A friendship forged in frosting (or camaraderie over cupcakes)

By J. Basil Dannebohm

This isn’t a story about cupcakes … well … not exactly. This is a story about a friendship that would have never been if Linda hadn’t learned how to bake.

Most people would say that upon first meeting me they don’t really know how to react. I’m straightforward and incredibly eccentric. Some might say I’m not for the “faint of heart.”

Like so many before her, at first Linda didn’t know what to think of me. I suspect that neither of us ever imagined that a friendship could be forged in frosting.

Driving down Main Street in Red Bluff, California, I noticed that a new business called LaLalicious Cupcakes had opened.

It’s no secret that in a slow recovering economy, new businesses opening aren’t exactly a commonplace, especially in a town like Red Bluff, which has seen a significant slowdown in growth. So you’ve gotta hand it to somebody who has the chutzpah to brave their way through entrepreneurship.

My first impression remains true to this day: Linda has chutzpah.

Her shop was decorated with a bold sense of style. One thing I found particularly striking was that her kitchen was open so that guests could see her in action, ask questions and feel right at home. The display was full of a variety of creative flavors so I chose four: red velvet, lemon, coconut and chocolate mint. When I inquired about her best sellers she reluctantly replied, “vanilla and chocolate.”

Vanilla and chocolate? Surely people were braver than this. If I want vanilla or chocolate I’ll bake a cupcake at home. Personally I’d rather have a baked good that rocks my world.

LaLalicious rocked my world and it was love at first bite. These small little cakes packed a whole lot of flavor. The coconut frosting was so delicious as it melted in my mouth. The red velvet, true to its name was velvety in texture, the lemon was sweet with a refreshing tartness and the chocolate mint went perfectly with a cup of strong black coffee.

And so I was drawn to her bakery again, curious to try other flavors. Perhaps I was also drawn because she was determined to be successful in a largely “vanilla” region.

I became a regular, often sitting down with Linda for cupcakes, conversation and coffee.

As the seasons changed so did the flavors. Lemon made way for Maple Walnut and mint chocolate would scoot aside for white chocolate peppermint. Just as the flavors grew bolder and more creative, the friendship between Linda and I grew stronger and more endearing.

Over time I was able forge more friendships at the bakery including Linda’s husband and her assistant who is truly an artist in the medium of fondant. Together we would brainstorm and I learned that long before the ingredients make it to the mixing bowl, Linda carefully plans her next big creation.

One of my clients, a winery, was hosting a large reception that I felt would be a great way for Linda to gain some local exposure. I presented her with a challenge: create a cupcake with the key ingredient being my client’s wine. After a lot of experimenting with flavors, Linda and her assistant, Janea, came up with something truly scrumptious. LaLalicious cupcakes made with dessert wine were a hit with not one cupcake left at the end of the evening.

The holidays were a festive time around the bakery. The cupcake case was filled with flavors like eggnog, pomegranate and cinnamon swirl. While the weather outside was anything but frightful the holiday cheer inside LaLalicious was oh so delightful. Linda had been seeing a steady increase in walk-in business, call-in orders and private parties hosted at the bakery. She was baking less and less vanilla and more and more of the bold flavors I had come to appreciate.

Sometimes sadness rides on the coattails of holiday joy.

One morning over coffee, Linda and her husband shared with me that he has been diagnosed the day before with cancer. The fear in their eyes was overwhelming. My heart was overcome with sadness and I felt like I had been hit with cart full of bricks. On the outside however I knew that I had no other choice but to remain strong for my two friends. We discussed the options for treatment and remained optimistic that the advances in cancer treatment would certainly go in his favor. The consensus at the table was that there was nothing to fear, though on the inside we were all terrified.

On Friday, Linda’s husband (and my friend) arrived at the hospital early to prepare for surgery. In the days leading up to the surgery I told them that once he was in the operating room, I would come over and check in on Linda.

And so I arrived, but to my surprise I couldn’t find Linda. I inquired with an aid who went behind the closed doors of the pre-op area to do some checking. She returned and said, “come with me.”

To my surprise, there was Linda sitting at the bedside of her beloved Lon, waiting for surgery. I didn’t expect to see him but what a blessing to be able to offer some last minute words of encouragement and a few prayers that God, the Divine Physician would watch over the procedure. The surgical nurse arrived to take him to the operating room and Linda and went to the waiting room.

It was then, after weeks of being strong that I broke down. With sorrow, I told Linda that the next couple hours could be life-changing and that I have been worried since I learned of the journey that she and Lon were sadly forced to take.

When she received her first update, you could see both fear and cautious relief in her eyes. Things were going well in the operating room. A few hours later came the second update that the surgery was a success and Lon was on his way to the recovery room.

It was then that the meaning of our friendship, forged over frosting, was made manifest. We embraced, we cried, we gave thanks to God and most of all we both took a deep cleansing breath of relief.

Minutes seemed like hours now for Linda as she waited for the word that Lon was moved to a room and she could see him. I told her that once she was able to be with him I would head out. Once she was given word that she could see him, I walked with her to the room not expecting to see Lon but to my surprise he asked Linda to fetch me from the hallway.

I came in the room greeted by a smiling face. As the nurse set up his equipment he asked to squeeze my hand and told the nurse, “I didn’t know what to think of this guy at first but he’s a true friend and I’m proud to know him.”

Just as my heart was broken upon learning the news of Lon’s cancer, it danced when I saw him on the road to recovery.

It’s me who is proud to know Linda and Lon. As if opening a bakery in a down economy wasn’t frightening enough, the two bravely faced and overcame the terror of cancer. I was honored to be by their side on Friday and to journey with them on an uncertain road.

I suppose friends are a lot like cupcakes. They bring us comfort when we’re feeling down and they compliment the table at times of joy and celebration.

So here’s to Lon and Linda, two great friends who I am proud to know. And here’s to our friendship forged in frosting, our camaraderie over cupcakes.