I learned powerful magic when I was seven or eight years old.
Not the kind that will curse wrongdoers to suitably gruesome deaths or reunite star crossed lovers from perilous situations and terrible distances.
No, I learned a much more potent type of magic.
I learned how to bake.
There was very little food in the house, and hadn’t been for a few weeks.
As a matter of fact, the day before our lone meal had been one small bowl of popcorn each.
But we didn’t each really get a bowl. My mother pushed her bowl towards us, and went without. As she usually did when there wasn’t enough.
My parents went out a day or two after that.
I didn’t know where they went, and I didn’t care. Kids are selfish, and their needs come first. Or at least, mine did.
Only years after the fact did I realize what sacrifices were made on my behalf.
What I did know and care about at the time was that I was very hungry. I had been for awhile.
I never got used to being hungry. On the rare occasions my parents bought jello or cocoa, I waited until they weren’t watching and squirreled some of the precious stuff away. Into my room, in secret places where no one would ever think to look.
So I wouldn’t have to be hungry for awhile.
My brother and I were going through the cabinets, looking for anything we might be able to eat.
We didn’t expect to find anything; but hope springs eternal. Never more so than in a child’s heart.
My eyes fell on my grandmother’s recipe book at some point; I remember that.
I remember the sense of excitement I felt when we realized we had enough things on hand to bake something.
I don’t remember how big the mess we made was, or anything other than the fact that we could fill our bellies with what we baked.
So we did.
Necessity opened the door. I walked through without ever looking back.
And the magic came with me.
I bake cakes and had my kids deliver them to veterans every single Veteran’s Day. I want to thank them for their service, but something in me rebels at showing up at their door and telling them so.
I volunteered to whip up sweet treats for bake sales to buy Christmas gifts for the elderly at nursing homes. None of the recipients knew I did it. I didn’t want them to. To call attention to such a thing is to negate the purpose entirely.
When I heard about the neighbor who had lost her job and didn’t know how she was going to manage feeding her kids, I got to work. I didn’t single her out. I had my kids make deliveries to every single neighbor in the neighborhood to cover what I was doing. She and her kids got more than anyone else, but she never knew it.
I didn’t want her kids going without.
I remembered too well what it was to be hungry.
I have baked before weddings and funerals, anniversaries and birthdays, small gatherings and large ones. I have baked for friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers.
Sometimes I saw the magic; most of the time I opted out.
Because the first time I saw the magic was the best.
My parents came back eventually. It was our mother’s face we looked at when they walked in the door.
It was her face our gazes remained on as she looked at what we had done.
I don’t remember making a huge mess, but I’m sure we did.
The mess never occurred to us. We were sure our mother would be proud that we were helping her. Finally helping her.
And she was.
I can still see my mother’s weary eyes taking in the biscuits we had baked. They were everywhere. Piled on the tables, counters, and precariously balanced on every available surface of the small kitchen.
Even today, I can remember the feel of the magic swirling around us like dust motes illuminated by bright sunlight.
Because there was sunlight; I could see it shining from my mother’s eyes as she saw what we had done.
She didn’t say anything; but she didn’t have to.
And now, all these years later, I realize how like my mother I have become.
Baking is my way to show I care when I can’t say it.
I know so many talented people, all of whom possess more magic in their little finger than I have in my entire body.
You are among them, and so you understand.
All truly extraordinary magic is given freely and solely for the delight of those on the receiving end of it.
All magicians will disappear.
But their magic will go on.