It was late August during one of the magical summers of my youth when the incident known as “Snoop and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake” occurred. Although I cannot recall the exact year, it was sometime during the early 80s and we were looking forward to the ultimate end of summer event: the Lake Lenape Labor Day Picnic.
Lake Lenape in rural Andover, New Jersey, was the best place in the world to be a kid. Our house was a regular 2 story ranch home, perfectly nice, well decorated with pretty rock gardens and flowers for landscaping, but nothing you would stop and ohhh and ahhh over from the curb in terms of its grandeur.
However the scenery around us was breathtaking, what most people would expect to see in upstate New York or New England, only our mountains, forests and lakes were in a perfect little corner of the most mocked state in the country for having urban sprawl and too much pavement. Our house was lakefront with a dock that Dad built, and nestled in a valley with enormous boulders that made it undesirable if not impossible for neighbors to live too close to us. As a result we had tons of room to run, explore and build forts in the woods, always with our beloved Labrador Retriever Snoop by our side.
For the kids and parents of Lake Lenape, life revolved around the private homeowner’s association beach each summer. Every single day we would head to the beach with a thermos full of drinks and a tote bag of snacks, even though it was just a mile from our house via the road. Going home for these things would take away beach time!
Every Labor Day the homeowners association would throw a picnic and residents would all bring dishes to share. As a kid my greatest memory of the actual picnic was our delight that not only did they have a keg of beer for the adults, but we kids had our very own keg of ice cold root beer and we were giddy with the ability to fill our own plastic cups from the tap, long before every fast food restaurant offered the ability to fill your own drinks.
The year of “Snoop and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake” was like all of the others. Labor Day meant that our summer was coming to an end. Mom taught middle school English and both of us were getting ready to give up our carefree summer days and go back to real life. As much as Mom loved teaching and was working doing what she loved, most jobs still pale in comparison to lounging on a beach with a good book.
Mom was always extremely conscious of food safety and has passed it on to me, so she always looked for dishes for the picnic that would not cause food poisoning after sitting outside for hours in the hot August sun. A pineapple upside down cake was perfect because of it’s lack of anything creamy like mayonnaise, sour cream or milk based products.
I remember waiting and watching the minutes tick away on the kitchen timer for the cake to be finished so that we could go to the beach, and then the seemingly endless wait for her to take it from the pan and flip it onto the plate to reveal the pineapple and cherries. Finally, though, the cake was done and she wrapped it in cling wrap and pushed it to to the very inside corner of the kitchen counter, safe from Snoop’s reach.
Snoop was my very first canine best friend. She hunted with Dad for ducks and geese several weekends each fall but otherwise was the perfect family dog, playing with my brothers and me all day, hanging out with Mom and protecting her from snakes while she gardened, and then attached like Velcro to Dad’s side the moment he arrived home from the office or a business trip. I was lucky to have her to myself on many occasions when my half brothers were not at our house and she was my best friend and constant playmate.
Dad always said that Snoop was the smartest dog he had ever had and the best behaved, a perfect specimen of a Labrador Retriever. Of course I had tried jokingly to prove him wrong that she was 100% perfect when I gave him the remains of my precious red Lifesaver flying disc that she had chewed to pieces while on a vacation to Button Bay at Lake Champlain in Vermont one summer. There was also the door that she had nearly torn down when she accidentally got locked in a room in our house with nobody home, but other than that, she was a very, very, very good dog if not quite perfect.
And so with the pineapple upside down cake finished, Mom and I set out to the beach like we did every day, with Mom warning Snoop, “You be a good girl and you leave that cake alone,” she said as Snoop wagged her thick otter tail against the cool kitchen linoleum where she liked to hang out on hot summer days without central air conditioning.
Later that afternoon we arrived home from the beach and I called for Snoop as I always did when we arrived home, ready to play with her while Mom cooked dinner. Only she did not run to the door to greet us like usual.
“Snoop? Where are you?” we called several times.
Worried, we searched for her, Mom searching upstairs while I looked throughout our downstairs. I found her curled up under Dad’s desk in the downstairs office, her ears flat against her head and the end of her tail thumping nervously just as I heard Mom make a discovery in the kitchen.
“What happened?” I asked, running upstairs. Snoop stood at the bottom of the stairs nervously watching, her guilty look betraying her. I got my answer when I saw my mother with the plate on which there had once been a perfect pineapple upside down cake and a mangled piece of cling wrap still stuck to it. She was mad but had a hint of a smile starting to break through on her face. “The ‘perfect’ dog somehow managed to get all the way to the far back of the counter and get the cake,” she said, “Your father should be home soon, so you stay here with her while I go to the store to do this all over again…and make sure you show him what the ‘perfect’ dog did!”
I thought about this incident last weekend as I baked my own pineapple upside down cake to take to our annual cul-de-sac gathering that we call the “Party in the Sac” that we have each year with our friend/neighbors. This was one of the first “Laugh” incidents in my Love, Laugh, Woof philosophy. After all, no matter how mad you are at losing a cake, worrying that the dogs will be ok after ingesting the entire cake, in the end you have to laugh it off and move on, adding it to the collection of stories of dogs you’ve loved over the years. For all of the good days that Snoop was indeed the “perfect” dog, this is the incident that sticks out in my mind whenever I see this cake.
Just like Mom did nearly thirty years ago, I let the cake cool a few minutes, flipped it over onto a large serving dish, and pushed it as far back onto our counter as I could before going to get ready for the party. As they like to do whenever I am in the kitchen, both Jackson and Tinkerbell were lurking nearby waiting to see if I dropped something or offered up a treat. “Not for puppies,” I told them, “In fact, you’re coming with me while I get ready so that we do not have a do-over of the prior incident!” And so they wagged their thick otter tails on the tile kitchen floor, just like Snoop had done decades earlier, and then followed me up to the bedroom where there was not a cake waiting to be devoured.