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Happiness Happens
August 14, 2012 1:10 AM   Subscribe

It Ain't Over: The Business 9 Women Kept A Secret For Three Decades
Somewhere in West Tennessee, not far from Graceland, nine women -- or "The 9 Nanas," as they prefer to be called -- gather in the darkness of night. At 4am they begin their daily routine -- a ritual that no one, not even their husbands, knew about for 30 years. They have one mission and one mission only: to create happiness. And it all begins with baked goods.
The 9 Nanas have a webpage (with blog) and a Twitter feed.
posted by the man of twists and turns (62 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a great story - but I'd like to think that if my wife was getting up at 4 AM for 30 years and baking cakes, I would catch on at some point. How did these guys not realise the house smelled like cake?
posted by dubold at 1:57 AM on August 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


The secret to a happy marriage: pretending your spouse's secrets are secrets.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:00 AM on August 14, 2012 [161 favorites]


Wouldn't surprise me if some of the husbands were factory workers who had to leave for work around 4:00am, dubold.

Also, there is something in my eye.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:04 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


gawd damn, salty liquid has just dropped off my face.
posted by Kerasia at 2:06 AM on August 14, 2012


Oh, such a great story! I wish I was as altruistic as this, but I'm way too lazy and selfish.
posted by jonathanstrange at 2:08 AM on August 14, 2012


If two people know it, it's not a secret.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:10 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is anyone else super creeped out by this? I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is it Arsenic and Old Lace? Or are we talking more Bodysnatchers? Maybe I'm just too cynical for this silly old world.
posted by poe at 2:15 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is anyone else super creeped out by this?

Having had a great-grandma who did something very similar, no, not at all. My great-grandma grew up during the Great Depression. She married a man her family didn't like, they disinherited her, turned out he was a violent drunkard (I only found out a few weeks ago; she never talked to it, though as you'll see, it helps make sense of a lot of things). In the 1930s they drove from Nebraska to Oregon in one of the original Ford Model Ts, with their 8 young kids in tow.

My great-grandma cooked, laundered, sewed, crocheted, knitted, gardened, tended wounds with aloe vera she always had growing in pots. I remember getting bruises as a kid; Great-Grandma panicking and asking "who did this??" Usually it was just me being a tomboy. She'd break off a piece of her aloe vera, squeeze it and tell me how good it was for bruises and burns.

Her home was filled with crocheted and knitted blankets, toys, hats, doll clothes. She gave them to families in need, secretly. Not a single child from a poor family in her neighborhood, for miles around, was without a colorful winter hat and gloves. She made sure they were renewed when they wore out or were lost. Kids who liked dolls had dainty, lace-like doll clothes. Those who liked noisy toys had "clackers" she made from the tops of screw-top jars that are pressurized and "pop" when you open them – she knitted cozies for them.

The article says: "We gave new meaning to the term drive-by,” Mary Ellen said with delight. “We’d drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes that had fans in the window. That told us that the people who lived there didn’t have air-conditioning. Or we’d see that there were no lights on at night, which meant there was a good chance their utilities had been turned off. Then we’d return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package."

My great-grandma always said she did it because we were all in it together. Maybe it's easier to understand when you know the crushing poverty, abandonment, violence, and terror of a tall, strong drunkard of a husband she had, while trying to raise eight children. Alone and sabotaged by abuse.

We don't know anyone's stories. Recently they donated more than $5,000 of pillows and linens and personal care products to a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. Maybe they've been there. Have relatives or friends who have.

Your priorities change when you've lived through soul-crushing experiences, whatever they may be. You realize that the stories told to us that lead to stratification and hierarchization, of "value" and "objectives" and all those illusions narrated to keep us striving and thinking that generosity and altruism are "creepy", are chaff on the wind. That the true meaning of life is relationship. And that there will always be people who haven't yet understood that; whose need to believe in that grand, privileged value society has given them is more important than seeing the love around them.
posted by fraula at 2:39 AM on August 14, 2012 [406 favorites]


Is anyone else super creeped out by this?

