“The Queen of Desserts” may have been an apt title to describe my mother. She put a lot of creativity and work into the fine art of the dessert and its presentation.
My parents entertained frequently. So, throughout the year, Mom would labour in the kitchen, turning out Hungarian crumb cake, baked Alaska, angel food cake with ice cream and strawberries, cobblers of various kinds, pies, shortbread, doughnuts, and steamed pudding. At Easter, she would make her special sunflower coffee cake, resplendent in yellow icing, with brown chocolate sprinkles at the centre. At Christmas, she would assign us kids to pull taffy, decorate cookies, and wrap candy.
Many of these treats were shared with neighbours, friends, and relatives. But there was always plenty for our own consumption. Mom took a great deal of pleasure in finding new recipes and trying them out on our family. I don’t remember anyone complaining!
It was the spring of 1974, and I had just turned 13 – a time when I was an expert on just about everything and had no problem letting others know it. Mom had been carefully crafting a new recipe, and it was the day of its debut for our family before she rolled it out for company.
After the main course, Mom brought out a tray of elegant goblets. The tall vessels contained a beautiful parfait – bright colours of layered Jello, pudding, and custard, topped with whipped cream and a cherry to round out the presentation. We couldn’t wait to get started!
Mom set down the tray and handed each of us a parfait. She then asked if we had noticed the new goblets. I can’t say we had, as we were more interested in the contents. Mom often bought dishes in large quantities, since it wasn’t unusual for us to entertain 12 or more people at one time. She had found a dozen of these tall glasses on sale, and was rightly proud of her find.
Paying some attention now, I announced that the goblets looked like plastic to me. The sides appeared far too thin to be glass. I took my spoon and lightly tapped the side.
“Steve,” Mom said, “be careful. That’s glass.”
“It can’t be glass,” I said, as I tapped a little harder. “It sounds like plastic to me.”
“Please be careful or you’ll break it,” Mom continued.
Eager to prove my point, I tapped with a little more vigour. Clink. To my surprise, there lay a small chunk of glass on top of what was left of my dessert. Oops! I guess I was wrong.
I felt bad, but the damage was done and super glue wasn’t going to fix the problem. Mom was disappointed, Dad was upset, and I was embarrassed.
Act justly, love mercy
Did Dad take me out to the woodshed? Did Mom make me buy a new goblet? Was I grounded for the next year? None of the above.
Mom came up with a very clever punishment – one that was more meaningful in the long term than some of the others. She washed out the goblet, along with the shattered piece, and placed them on the dresser in my bedroom.
Every day, when I went to get a pair of socks or underwear, the glass was a clear reminder that maybe I didn’t know it all. There’s a reason God places people in our lives for guidance and advice.
When I reflect on Micah 6:8, a passage which exhorts us to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God, I can say that my mother modelled those characteristics that day. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.
How many times in life or business have we thought we knew it all? Maybe a partner, business colleague, or friend clearly warned us the results of our actions could have devastating consequences. We plow forward, tinkling the glass until it’s too late. The damage is done.
I still like dessert. But now, I try to be a little more careful about how much I think I know.
—Stephen J. Rendall is an award-winning Canadian music producer. He and his wife Cathy have three grown children. A version of this story first appeared on his blog, Memoirs of a Prairie Boy