The squirrels, if no one else, are relieved

October 12, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007, 09:15 hrs:

A voicemail from my mother on my cell phone told me that her friend and hairdresser Judy had died Wednesday afternoon after what obituaries usually say was a “courageous battle against cancer.”

After hearing several years of stories about Judy, I finally got to meet her in the spring of last year.

I grew up in the Deep South and, in many ways, I think of myself as a Southerner at heart, or at least by disposition. I know it is probably not true, but I think of Judy as somebody one could only meet, so to speak, down yonder. Here’s a column I wrote about her and her little beauty shop, shortly after my visit.

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Carrot Cake at the OK Corral.

By T.W. Burger

The issue of the carrot cakes came up during the usual rattle of gunfire where my mother gets her hair done.

My mother still lives in Georgia, in the bustling university town where I grew up. She likes to get her hair done by Judy, who runs a beauty shop out of her home out in the country.

Judy loves birds, and has a number of feeders out in the yard. She hates squirrels, who regularly conduct raids on the feeders, despite the risk of sudden death from the .22 rifle Judy keeps propped up by the door in her shop.Judy, her trusty .22, and Mom

A word to my more urbanized readers who are reacting with nervousness at the idea of a beauty shop operator having a loaded gun at the ready right in her shop. Understand that we in rural areas have a very different relationship with firearms than do city folks. While we do have our Rambo wannabes, for the most part country folk see guns as tools, mostly for hunting and perhaps a little bit for protection.

A few years ago, a woman called me to say her son had found a shotgun shell in the parking lot outside the local middle school. She wanted to know if I intended to do a story about it. I said no, because it was hunting season. It would have been different if her son had seen a student walking into the school with a shotgun. Tragedies like the shootings at Columbine and other places notwithstanding, I think people over-react to the presence of firearms.

All of which has very little to do with carrot cake.

Back at Judy’s beauty shop, it is a regular occurrence that Judy will drop everything in the middle of a trim and set, leap to the rifle, open the door, and blow one of the little rodents into that big pecan orchard in the sky.

“Lord, I hate squirrels,” she typically says, leaning the gun back against the door. Mom says these interruptions with gunfire make her nervous, but she keeps going back because Judy is such a good friend, and anyway she does nice work.

“Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah,” Judy said, resuming her place behind the chair, where Mom sat, watching through the window as the squirrel twitched its last. “I just decided I had enough with Leon and the carrot cake.”

Leon was her husband. Since she’d met him some years ago, he’d let there be no doubt that his favorite thing in the world to eat was carrot cake, a dessert Judy was entirely happy to bake for him.

Trouble is, Leon was real fond of the carrot cake his mama had always served him, and liked his mama’s recipe a lot more than he liked Judy’s, and wasn’t shy about saying so.

“I’d had it with that,” Judy said. “So, I called his mama and told her I just had to find out how she made her carrot cake. She told me to come on over, and I did. She took me out in the garage, where they keep this big, upright freezer. She opened it up, and there was six big ole Winn-Dixie carrot cakes, still in their plastic containers, pretty as you please.”

Judy’s mother-in-law said she’d never baked a carrot cake in her life. She just waited until they were on special at the Winn-Dixie, and bought a half -dozen of them at a time.

“’What Leon don’t know, don’t hurt him,’ she told me,” Judy said.

So, Judy went out and bought herself a mess of Winn-Dixie’s carrot cake, freezing all but one. That same evening, she carved out a big piece and served it to Leon after supper, and sat back to assess the results. Leon dipped out a big bite with his fork, put it in his mouth and started chewing. He closed his eyes, and gave out with a windy little sigh, and swallowed.

“Oh, my, but that’s good,” he said.

He took another bite, and leaned across the table to whisper, even though only the two of them were home.

“And, you know, I believe it’s even better than

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