Welcome to Alamance County

By Jeanne Robertson

Here’s some important information for anyone moving into Alamance County. In our area of the country, when someone we know gets sick or has passed, we take over food. You can buy that food already arranged in a bucket or you can go to the deli in the grocery store and get something pretty, all arranged on a plastic platter. You can even hire somebody to make a casserole. But put it down in the big list of important things for life in Alamance County . . . you get a lot more credit if you make it yourself. Thighs and drumsticks can be arranged beautifully on your grandmother’s platter but the women in the kitchen know where you got that chicken. That’s just the way the world works around here and in many other places also, I suspect.

I make only one thing for these situations. Little 7-Up pound cakes. The women in my friend/acquaintance base know they better not take over a pound cake ahead of me. It hasn’t always been that way. For years I took a big bowl of my special potato salad, but the place that made it burned down so there went that.

When I’m in town, I make my little pound cakes by the dozen and freeze them. Then, if I’m out of town for a speech and something happens that calls for a pound cake, my husband Jerry, a.k.a. “Left Brain” takes one over.

Not long ago, I came in from a speaking trip late one night and was leaving again the next afternoon. It was a quick turnaround. That morning I heard that a friend of ours was sick and headed to the freezer where I discovered that my pound cake supply was depleted. Left brain said, “A lot of people have been sick. I’ve been taking cakes all over town, and (mumbling) I might have eaten a few myself.”

I had to get a pound cake made - just one - before I headed to the airport. If you don’t uphold the ground you’ve claimed someone else will jump in. Now I was really in a hurry. Making a pound cake wasn’t in my time plan and to add to my dilemma, I didn’t have the ingredients. I needed LB to make a quick trip to the grocery story while I packed. Going to the grocery store wasn’t in his time plan.

He looked at his watch. “I can’t go, honey. I’m trying to get to badminton.” LB plays badminton and he’s serious about it.

“It’s just a few ingredients. You’ll be smashing that birdie in no time, and as you just admitted, you ate several of the cakes.”

That seemed to win him over and he finally agreed to get the ingredients upon one condition. “Just make sure I can get through the express lane. Don’t start adding to the list.”

No problem. I’m aware that I often add to the list when he’s going to the grocery store. Left Brain and I no longer go to the grocery store together because, quite frankly, I don’t care what things cost by the half ounce.

He soon left with my short list. Well, I waited. And waited. He didn’t come back. And he didn’t come back. I thought he had gone on to badminton and forgotten me and the cake. Right before I called the grocery story to have him paged . . . again . . . I heard the car pull in.

Left Brain soon came hurrying up the steps, plastic bags hanging from his arms. Jerry Robertson is a nice guy. Left brained? Absolutely. But a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you. Mild-mannered. Polite. Seldom gets upset. But I detected that he glared at me as he put down the sacks. “Couldn’t get ‘em all this trip,” he muttered under his breath and left. Odd.

When he was gone, I looked in the first sack. There was a pound of butter and two gigantic bottles of vanilla flavoring. Doling out a teaspoon and a half a cake, it would take me years to get rid of that much vanilla flavoring. In the next sack were three dozen eggs. This irritated me slightly because I needed five eggs and had clearly written on this list to get a dozen eggs. Must have been a “special” on the eggs, I thought. In the next sack was a three-pound tub of shortening. No, two of them. In the next sack, two more. Twelve pounds of lard! I could fry fish for a fire department fund raiser with that much lard. But in that fourth sack, I found my list.

Let me stop here and make sure you know something. Left Brain is a smart man. He went to Duke University on a basketball scholarship, played basketball for four years and graduated in the same four years. Then he went to Carolina and got a masters degree and a doctorate degree. He has over-degreed himself. But I don’t care how many diplomas you frame and put on the wall, if you have a left brain, it’s going to kick in on you. His kicked in on him in an aisle of that grocery store.
Back to my story. In my eagerness to make sure that “LB” could get through the express lane, I had for probably the first time in my life, numbered the items.
#1. A pound of butter. No problem. I had it.
#2. Large bottle of vanilla flavoring. I had two of them.
#3. A dozen eggs. One, two, three. Three dozen eggs. (This man has a doctorate degree.)
#4. A big tub of shortening. Yep, one, two, three, four.

I could hear him coming back and I quickly looked down at item #5. It was a five pound bag of sugar. I knew Left Brain was coming toward the kitchen with twenty-five pounds of sugar. Item number six was a five-pound bag of all - purpose flour. Thirty pounds of flour!

He came in again with bags in each hand and draped on both arms, one between his teeth, and started plopping sugar and flour bags in five-pounds thuds on the kitchen floor. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud,thud,thud,thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. When he finished, he glared at me a second time and said, “One more trip ought to do it.”

When he turned his back, I sneaked a look at the list. Item number seven was a bottle of 7-Up. I didn’t want that big 2-liter bottle because I was only going to make one cake. Anything over a small amount would be stale by the time I got back. I wanted a six-pack of those medium-sized bottles that hang down from plastic. So I knew he was coming back with 42 bottles of 7-Up. I started clearing a space on the kitchen floor.

In a few minutes he was back and put down the forty-two bottles amongst the other sacks. That’s when he turned to me. “Well, obviously, they wouldn’t let me through the express lane. I’ve got to get to badminton.”

He got all the way out in the hall before he turned around and came back into the kitchen. “For the record,” he began. “Repeating, for . . . the . . . record, I figured out what I had done, but by then, she was ringing up the 7-Up. The people behind me in line were laughing, and . . . I gotta to get to badminton.”

I thought he had gone but no. He stuck his head back through the door one more time before finally leaving for badminton. “You don’t have to tell anybody.” “I won’t.”

Epilogue: “Three days later I went to the grocery story and the woman who rang up my items commented, “I think I checked out your husband a few days ago. That was an interesting order.”
“Oh? Well, yes, let me explain. Anytime a friend of ours gets sick or has passed, I take over a pound cake.”
She thought a few seconds and said, “Is there an epidemic?”

(Reprinted with permission of Alamance Magazine.)

Jeanne Robertson, professional speaker and author, can be reached through