tunes to refer to but time and space hinders me. So in closing I’ll say this: ‘Retha, THIS GIRL’S IN LOVE WITH YOU. I guess you could say YOU SEND ME. So I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOU. And if there’s any possible chance, by all means CALL ME. I’ll be waiting.Sincerely and with much love!~ J.
One Day I Baked a Cake
One day I baked a cake. Just one day. And I never did again. It was about 40 years ago.
Let me walk you through it…
I was in my mid-teens and decided I wanted to bake my very first cake – alone. I had watched my Mother and Grandmother baking and had assisted for years doing various chores related to cooking. But I was much younger then…enthusiastic about watching the matriarchs whip up apple pie, peach cobbler and other tasty desserts.
Around age 15, I realized (after listening to some of my friends) that I had no real cooking skills. Or baking skills. Or culinary skills whatsoever. I was on a new mission: I was going to start with a cake. My own (boxed) cake. Without Mom or Grandma or any of my family members’ help. I was going in that kitchen and I was gonna ‘lay my thang down.’ It was going to be the best cake ever.
So Mom and I went to the store and got all the ingredients. When we got home, Mom, knowing I wanted to do this all by myself, gave me a few simple directives:
“Make sure you have all your ingredients out before you start, “ said Mom. “That way they’re right there and you can just go to mixing and baking.
“Read the instructions right off the box and do exactly what it says.”
Well if that’s all there is to it, I thought to myself, this is gonna be a huge success! If it’s one thing I knew to do, it was read.
I was all set: Eggs. Check. Water (perfectly proportioned). Check. Cake mix (easy…it’s in the box). Check. And so on.
I prepped the cake pan with the flour (just like I’d seen Mom do a hundred times before), turned the oven to 350 degrees, and started mixing my ingredients.
As I poured the perfectly proportioned water into the cake mix, I thought: that doesn’t look like Mom’s; must need more water. In goes another cup. And I’m mixing and mixing and mixing. Hmmm, I think it needs just a little more water. Perfect! Now let’s put this beautiful masterpiece in the oven. Two racks? I’ll just put it on the bottom one; it’s close to the fire…shouldn’t matter that much.
About an hour later, Mom said, “Are you checking on your cake? It should be done by now.”
I told her I had been and often. I had, in fact, been checking on that cake every ten minutes…but it would NOT get done!
“Press your finger lightly in the center and if it springs back up, you know it’s ready,” Mom told me.
Hmmm, seems simple enough. I follow her instructions. For real this time, to the letter. I pressed my finger in the center and it had a funny texture, like a gelatin. Needless to say: it did NOT spring up. Hmmm, must need more baking.
And so it went on…for nearly THREE. MORE. HOURS.
Eventually, Mom said, “Get that cake out that oven!”
So…finally back to actually following directions on the box, I let the cake cool down for about 20 minutes. It smelled soooo good! I was going to have folks talking about that cake for years to come. My family was going to boast about my cake at the next family picnic; I was going to start a little side hustle, taking orders and making money, all because of a simple box cake. I was so gifted.
That’s how it played out in my head but little of that actually happened. Of course it smelled delicious, permeating throughout the entire 3-story house – it had been in the oven for nearly FOUR HOURS! I had even diluted myself into thinking the gelatin-like substance wouldn’t really make that much of a difference as long as the flavor was there. (This was the night I discovered the importance of texture.)
I was so proud of my cake that I decided to serve it to each member of the family, slicing into 2-inch squares and delivering to them personally. I have to admit: I have never known such graciousness until that day. Every member of my household (and there were many) kindly accepted the gelatin-cake with a smile and a ‘thank you.’
…every member except one (because there’s one in every family).
As I approached my youngest brother, he picked up a slice and said, “Why is it so heavy?” I was dumbfounded. Understand this: this was the brother that was an expert at desserts. Not baking them, mind you, but eating them. He knew what was good and we all knew it. His was the opinion I’d waited for since the moment I decided to bake the cake. I knew if he liked it, I was ‘in like Flint.’
By now I’m thinking, What does he mean by that? And before I could process the moment, he uttered the words that are indelibly etched in my psyche, the words that have paralyzed me mentally and emotionally from ever baking another dessert…
“…and it’s so wet! What did you do – give it a bath?”
I was crushed. I felt like the Emperor with no clothes. My secret was out: I could not bake cake and I was not gifted. I sulked around for a few days wondering what would become of my cake. Still sitting on the stove top covered by a kitchen towel, I finally peaked underneath and saw that there were just a few slices left of my gelatin-cake; it was gobbled up after all.
It took three days of summer heat to make it edible. At that instant I knew I would never bake a cake again. I just don’t have the time…and I can’t afford the water.
If you want to follow a woman who truly has outstanding culinary skills, check out Sherri Williams’ (Logan) Facebook page. This 50+er has changed course in her vintage years, showing there’s always time to follow one’s dreams. A prize-winning culinary master, you will absolutely salivate for her dishes. She’s amazing…and just who I could have become if not for that stupid cake!