Kathy Stull ordered the cake to celebrate husband George’s 68th birthday. By the time it was ready, an entirely different celebration was at hand.
Stull said Monday afternoon the tears still hadn’t fully stopped, two days after she read the note George brought back with the cake from Candy’s Sweets N Treats. The note explained why the Stulls wouldn’t pay for the German chocolate cake.
“My husband opened the note and my daughter was the first one to read it,” Stull said. “She said oh my god, this is the Lesslies. It was just overwhelming.”
An April shooting in Rock Hill took the lives of Robert and Barbara Lesslie, along with their grandchildren Adah, 9, and Noah, 5. Also killed were James Lewis and Robert Shook, who wre working at the Lesslie home at the time.
Authorities say former NFL player Phillip Adams fatally shot all six victims before killing himself.
While that incident drew widespread attention, due in part to considerable public service done by the Lesslies over decades in Rock Hill, the Stulls weren’t thinking of that when they bought the cake.
Then they read the note.
“#ForAdahAndNoah,” it began. “It’s our son’s 6th birthday and his first in Heaven. Enjoy a treat in his honor. Love, The Lesslie Family.”
The note reads the same every time.
“Effectively, we’ve all been crying for three days,” Stull said. “For something like this to happen to a family, and their concern on this little boy’s sixth birthday is to bring joy to others.”
Stull didn’t know what to do, but she knew she had to share.
On Sunday she posted a picture of the note and a brief account of the day prior on Facebook. As of mid-Monday it had been shared more than 400 times.
Before long a commenter posted a photo from Cherry Park where he came across a basket of bubble wands with a similar note while celebrating his son’s sixth birthday. Another saw markers and a note at the park. Stull learned a similar incident happened at PW’s Ice Cream.
“It sounds like they tried to do things that they knew Noah enjoyed,” she said. ”I’m wondering how many more things happened that we don’t know about.”
Anything special for Saturday?
Candy Aaron didn’t know it about herself at first. She opened a bakery last year, right before the pandemic hit. A staff member served the Lesslies when they came in to pay. The family asked if the shop had anything special in the works for Saturday. Aaron heard about it before they left and went out in the parking lot to thank them.
“I didn’t put two and two together, who they were and what they had been through,” Aaron said.
The German chocolate cake was a recipe from Aaron’s mom. A mom who happened to be in town this week as the pair approached the anniversary of Aaron’s father’s death. He had a stroke the day before Father’s Day last year and died in early June. On June 8, Aaron and her mom will celebrate his birthday.
“It’s so easy when you’re hurting to get stuck in your own mourning, in your own pain,” Aaron said.
The pay ahead birthday cake is a reminder for the baker that, even amid mourning, there is good to be done.
“It was a very wonderful experience, and I was so thankful that they came here to do something like that,” Aaron said. “I’ll never forget this order.”
For the Stulls, the cake is a harkening back to childhood.
“German Chocolate,” Stull said. “George’s Aunt Emmy made him one every year when he was a boy. I love to cook savory foods, but baking is a skill I leave to the pros.”
That the cake this year also honors a boy and his first birthday in Heaven, isn’t lost on the Stulls. Kathy said her husband has been up at night researching the hashtag from the note. He’s talked nonstop about the cake experience.
Kathy is thankful her family has so many celebrations. She and George have an anniversary Monday, their 35th. They have adult twins, both 33 years old. Kathy said she intends to pay forward the joy in an unexpected moment that the cake note brought her.
“I’m going to do something but I’m not sure what,” she said. “I don’t want it to be what I would do. I want it to be what they would have done.”
Meanwhile, she will cherish a handwritten note from people she does not know. People she sees as a light in the world, a joy to others despite unimaginable loss.
“They still have the capacity to forgive and love and go forward,” Stull said.