In the fifties, before television signals made it over the Mule Mountains and down into Bisbee proper, KSUN radio was our link to the outside world as well as a source of entertainment. We listened to Paul Harvey and the News as well as to The Shadow, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, and the B-Bar-B Riders. Every evening at seven o’clock a program called Best by Request came on. Listeners were encouraged to call into the station—2-2277—and request their favorite tune. I remember calling in several times for “Get Out of Here with that Boom, Boom, Boom” as well as “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”
So this blog is a twenty-first century version of Best by Request. I’m responding to several requests that came in due to last week’s blog, but I’m a storyteller, and before I get to the heart of the matter, I’m going to tell you how this all started.
I sold the first two Beaumont books on a two-book contract in 1983. At the time one was already written and the second was in process. About that time, a guy named Dick Sawyer called to introduce himself. He was president of a local professional writing group called Seattle Freelancers, and he invited me to be the speaker at an upcoming meeting. The whole idea was daunting since I was stuck in that uncertain limbo where, although I had sold two books, I was still unpublished. Nonetheless, I agreed, and when it was time for me to do the talk, Dick and his wife, Carol, picked me up, took me to the meeting, and made me feel welcome—enough so that I ended up joining the organization.
During the next year or so interacted with Dick and Carol a number of times, but then I learned that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She passed away in March of 1985. A few months later when Until Proven Guilty was due out at the end of June, I invited Dick to come to the grand opening party. I had met Bill just a week earlier and had invited him to the party, too. At the event, I introduced Dick to Bill. They were both recent widowers—Dick of three month’s time and Bill of six—and the Beaumont party was the first totally social event either of them had attended since losing their respective spouses. In the course of chatting, Dick mentioned that he was leaving soon, going back to Texas on a road trip to visit with old friends.
The next several months were a whirlwind of activity for me because, unexpectedly, Bill and I were falling in love, getting engaged, and planning a wedding. Just before the wedding, I decided to call Dick to see if he would like to attend. When I told him the wedding would be at eleven AM on December 21st, he allowed as how he was busy and couldn’t come. “What’s more important than MY wedding?” I demanded. His reply? “MY wedding!”
It turned out that, while in Texas, he had reconnected with an old friend named Cynthia, the widow of Dick’s only cousin. Prior to her husband’s death and to Carol’s, the two couples had socialized a good deal. And soon after Dick’s visit, romantic sparks started flying. Their wedding was scheduled for the same time and the same day in the assisted living facility where Dick’s mother was residing. So, although they missed our wedding ceremony itself, Dick and Cynthia brought their best people along after their ceremony, and our reception became their reception, too. For a full year after that, I hassled Dick endlessly about being so cheap that they’d had to freeload on our reception. For our joint first anniversary, they took us out to dinner at a lovely restaurant on Capitol Hill, and that was the start of a long-running tradition. We celebrated together and alternated paying every December.
One year, when we went to pick them up, Cynthia came downstairs carrying a small jewelry box. “When I was in my fifties,” she said, “I was allowed to design a ring of my choosing. I wore it in my fifties and sixties, but now that I’m in my seventies, it’s no longer appropriate, and I’d like you to have it.” When I saw it, my eyes bugged out. It looked for all the world like a piece of gold broccoli studded with diamonds. But I accepted it and thanked her profusely. Then I put it on my finger and wore it proudly in my fifties and sixties.
The four of us remained good friends for a long time. For years we all made an annual trek to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, and we shared countless meals together. Cynthia was a dynamic cook, and the pecan praline cake mentioned in last week’s blog is a recipe she gave me. There are two kinds of people in the world—chocolate people and non-chocolate people. I’m definitely one of the latter. My weakness is anything related to caramel. Naturally that cake really hit my sweet spot!
But Dick and Cynthia were a good deal older than we were. We lost Dick first to complex heart issues. Later, when Cynthia developed some dementia concerns, she was victimized by a twenty year-old scam artist. Fortunately, a trust officer at her bank blew the whistle on the louse. At that point, Cynthia’s daughter collected her and took her home to Texas before further damage could be done. In order to protect her mother, the daughter blocked all further communication from Washington State. As a consequence, we lost track of her, and we learned of her eventual passing long after it occurred.
As I said, I wore Cynthia’s ring while I was in my fifties and sixties, but in my seventies, I passed “broccoli with diamonds,” as we call it, along to my daughter, the same one who loves Cynthia’s pecan praline cake. Thanks to DNA, she’s also in the non-chocolate camp. And now in response to please both in the blog comments as well as ones sent to me by email, I’m passing the recipe along to you.
By the way, you’ll see that the title here is “Grandma Judy’s Praline Cake, but those you you who have read this blog will know that’s fake news. It’s really Cynthia Sawyer’s Pecan Praline Cake. Enjoy both the cake and this late breaking written episode of Best By Request.
PS. If you want more praline, make it two cups of brown sugar and two cups of pecan pieces when it comes time to make the frosting.
Grandma Judy’s Praline Cake: JAJ Praline Cake