No, but I admit I'm not sure what I would make of it if someone sent me a pound cake anonymously. I doubt whether I would eat it.
posted by Segundus at 3:10 AM on August 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


"One of the sisters suggested that we should all start doing our own laundry and put the money we saved to good use. I admit, I protested at first. "

Inspiring stuff. I am going to fire my old scrubbing woman tomorrow and start helping the poor.
posted by Catch at 3:37 AM on August 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


dubold : That's a great story - but I'd like to think that if my wife was getting up at 4 AM for 30 years and baking cakes, I would catch on at some point. How did these guys not realise the house smelled like cake?

"One of the sisters suggested that we should all start doing our own laundry and put the money we saved to good use. I admit, I protested at first. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like"

I suspect these ladies belong to the sort of "bridge" club that doesn't play bridge, they build bridges - To steal a line from Night Court.

Ah, rich people problems. ;)


god I hate that expression, whatever the second word...
posted by pla at 3:40 AM on August 14, 2012


<---willing to do own laundry for charity
posted by ShutterBun at 3:45 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


but I'd like to think that if my wife was getting up at 4 AM for 30 years and baking cakes, I would catch on at some point.

The cake baking as a fund raiser didn't start until after the husbands were told. At first it was just a little money here and there from using coupons and green stamps, less than $50.00 a month per ninja.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:46 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The generosity is inspiring.

But I do hate this pervasive and pernicious lie that charity should begin at home. It does feel great to help those in our local communities, and of course it's understandable and a lovely impulse, but what it means in practice is that comfortable westerners should focus on helping other relatively comfortable westerners, while the two-thirds of the world who aren't comfortable -- who don't need gifts of food to feel good, but to prevent their children from dying of malnutrition and diarrheal disease -- get nothing as usual.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:55 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


"less than $50.00 a month per ninja."

What a steal!
posted by deliquescent at 4:08 AM on August 14, 2012


dontjumplarry : But I do hate this pervasive and pernicious lie that charity should begin at home.

I think you've misunderstood that expression - Most of us won't even go that far. And if you won't even do it for "your own kind", who, then?
posted by pla at 4:11 AM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Ah, rich people problems. ;)

god I hate that expression, whatever the second word...


Challenge accepted: rich cake problems. Cannot eat second delicious slice.
posted by jaduncan at 4:12 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The cake baking as a fund raiser didn't start until after the husbands were told.

Okay, I re-read the story for a third time, and I guess you're right. It was the opening paragraph, and this line:

That’s when the 9 Nanas moved their covert baking operation out of their homes

that made me think it was mostly about the baking.

Anyway, regardless of whether or not it's pound cakes or utility bills, these people are thinking of others, to some degree, which is a Good Thing.

I do hate this pervasive and pernicious lie that charity should begin at home.

Sure, and I don't like the inclination to find the flaw in every good deed, even if I do succumb to it from time to time.
posted by dubold at 4:17 AM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Rich Little problems. Everyone you impersonate dies.
posted by Catch at 4:19 AM on August 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wow, is there nothing that Metafilter can't disdain?
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:22 AM on August 14, 2012 [34 favorites]


Wow, is there nothing that Metafilter can't disdain?

Is this something I'd need a soul to understand?
posted by Etrigan at 4:30 AM on August 14, 2012 [30 favorites]


Wow, is there nothing that Metafilter can't disdain?

A really cynical person would wonder if they'd made the story up as part of a plan to start a mail order cake business, then outsourced the actual baking.

I am not that person.
posted by jaduncan at 4:31 AM on August 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm sort of interested in the equation of cake and happiness. I was thinking just the other day that over thirty years my workplace has gone from somewhere full of blokish men, with an occasional young female, to a basically female place where only one or two old gits like me and rare young men are found. Over the same period we've moved from a culture that revolved around beer to one that revolves around cake.
posted by Segundus at 4:37 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


And let's face it, that's a good incentive for true equality in the workplace. Beer and cake.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:39 AM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Beer and cake.

A banner I could march under. Well, amble.
posted by Segundus at 4:42 AM on August 14, 2012 [29 favorites]


Chocolate Stout Cake

Draft Magazine: Cake and Beer pairings
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:44 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Secret 10th Nana.
posted by jaduncan at 4:47 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:52 AM on August 14, 2012


Wow, is there nothing that Metafilter can't disdain?

