We were at Shannondale Community Center for a summer week of service and recreation in the Current River NSRP. Jim Wilson was our guide with his many years of experience in construction as we repaired and applied vinyl siding to a house that had seen many additions with sidings in various degrees of disrepair. The elderly widow who resided there was very grateful for our crew of adults and youths who were helping her achieve a long-held dream.
The lady of the house helped in various ways. She gave us access to her inside toilet (which was not always available in the project houses we tackled). She provided water and iced tea for our refreshment. She pointed out the nest of copperheads in the patch of weeds at the east side of the house, and warned us that baby copperheads were as dangerous as adult ones, so we were very careful when we removed them to work there (They were very cute.). On the second day, when we were eating the sack lunches we had prepared as usual at breakfast in the Shannondale kitchen, she came out of the house with a beautiful carrot cake in a sheet cake pan—enough for all sixteen of us, though some of our group declined the gift. Several of us felt the obligation to have a piece of the cake, whether we liked carrot cake or not, because she had gone to the trouble of preparing it for us in gratitude for the work we were giving to her. I thought the cake was delicious. Danielle ate the cake but not the frosting. We finished the siding project soon after lunch and went on to other things.
That evening one of our group began to feel unwell and turned in early, skipping the campfire at the end of the day. I heard her vomiting as I went to bed. Not long after that someone else was headed to a noisy stomach-emptying in the common bathroom where we stayed. An hour later another one succumbed. The bathroom was becoming very busy, and no one had the luxury of being able to wait. Fortunately, the group shower house and toilet facility was not far away, and part of the group stayed at the community center building with its two bathrooms. About 2 A.M. yours truly of the iron stomach began to take my turn. It was a long miserable night, but as we compared notes, we came to the unavoidable conclusion that it was not an intestinal virus. Everyone who had eaten the cake with the cream cheese frosting had gotten ill. Everyone who had turned down the cake, and Danielle who had eaten the cake but not the frosting, had remained well. No one got a lot of sleep that night.
The morning dawned beautifully, and some of our group enjoyed breakfast. I had some toast and a little coke. We had promised to tackle another task, which was to help an area resident move her household furnishings into storage until another place became available. Enough of us were in good shape to do the job, and most of the rest of us tagged along, getting stronger as the hours passed.
As miserable as the night was, I would not have changed it. From that point on “carrot cake” became our humorous code phrase for anything that was a well-intentioned but questionable gift. Sometimes we learned to say “thanks” but “no thanks,” but it is always a challenge to be gracious when refusing a gift.