Once, when I was little, my dad tied a purple ribbon in my hair, and for a moment now I just totally lose my shit, because I want that ribbon so much.
Think of all the things you discard every day, think of the significance of all those insignificant things.
I think of the ribbon he tied, lost, rotting in a landfill in another state, under ten feet of broken appliances and diapers and coffee grounds. I think of the day I decided to throw it away, probably because it was frayed or faded or because I grew too old to wear a purple ribbon in my hair.
It meant everything, and I threw it out. And now my throat closes and my cheeks bloom and I fight off a kicking screaming childish fit over an old purple ribbon.
I have thrown out baby teeth and smudged pencil drawings, scraps of paper and business cards, broken jewelry and tarnished forks.
“Once, he ate with that fork?”
No. That’s just silly.
But here I am, near tears over a purple ribbon, because my memory still holds the gentle tug of the first knot, his clumsy, crooked fingers brushing against my scalp, the soft swish when the bow pulled tight. Later, maybe it slipped loose, and maybe I rolled my eyes a little at my hapless dad as I retied it, tighter, better, so it wouldn’t loosen again…but I probably didn’t let him see me do it.
Daddy was a writer, like me. He wrote in composition books bound with glue and string and purchased with coins he got by turning in pop bottles. When I was small, he bought me those little spiral notebooks made for back pockets. I filled them with stories about owls and storm-clouds and a small silent fairy-girl whose daddy was a jester-king. I don’t know what dad put in his books. They went the way of my purple ribbon long before I was born.
I have a scrapbook he kept as a young man in the Navy, when he was scarcely more than a boy. In his pictures, there is a shine in his eye that I see again and again when my middle-boy laughs – it is mischief, the mark of a fairy-boy who is never far from trouble. Even after months spent elbow-deep in blood on another continent, even after a bullet ripped through his shoulder and got him sent home, even after he was grown and more-than-grown, that shine would occasionally appear in the corner of his eye, and it would mean the best kind of roguery was soon to be underway.
He let me drive his jeep once, through giant mud-puddles and swampy mess off a country road. I was 10, maybe 11, teetering on the edge of that version of my girl-self who would never go mudding with her daddy, but I was not there yet. I was not yet trying to be grown. I was still the fairy-girl. The air was dense with mosquitoes and my nose crinkled at the smell of earth and decay, but my laugh was madness and terror and heart-bursting joy. I was Up to No Good, and I was up to it with HIM.
There was never a luckier small silent fairy-girl than the one with the jester-king daddy.
I want that back, like my purple ribbon. I want the mud in my hair, the sunburnt shoulders, the mosquito-bitten arms and, most of all, the jester-king daddy, the grinning imp at my side.
I can’t have any of that, not anymore. I can’t have his composition books or my purple ribbon. That is sad, I suppose, but in the space he left in my heart, I have built a nest and lined it with memories of joy – the joy of having known a man who tied purple ribbons in his daughter’s hair, who came home with notebooks for her to fill with stories, who taught her how to cook and how to drive a jeep through mud without getting stuck – and when I need rest, comfort, love, and laughter, I can find them all right there.
Gratitude, memories, and a simple, fragrant birthday cake with a ribbon of purple icing at its center, fit for a fairy-girl and her lovely daddy.
Happy birthday, daddy. Love to you.
Lemon Vanilla Cake with Lavender Icing
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of sea salt
- 10.5 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 1/3 cups sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 tsp lemon extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour the edges of 2 8-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper (trace the pans on the parchment, then cut it out).
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sea salt and set aside. Put the butter and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on 7 or 8 for 3 minutes, scrape the bowl, and mix for another minute. Add sugar 1/3 cup at a time, beating for a minute between each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping the bowl after each egg.
In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. Turn the mixer on low and add some of the flour mixture, then some of the buttermilk mixture. Alternate dry and wet, ending with dry, mixing after each addition until it comes together, until everything is in. Scrape the bowl and mix for a few more seconds. Divide the batter between the 2 pans and bake 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. The cakes should be light golden brown and they should pass the toothpick test. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then invert onto wire rack to cool the rest of the way.
Lavender Icing Ingredients:
- 3 tbsp of lavender flower buds
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- 6-7 cups sifted powdered sugar
Warm the milk in the microwave or stove. Put the lavender flowers in a coffee filter and submerge in the hot milk for 10 minutes, then remove the filter full of lavender and squeeze out the excess milk. Mix the butter with 4 cups of powdered sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy, then alternate adding the infused milk and powdered sugar until the icing is the desired consistency. You can make it fluffy, like frosting, or more like icing (which I prefer). Add some violet food coloring gel if you’d like.
Ice the bottom layer, add the top layer and ice it and the sides. If you have the skill, you could probably decorate it or something, but I rarely waste the time. Enjoy!