How about a world in which this sort of self-sacrifice and charity is necessary?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:03 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I assume you mean "isn't," and I say bring it, but I'm not going to sit here at my iMac and cast aspersions on the intentions or acuity of those who are at least trying in their own way to help the people around them that they can.

How are we defined but by the way we act towards others, and anonymously paying someone's electric bill is higher up the ladder of useful acts that internet finger-wagging.

I mean, it's not a zero-sum game. An act of charity doesn't negate a vote for social justice at the ballot box. They can compliment one another. Let's do both.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:42 AM on August 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


People wash eggs?
posted by msbrauer at 5:43 AM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


msbrauer: People wash eggs?

Any egg you buy at a store has been washed of its natural coating of "bloom", which actually keeps them fresh longer but is commercially undesirable. If they're washing theirs, they're probably getting fresh eggs from a friend or local farmer.

Although, I'm still not sure why they'd bother to wash them... no harm in just cracking and using like normal, with an unwashed egg.
posted by gilrain at 5:51 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something something let them eat cake.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2012


Any egg you buy at a store has been washed of its natural coating of "bloom", which actually keeps them fresh longer but is commercially undesirable.

Any egg you buy at a store in the US has been washed of its cuticle, but this is not common practice in Europe, and as a consequence, Europeans frequently store their eggs at room temperature, not in the fridge.
posted by kcds at 6:14 AM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is anyone else super creeped out by this?

Yes. They put weed and LSD in all of their goodies. Muwuwhahhaahahhah.

Or at least, that's what I would have done. When life throws you lemons, serve lemonade.
posted by stormpooper at 6:20 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm still not sure why they'd bother to wash them... no harm in just cracking and using like normal, with an unwashed egg.

Fresh eggs, while delicious and superior to store-bought eggs, do sometimes have bits of dirt or straw or chicken ... um, excreta stuck on them, which can fall off into the bowl when cracking. These things will in all likelihood not kill you, but if I were making a special comfort-in-hard-times cake for somebody and I had fresh eggs, I would probably wash them first.
posted by gauche at 6:22 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wish I was half the person these ladies are.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:30 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here I was expecting a Bosom Buddies/Breaking Bad mashup!
posted by symbioid at 6:34 AM on August 14, 2012


Careful, I think we're teaching our Nanas not to wash eggs here.
posted by Segundus at 6:43 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, is there nothing that Metafilter can't disdain?

look, it's not that they aren't doing valuable work, but why can't they dress up like Lady Gaga while they're doing it, is that too much to ask
posted by mightygodking at 6:47 AM on August 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's funny -- I'm considered cynical by most of the people I know IRL, but I'm a wide-eyed, credulous romantic by MeFi standards.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:59 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone who's been to Burning Man would recognize this as the beginning of a gift economy. Only the people they're helping didn't pay hundreds of dollars and spend a week in the desert for the privilege. Therefore, this is good.
posted by otherthings_ at 7:13 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm just glad Ayn Rand didn't live to see this come to pass. She would be so disappointed.

So is Paul Ryan
posted by Naberius at 7:16 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sure, and I don't like the inclination to find the flaw in every good deed, even if I do succumb to it from time to time.

I think we can find the good deeds flawless while finding flawed the way they're celebrated (which is, despite the emphasis on our all being in it together, basically individualistic—because we all help each other out as individuals, see?).
posted by kenko at 7:30 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I do hate this pervasive and pernicious lie that charity should begin at home. It does feel great to help those in our local communities, and of course it's understandable and a lovely impulse, but what it means in practice is that comfortable westerners should focus on helping other relatively comfortable westerners, while the two-thirds of the world who aren't comfortable -- who don't need gifts of food to feel good, but to prevent their children from dying of malnutrition and diarrheal disease -- get nothing as usual.

Oh, yay. Ye Olde
If you're not saving the most wretched, downtrodden souls in the worst circumstances out there across the globe, you're a self-indulgent, overfed, inconsiderate Westerner fucking taking a cake no further than next door while some 6-yer-old living under a murderous dictator thousands of miles away is half an hour from shitting themself to death from dysentery.

