You Remember Uncle Joe. He Was The One Afraid To Cut The Cake.Posted: June 11, 2014 Filed under: short story | Tags: bob seger, comedy, fiction, humor, postaweek, short story 12 Comments
Music is something that different people experience in different ways. Some of us enjoy different styles of music. We’re all moved by the lyrics we hear; those lyrics move us to different places.
Lyrics are subject to being mis-heard. One of the brightest people I will ever know once believed that Jon Bon Jovi was singing “head full of lice” in the chorus of his band’s hit “Dead or Alive”. The words to other songs are confusing. For instance, what was Bob Seger talking about in his song “Fire Lake” when he sang “you remember Uncle Joe; he was the one afraid to cut the cake”?
The Uncle Joe is a mystery to so many, but like I said, people experience music in different ways. I hear “Fire Lake” and the line about Uncle Joe far differently than most of you. You see, I do remember Uncle Joe. There aren’t many left who know about my Uncle’s struggles, not just with cake, but with all baked goods.
The Cake Thing
My mother’s oldest brother, Joe, was an odd sort. Well, that’s the kind of thing they said about people like him back in the ’60’s. He was wasn’t like the other adults who were around when I grew up. Jumpy is probably a good way to describe him. Uncle Joe was friendly, but just always on edge. It didn’t take much to spook him.
The oddest thing about old Joe was what the family referred to as “the cake thing”. Even my grandmother called it that.
Actually, she called it “my Joey’s cake thing”. Despite the difference in the way she discussed it, Grandma acknowledged that her son was different. Once, I heard her say “Joey ain’t been right since he came back from Korea”. I remember her saying the name of the country with an emphasis on the first two letters and a long O sound, sort of the way southern people say police. “Joey ain’t been right since he came back from KO-rea”.
The “cake thing” was well-known, if not understood, among the adults in the family. Whenever there was a cause for celebration in our little clan, one of the adults would find a reason to get Uncle Joe outside before the dessert. Another adult, usually my mom, would stand by the door and call out a warning if Joe started heading for the house before everyone ate their slice of cake.
There’d been a cake incident back before I was born. The details were kept from me, because I was just a child. They told me all I needed to know – “if he finds out there’s cake, ain’t no one havin’ cake.”
A Sandwich Free Life
When I asked my father why Uncle Joe never got to have cake with us, he answered the best way he could. Daddy told me that “Joey was a cook in the Army in KO-rea. More like a baker, really. Don’t no one but him know what happened over there, but he come back and couldn’t cut no cake. Bread neither. Joey ain’t had a sandwich in years; well he didn’t until that Wonder Bread come out already cut.”
I asked why Uncle Joey cooked for the Army in KO-rea, after all, didn’t they have an army with cooks of their own? Daddy just told me that wasn’t for me to worry about and to watch the back door while he cut us each a slice of grandma’s carrot cake.
Carrot cake got me off the subject for the time being. And knowing that something happened to my baker/uncle made what happened a year earlier on my 5th birthday a little clearer.
Uncle Joe came over for a birthday visit. Fortunately, he got there just as my grandfather on my father’s side of the family took sick and got rushed off to the hospital. Seeing as I was a little young to hang around a hospital waiting room, me and Uncle Joe just stayed around the house while my folks and my older brother left for the hospital.
The War Hero Still Had A Little Hero In Him
Like I told you, Uncle Joe was a good guy. He kept me busy and we had a great time. But I knew it was my birthday, and I probably told him a dozen times that we were having cake. I know now why he kinda grimaced every time I said it, but back then I just thought it was odd. The other thing I didn’t know was that there was no cake in the house. My mom had headed for the hospital before she could bake.
Late in the day, he sent me out to play ball with a friend up the road. While I was gone, my Uncle whipped up a chocolate layer cake, from scratch. I didn’t know it then, but baking that cake probably took all the courage he could muster. I suppose the thought of a five-year old without a birthday cake was more than he could stand.
After he and I had dinner, we sang happy birthday and he brought out his creation. But when it came time to cut the cake, like Bob Seger said, Uncle Joe couldn’t. I didn’t understand that he was afraid.
He offered to let me cut the cake, but I knew I wasn’t old enough to use a knife yet, so I didn’t get to taste that cake.
Well, the next morning I did. Uncle Joe had left early for home, looking jumpier and more stressed than anyone remembered seeing him. We watched him steer out on to the highway, then looked back at the cake. That cake looked so good that the family had some for breakfast. Don’t judge us; the man knew his way around a cake pan.
That was the only time he baked after he left the army. He passed away a few years later; we never learned what caused his fear of baked goods.
I remember Uncle Joe; he was the one afraid to cut the cake.
Everyone hears songs wrong. Even Uncle Joe.
“I wanna be serrated” by the Ramones is probably that song.
It’s amazing how one tiny change can make a song seem so much more menacing.
Ha ha ha! I’ll never hear that song the same way again.
Poor Uncle Joe. If only he’d been familiar with the concept of cupcakes.
He could have his own show on Food Network!
Was it any wonder that Uncle Joe considered Average White Band to be devil-music?
It’s a very taunting song for a baker with PTSD.
I think we may finally know the truth; it must have been that tortured soul Uncle Joe who left the cake out in the rain.
So after you “cut the cake”, you ” pick up the pieces”?
It’s funny but those relatives that have quirks about them are the ones we remember best. Even Bob Seger remembers your Uncle Joe and wrote a song about him.
Good story. And may he rest in cake-less peace.
You tell a great story (as usual), but I found myself feeling sad at the end. Poor Uncle Joe. I can’t imagine what he went through in KO-rea that left him with such a terror of cake. It shows he had a high regard for you to make one for your birthday in spite of his fear. Still, I’m glad you all enjoyed it, even if he couldn’t. Makes me wish I could’ve got a piece.