In the spring of 1962 my family took one of our motor-home vacations to Florida. On the way we stopped at the home of Harley and Willie Hurst. Harley had been in flight school in Arkansas with my dad during World War II.
They lived in North Carolina and had a daughter named Mary Bryan (she's the blonde girl on the tractor.) To my recollection we never met Mary Bryan again, but she remained forever in our memories because she made a super-delicious rich chocolate cake with fudge frosting and gave the recipe to my mom.
After that trip, for every birthday and special celebration or just for the hell of it, my mom made Mary Bryan cake. She made hundreds of them over the next four decades.
I loved that cake.
Mom’s 94 now and she doesn’t bake stuff anymore. They don’t allow stoves in her assisted-living facility. A couple of months ago I asked her about Mary Bryan and she said that she’d had a hard life. Badly injured in a car accident in her 20s, she never quite recovered and died a few years back. It was hard to accept - for me she would always be that little girl on the tractor.
In December I entered Zoetrope’s Flash Factory contest to write a story based on a photo prompt. The photo they supplied was of a 4th of July celebration, probably from the 60s. There were a bunch of people in the picture and one of them reminded me of Mary Bryan. So I wrote a story called “Mary Bryan Cake.”
The story has nothing to do with my family or actual events. Or the real Mary Bryan. It was just published (along with all of the other Flash Factory winners) in the Foundling Review.
You can find the story here: Mary Bryan Cake