HOW FUCKING INSULTING TO ALL THOSE WRETCHED, POVERTY-STRICKEN MASSES CONTINENTS AWAY! I BET EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM RESENTS THE FUCKING IDEA THAT SOME GODDAMN 'MURRICAN IS GETTING THEIR LIGHTS TURNED BACK ON WHILE NANA AIN'T DOING JACK SHIT ABOUT THE OPEN-TRENCH SEWER SOME PREGNANT 12 YEAR OLD IS SHITTING IN ON HER WAY TO PICK GARBAGE OUT OF THE TRASH DUMP SHE LIVES NEXT TO!

Fuck you, Grandma. Go make some REAL difference on people who actually matter (unlike your neighbors), and stop patting yourself on the back for your half-assed, self-indulgent wankery under the false banner of doing some dollop of good in the world"
trope.

The classics are my favorite.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:16 AM on August 14, 2012 [31 favorites]


> I doubt whether I would eat it.

I would think about it exactly twice, and then eat it.
posted by aganders3 at 8:22 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


This was a lovely story. But wait, they were spending $400 a month on laundry? Either they were doing something wrong, or I am.
posted by bwerdmuller at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2012


The story seemed to be about a bunch of grandmas but I don't think I saw a single pair of hands in those photos that looked over 50. And a lot of expensive haircuts. I dunno. something seems off.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:22 AM on August 14, 2012


I didn't wanna do it but I guess I have to:

West Tennessee Women Secretly Delivering Cakes to Underprivileged Familied for 30 Years, Daily Mail.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2012


But I do hate this pervasive and pernicious lie that charity should begin at home. It does feel great to help those in our local communities, and of course it's understandable and a lovely impulse, but what it means in practice is that comfortable westerners should focus on helping other relatively comfortable westerners, while the two-thirds of the world who aren't comfortable -- who don't need gifts of food to feel good, but to prevent their children from dying of malnutrition and diarrheal disease -- get nothing as usual.

I recognize that sentiment comes from a good, genuinely caring place, and I definitely don't want to come into a pleasant thread with a litany of the horrors that are statistically likely to have occurred (1) in the past twenty-four hours, and (2) inside the radius between your home and the nearest hospital or police station. But if we're trading notes on pet-peeve pervasive and pernicious lies, that is definitely one of mine, the idea that "comfortable westerners" fret only about being able to afford Christmas presents and birthday cakes and cannot know of third-world troubles. There are more westerners than just the comfortable ones.

That said, I'll applaud bringing any happiness into the world, including baking birthday cakes and giving toys to tots. What these women and their families have been doing is inspiring. Thanks for posting the FPP.
posted by cribcage at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was a lovely story. But wait, they were spending $400 a month on laundry? Either they were doing something wrong, or I am.

I think that was the total for all of them.

Wonderful story.
posted by idest at 11:16 AM on August 14, 2012


A million years ago, my little ex-wife and I were living in Florida, and getting ready to move back to yankee-land, broke, not hungry but real close to it -- pinto beans and corn bread -- we were scraping around for money for gas, and of course hoping that old van would make the trip, fingers crossed.

A guy who lived 'cross the way in our apt complex was pretty decent -- older than us, and he was a teacher or some such, and he played tennis for chrisakes, we distrusted him accordingly. Tennis. Joe College. He even wore white shorts and shit, this guy was a fish, right?

Kathy used to make those macramé plant hangers, and, like anything else she turned her small freckled hands to, she made them so nicely. Though never flawless, always something a bit off somewhere, I think of how she did and I think of those native Americans who weave rugs and put an intentional error in them, to keep them from ... I dunno. Keep from vanity? Remind of lifes imperfections? No telling. And with Kath it wasn't intentional, it was built in, it was just her, unless it was pen and ink, which was flawless, always, perfect, perfect yet beautiful, it sang.

