As soon as I was tall enough to reach the countertop, I made dessert once or twice a week while my mother took her afternoon reading break. My favorite was chocolate cake with chocolate icing, especially the old-fashioned cooked- fudge type that can set up in the pan in a heartbeat if you’re not paying attention. We had a gas range–the kind where you had to light the pilot with a match. Oddly, my mother wasn’t afraid of letting me play with gas or fire. This same woman paid me a quarter for every black widow spider I killed but wouldn’t let me go outside with wet hair because I might catch a cold!

But for some reason, after I’d tempted salmonella by ingesting copious amounts of raw batter, risked mutilation of all ten fingers in the big Mix Master and narrowly escaped searing those same fingers when I placed the cake pans in the oven, there was one safety rule I had to follow: When the oven timer dinged, I was required to report to my mother’s bedroom. She’d put her book down and instruct me to use hot pads to slide the oven rack out far enough to stick a broom straw in the middle of the cake to test it for doneness. I’d return to the kitchen, break off a single straw from the well-used broom, pull out the rack, and stick the broom straw into the middle of the cake, taking great care not to look too closely at where I had shoved it in.

You see, she never told me to stick the broken end of the straw into the cake. Every time I used the business end of the broom straw, and every time I thought about all the floors the broom had swept–the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, the bathroom, the hallway, and porches. I tried not to think about the many patches of dirt, mud, and whatever else my farmer/rancher daddy tracked in on his boots.

Years went by, and I eventually learned to use a toothpick. Even more years went by before I figured out that my mother never intended for me to poke a dirty straw into our food. I suppose she thought I had enough sense to use the clean end.

So, what’s the lesson? Maybe that you should to think things through and look before you leap into anything, including cake batter. Maybe the memory is a cautionary tale for parents–a warning that their offspring are never as smart as they think they are. Since I’m hardly ever sick, the lesson might be that instead of being sanitized every five minutes, a kid needs to get up close and personal with a few germs every now and then. If the lesson was to put me “off my cake,” it failed miserably. After I shared the story with my husband, the Goat, I believe I have actually garnered more than my fair share of cake at our house.

Or maybe the lesson is how important memories are, most especially quirky ones. And, of course, how good cake is.