The Friendship Cake

A Story of Kindness 

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music“. Frederich Nietzsche

John rises at four o’clock Wednesday morning, completes his morning absolutions of prayer, yoga, music and breakfast then dresses for the day. He steps out to his front yard, pauses and takes a deep breath before walking over to his neighbors big trash can, grabbing the large plastic handle and wheeling it out to the curb. He does the same with his own can setting it beside his neighbors, looking like giant bookends waiting for giant books. He turns and offers a friendly wave to the elderly gray haired woman peeking at him from behind white lace curtains. After dropping a pink bakery box and a quart sized canning jar filled with white liquid on her front stoop, he drives off to work at the local grocery he’s owned for two decades.

Ashly has been mowing lawns everyday after school since fourth grade. Now sixteen, her slight build and small stature hasn’t changed all that much except for the wizened deep brown eyes betraying the old soul within.  With long black hair she keeps in two tight buns, one over each ear, red lipstick and black nail polish, she looks more like a member of a girl band than a sprouting entrepreneur, much less one that mows lawns. She has her own truck now, so her Dad doesn’t have to help haul the equipment and take the cuttings to the dump‘s compost lot afterward. She works Poplar Street like an uber efficient assembly line. Crisscrossing the mow on each lawn to mirror the one across the street so there is an alternate pattern to each lawn. As she approaches the last house on the block she slows and cuts the engine then coasts to a stop and parks in front of it. The Raymond house. Pulling out the push mower and her straw broom with the carved wooden handle, she quietly cuts the grass in the front yard, puts the cuttings in her tarp, sweeps the walk and the sidewalk, puts everything back in her truck.  She plucks the pink bakery box and the quart canning jar from the front seat and sets it on the front stoop of the house, then turns to leave. Before she can pull away from the sidewalk Mrs Raymond pops her head out the door and waves. Her head scarf is blue today with little yellow dragonflies hand embroidered across the section above her hairless eyebrows.  She’s as thin as a stick figure, still pretty with too bright azure eyes and a smile that melts hearts. Ashley waves back and smiles, her deep brown eyes seeing all yet showing nothing but joy, then she pops the clutch and coasts down the hill to pick up the next name on the list. 

The little bakery on Spruce Street, Cups and Cakes, has blue shutters and bright green awnings decorating the large picture windows on either side of the big red door. The floor mat in front of the door spells out “welcome” in twenty different languages as does the “open” door sign. Above the door, carved into a hand painted wooden sign are the words of Tennyson’s Robin to his friends: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘it will be happier’; and old faces press round us, and warm hands close with warm hands.” Fresh flowers of multitude variety grow in walnut flower boxes below each window.  The scent of fresh baked breads, cinnamon rolls and strong coffee waft like a warm blanket over everyone that enters the little shop. The hearty laughter of the bakery staff welcomes each and every patron with hugs and pats and handshakes guiding each one to a table or if their lucky, a ruby red counter stool that overlooks the big bright kitchen. There, Susie and her team of bakers make the glorious buns and breads, cookies, cakes and pastries that line the open shelves. 

When George shuffles through the door of the bakery the whole place hoots a greeting that just about knocks him off his feet for George is not just the founder of Cups and Cakes, not just Susie the Baker’s  Dad,  he’s the guy that brought the friendship cake to town. 

George is an average man. Average height and weight, brown hair, green eyes and olive skin. He didn’t have a traumatic childhood or a nasty divorce, nor did he experience financial ruin and he wasn’t a reformed criminal. He was just a normal everyday guy that loved to bake that happened to be adept at seeing value where others saw lack, with an understanding that folks carry what they are able, some more than others. He kept the bakery opened Monday through Saturday from 6 am to 3 pm. George loved his patrons and the little shop, yet it was when he wasn’t working the bakery where he made the most impact. Everyday after closing up shop, he would walk the neighborhood and notice things. An un-mowed lawn, a parked car with flat tires,  a broken window boarded up, a youngster with ducked taped shoes, a young mother struggling to carry both a toddler and groceries because she didn’t have a stroller much less a car, a beggar on the street corner.  

It was during those ramblings that he decided his neighborhood needed some kindness, so he set up the bakeries suggestion box and placed it on the counter with the ruby red stools. Made of old weathered wood with fading yellow paint embellished with bright red flowers on the edges, the box sat in front of a little hand written sign: Suggest Someone Needing Kindness. There were short yellow pencils next to slips of paper in a bright blue mug and all a person need do was write down a kindness, a name and an address. He counted 25 suggestions of kindness that first day he placed the box on the counter and to his surprise each one was accompanied by the name and phone number of the person that submitted it. The folks that dropped a slip of paper in the suggestion box didn’t know exactly what George was up to but instinctively, they understood he would need help. As he pulled each suggestion out of the box and read it he was so moved by the responses he had to stop several times to wipe the tears of gratitude from his eyes. 

  There was the neighbor of an elderly woman who noticed that she needed her trash can set on the curb on trash day and brought back to her yard again. There was the high school student that knew of a post office clerk who, in his spare time, answers children’s letters to Santa Clause, to God, the tooth fairy and the dog Spot, needing a yard work helper. Then there was a beautiful note from the neighborhood beautician about the little child that gives her lunch money to help the homeless person she sees everyday get a meal and a blanket, whose mother was too sick to pick her up from school and take her to dance class.  There were so many different suggestions he was momentarily overwhelmed with emotion. There was a request for the  community to rally around a young refugee to keep him and his family in the United States, there was one to help the grocery clerk that always helped her customers with extra change to pay their bill who didn’t have enough money of her own to buy school books to finish her degree. For many months the acts of kindness generated in George’s bakery were kept alive and it didn’t take long for the little neighborhood around Cups and Cakes to spread the kindness to the next neighborhood who spread it to the next one. 

A simple act of Kindness is a friend shaving their head in solidarity of the chemo treatment for cancer. Kindness is a country welcoming the terror stricken, poor refugees at its borders understanding that security matters less than inequality. A lawn mowed, an envelope of just the right amount of money needed for school books or medicine, windows washed, groceries delivered. Small acts. Kindness.  It’s the antidote to fear and the salve to anxiety.  

This where the cake comes in. The Friendship Cake, a lovely sourdough starter shared many years back when folks needed friendship in their community. Operating in love, seeking no praise and without wanting anything in return, folks are brought together. 

Using this little story as inspiration, start your own neighborhood acts of kindness. You can follow the recipe and instructions here for the friendship cake or, if you don’t have the time and space just make a double batch of your favorite cake recipe wrapping each single layer in pretty paper and give it away to someone in need of kindness with a little note suggesting the receiver pay it forward. You’ll be glad you did. 

“You have to realize the power of a smile or an act of kindness generates so much force in the world.”  – Caroline Myss