She'd made this one plant hanger, it had four big metal hoops in it with the ropes twisted round them, it had twirls and every kind of knot, it was a monster, small people could have lived in it, maybe some did, no telling. If you put a motor in it you could probably fly it. Something, it was something. Anyways, this neighbor guy, he gets onto that we're moving, he's not blind, it's clear we're in trouble, Kathy tells him she's selling off some of her plant hangers. He gave us $100 for that macramé.

He gave us $100 for the macramé.

I don't even know his name.

We'd made fun of the guy. Called him a fish. Chuckled about his white shorts, hairy legs, his glasses. Kathy, a warmer heart than mine, laughed less loudly probably, but she was in it.

My job is to give that money back to Life.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2012 [58 favorites]


I ... I think I have something in my eye.
posted by Myca at 2:31 PM on August 14, 2012


those of you questioning whether or not you would eat the mystery pound cake have never been crushingly poor and/or going hungry.

you would eat it, and you would hope it was an act of kindness that brought it to you. but you would definitely eat it.
posted by radiosilents at 2:42 PM on August 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Geez, not even crushingly poor/ hungry, but like, didn't any of you guys go to college in the last few decades? We knew exactly which days the hostess store threw their expired product into the dumpsters out back.

The food that I took chances on back then (I didn't always win) made me glad we were covered under the university health plan.
posted by danny the boy at 3:58 PM on August 14, 2012


The food that I took chances on back then (I didn't always win) made me glad we were covered under the university health plan.

You know, I don't think I ever got sick on any of the things I ate which spent time in dumpsters.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2012


When I was 17, first year of college, I worked at a café with a bunch of rich kids. They used their tips to buy shots and ironic t-shirts; I used mine to pay rent and food. I did okay, but things were always tight, just a few bucks away from a really bad situation.

A coworker and friend, also 17 or so, handed me an envelope with a card and about $200 after his shift one night. Birthday money, something like that, and he wanted me to have it. I don't remember exactly what I did with it, probably bought myself a tube of lipstick and paid rent, but that money was the first little bit of luxury I'd had since moving out.

Thanks for the reminder that I still need to pay that one forward.
posted by third word on a random page at 5:39 PM on August 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


that last line about how they want to help those that don't have their family around to help them...I wonder if they deliver cake to lonely sleepless newly-arrived international students. *tear*
posted by divabat at 6:19 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


those native Americans who weave rugs and put an intentional error in them

Aside: I was going to be a pedantic killjoy and claim this was an Amish practice but in fact it appears to be entirely apocryphal. Not that I didn't enjoy the simile anyway.

posted by hattifattener at 10:50 PM on August 14, 2012


I went to Guatemala and visited Guatemala City, and saw the dump where people glean the garbage for recyclables and food. If this thread has incited a feeling of wanting to help some people, especially children, who genuinely desperately need it, Safe Passage is an amazing program.

Charity is one of the 7 virtues. prudence, justice, restraint (temperance), courage (fortitude), faith, hope, and love or charity. The current American politics of greed and lack of charity make me sad, and I'm happy to see some good-hearted charity in action.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by theora55 at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love stories like this, and I don't care whether they are rich/poor/whatever - they are helping people around them in a way that I may never be able to emulate. I applaud them.

When I was a young college student, GI bill money would frequently be late coming in. This led to more than one occasion of pretty significant belt tightening. At one point specifically, I was staring down two weeks of pretty much no food - some rice and maybe a ramen packet. A friend happened to swing by my apartment and noticed the barren cupboards. I came home from work that night and found my fridge and cupboards full of groceries. I actually cried.

Being not entirely stupid, I know that I have to pay this karmic debt back. So most times I am grocery shopping I find somebody that looks like they need help, and try to buy their groceries. Fifty bucks to me now is a decent meal, but to the young me and to many people today it is all the difference in the world.
posted by jason says at 8:59 AM on August 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


The story seemed to be about a bunch of grandmas but I don't think I saw a single pair of hands in those photos that looked over 50. And a lot of expensive haircuts. I dunno. something seems off.

I am over 50 and have lovely hands. And I am poor and have nice haircuts. But I am occasionally off.

Sweet story,though.
posted by Isadorady at 12:04 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


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