Barbara still takes the cake – and bakes them
There are some seniors who pull out their cameras only while on vacation or to snap shots of grandchildren; Barbara Robinson takes pictures of her cakes.
They litter the pages of her photo albums, a record of the many she’s made over the past few decades.
“I baked cakes for church or family functions and then word got out that I knew how to make them,” the 86-year-old said.
Requests came flooding in for baked goods of all kinds — even the neighbourhood children started knocking on her door.
“They’d say, ‘My mother doesn’t know how to cook, can you make some cookies for me?’” Mrs Robinson recalled.
Because “ingredients cost money” she had to start charging for her services.
She’d learnt the basics from her mother, Elizabeth Swan.
“I was the tenth child of 11 children,” said Mrs Robinson, who grew up on Ord Road in Warwick. “With all those children, my mother had to cook and bake a lot. She made gingerbread, Johnny bread, cakes and cassava pie. From the time I was little, I had to stand right next to her and watch everything she did; there weren’t a lot of cookbooks in those days. All her recipes were in her head.”
Her mother, who stayed at home with her brood, baked with a portable oven.
“We placed the oven on top of our three-burner stove to cook,” Mrs Robinson said. “When we were done we had to take the oven outside to cool. Then we’d put the oven away.”
Both her mother and her father Frederick, a stonemason, were strict.
“If we lingered to pick cherries [after school], we had to run home to make up the time,” she said. “I can still see my mother standing on the front step of our house with her hands on her hips, wondering where we were. When I got older I had to be home by 10pm, even if I was courting.”
Mrs Robinson left school at 13 to go out to work as a maid.
A mutual friend introduced her to her husband, Mark, when she was 20. At the time, she was working for a family on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke.
“I did cleaning and helped with the children,” she said. “I always loved taking care of children.”
Mr Robinson ran a Christian summer programme for children, Camp Hope, on Port’s Island for many years. Mrs Robinson usually helped out in the kitchen, getting snacks and lunch together.
“Sometimes we had over 100 children,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but I loved it.”
The children and her husband would often jump in the water to cool off, but Mrs Robinson never did.
“My mother said before I went in the sea I had to learn how to swim,” she said. “My siblings would go to the South Shore to swim sometimes and take me with them. I’d dangle my feet overboard. One day I decided I was going to learn. My brothers took me out, but where we were, the sea bottom dropped out suddenly.”
She went under and, as she floundered, one of her brothers yelled: “Grab her, otherwise mama won’t let us go swimming no more!”
She was hauled out, none the worse for wear.
“We never told my mother what happened,” she said.
The Robinsons had four children of their own: Dorothy Seaman, Daniel, Richard and Myron “Anthony” Robinson, who died tragically in 2014.
“Even now, I don’t like to talk about it,” Mrs Robinson said.
For several years, she and her husband also cared for Francine Mason, the daughter of a friend, and to this day love her as if she were their own.
When the children were little, Mrs Robinson signed up for a correspondence nursing course. She never completed it as she found it difficult to study.
“There were always children around me,” she said. “So I put that aside.”
But she kept her textbooks and referred to them whenever her children were sick.
“It was helpful when my husband had a stroke 16 years ago and I had to care for him,” she said.
The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on October 1 with “a lovely meal at my son Richard’s house with lobster on the half-shell”.
Mrs Robinson didn’t bake for the occasion. Diabetes has made the North Shore, Devonshire resident change her eating habits.
“I still bake something if someone asks me,” she said. “I have a cake in the oven right now that I’m making for a friend.”
Her nine grandchildren and great-granddaughter have become her biggest culinary fans.
“One of my grandsons went to a birthday party when he was little,” she said. “He refused to eat the birthday cake, because it wasn’t his nana’s.”
Roland Skinner (1940-2018)
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