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IN HONOR OF MOTHER'S DAY I WILL DIVULGE A 30-YEAR-OLD SECRET I HAVE KEPT LONG ENOUGH

Dear Mother:

I am in the midst of writing four columns that deal with a voyage I took several years ago from Los Angeles to the southwest Pacific. My next column should have me disembarking at Pago Pago in American Samoa.

However, I shall set all of that aside tonight because next Sunday is Mother's Day. To celebrate the occasion I should like to recall an incident that involved the two of us, a seven-tier wedding cake and an old girlfriend. It's time you understood the full details of this peculiar, 30-year-old occurrence. I have kept it from you long enough.

Mid-way through college, if you will recall, I had a part-time job delivering birthday and wedding cakes for the firm of Jack's Cakes. I accomplished this task in a 1956 white Ford van. It was a very spartan vehicle with only one seat for the driver and no radio.

The rear of the van was raised several inches and was flat in order to handle the boxed birthday cakes. To the right of the driver's seat was a low-level area perfectly adapted for the tall, multi-tiered wedding cakes.

On the day under consideration I had delivered all of the birthday cakes. Only a seven-tiered wedding cake was in the van, situated to my right. At its base it read, "Every Happiness - Rex and Rita." I was to deliver the cake to Hotel Utah by 3:30 p.m.

Delivering cakes, even wedding cakes, was a mindless labor. Daily I longed for something that would somehow mark the day and make it worth remembering.

Since it was only 3 p.m. and I was near the University of Utah, I decided to drive through the campus. It was only a mild form of diversion, Mother. It was never any intention to seek out a girlfriend, Louise Gardner, and give her a ride.

But there she was, walking across campus in the direction of her sorority house on Wolcott Street. I stopped, threw the right door open and offered her a ride. She slid in behind the wedding cake and sat on the flat, raised section of the van.

I asked Louise if she would like to ride with me downtown to deliver the wedding cake. She said, "Fine, let's go."

In the downtown traffic I did something quite foolish, Mother. I took my eyes off the road because I noticed something most extraordinary. You, Mother, were walking down the street. I had never seen you downtown before - ever. You were walking down the street like you owned it.

I stared at you intently, a moment too long, and ran into the rear of the car ahead of me.

Out of the corner of my right eye I caught sight of Louise pitching forward and taking out all seven tiers of Rex and Rita's wedding cake.

I had enough presence of mind to tell Louise to remain where she was, that is, face down in the cake, while I got out to look at the damage.

I am telling you this, Mother, because I don't think I ever thanked you for two things that day: (1) You immediately took issue with the other driver about his incautious and abrupt stop, and (2) you never walked back to the van and took a look at the fine mess poor Louise was in.

As it worked out, there was no serious damage to either car or Louise for that matter. I purchased the wedding cake and gave it to Louise and her Kappa sisters. Jack made a new cake for Rex and the lovely Rita, and you, dear Mother, were never permitted to use the line on me, "Well, Son, I've seen young girls pop out of cakes, but this is the first time I ever saw one pop into a cake!"

Happy Mother's Day.