Out on the fringes of "Old Fort Mill" - the part south of downtown that dates back to when Fort Mill was a tiny town, before it was a Charlotte suburb - there is a tiny kitchen in a house.
For years, the property had cows milked by the woman inside the house.
In that kitchen can be found, the same this week as for decades before, an 81-year-old woman, maybe 5 feet tall, named Elma Sullivan McKinney.
In that kitchen, she baked a Japanese fruitcake.
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A prize-winner at the South Carolina State Fair.
But this is not an ordinary cake or an ordinary woman.
Elma Sullivan came to Fort Mill on Dec. 1, 1947, looking for work in a mill, and there was none right off. She returned later and took a job as a maid for the McKinney family.
She left the cotton fields of an even more rural community downstate to come to Fort Mill. She and one of the McKinney boys, then in the Air Force, well, they just became smitten with each other.
Charles McKinney was handsome, and Elma was so pretty she could stop traffic.
One time during the courtship, Charles was in Texas in the Air Force, and Elma's brother walked six miles to a post office to mail him one of Elma's Japanese fruitcakes - Charles' favorite.
They stayed married forever until Charles died 13 years ago. Elma, a widow at age 68, went right out and got a driver's license because she now had to go places herself.
"I've been burnin' it up on the road ever since," she said. "To church - Church of God - the grocery store and the drugstore."
Elma was one of 16 children. She is a child of a Depression so severe that shelling beans was a thrill.
Her mother was a baker in a time when spice salesmen - the "Watkins man" or the "Raleigh man" - would go from door to door, bringing exotic stuff called vanilla and allspice and nutmeg, and people dried muscadines from the fields to make their own raisins.
It was a South with pecans straight from the fields under the trees and an exotic coconut ordered at holidays to a mercantile store miles away, fetched on a mule, then grated on a nail driven into a bucket lid.
A way to make and bake a cake was born from somewhere, maybe an old recipe, maybe from the head of ingenious rural women, and it was called "Japanese fruitcake."
"Nothing Japanese about it, as far as anyone can tell, but that's what it was called," said Elma Sullivan McKinney, in her kitchen in Fort Mill that is one of the greatest places in the world.
There was never any written recipe. It was passed down from a mother to the head of Elma McKinney and the hands of Elma McKinney and the huge heart of Elma McKinney, who has cooked and baked for hundreds at a time in that tiny kitchen, when she wasn't working as a spinner in the Springs textile mill in Fort Mill.
Elma started out making 58 cents an hour in that mill. She never missed a day in decades, and she ended making $7.95 and hour when the mill shut down forever.
"I dreamed of $8 an hour, but I never made it," Elma said.
Finally, after making this Japanese fruitcake for 60 or more years only around the holidays or for her husband's birthday, one of Elma McKinney's three children, Cathy McKinney Blackwelder, persuaded her mother to enter the cake in the South Carolina State Fair baking contest.
"My mother is the greatest baker in the world," said Blackwelder. "That is her title because I say so. All of Fort Mill ate her cakes - and all her cooking - over the years. She's my momma. She is the greatest."
So Elma McKinney baked her cake that is three layers tall and beautiful and frosted with coconut frosting that all together starts a diabetic coma just with a glance.
She and her daughter took it to the State Fair, and a few days later, Elma received word that she had won a red ribbon. Second place, behind an Italian cream cake, of all things.
"I didn't have the good pecan halves to make it look as pretty as I would like on the top," Elma said. "Those pecans might have put the cake into a blue ribbon."
The Adluh Flour Co. sent her a check for $10 and will publish the recipe - written down for the first time ever. The state fair sent her a check, too - also $10.
And Elma won that red ribbon in the first contest she ever entered.
"The first thing I have ever won in my life," she said.
That is where Elma McKinney is mistaken.
Her cake was not about a contest. Her cake was not about baking. Her cake was not about anything other than a woman who has given all of herself, her entire life, to her family, and to a textile mill, and to her church, and to everybody else she ever met.
That red ribbon is for love of a lifetime.
I walked into that kitchen thinking there might be a story about a holiday fruitcake. I might poke fun at anyone making fruitcake in 2011.
Elma McKinney warmly showed how much smarter and better she is than any smart-aleck like me.
The cake has 3 eggs and 2 cups of Adluh self-rising flour, 2 cups of sugar and a half-cup of Crisco shortening.
It has one cup of sweet milk - what Yankees like me who are foreigners call whole milk - and a teaspoon of real vanilla and a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of allspice.
It has half a pound of raisins - plus an extra ounce - that anyone can get in a store nowadays. The dark raisins are best for baking, said Elma McKinney, who knows.
"You mix the eggs and sugar and shortening," said Elma McKinney, whose hands work like a mixer.
She greases the cake tins with her fingers dipped in Crisco. Then, she gradually adds flour and milk and stirs in the spices and raisins.
It seems simple. To watch Elma McKinney bake a cake, though, is like watching a sculptor sculpt or a painter paint. It is majestic and beautiful.
Except that is boring art.
Elma McKinney, artist, is making a cake to eat, a cake that was a holiday treat for the poorest people in America when she was a child.
This cake is the iron will poverty cannot destroy. It is a life of dignity and frugality, even later when a few dollars come rolling in from working in a textile mill and from your husband's own hard work.
For the icing, Elma McKinney takes 2 cups sugar and 2 cups hot water, four packs of frozen coconut if you are in a hurry - 1 coconut grated by the hand of a great woman if you are really trying to make magic - with 4 tablespoons of flour.
You mix it up just right - Elma can do it blindfolded - cool it, then add 3 cups of chopped pecans and vanilla.
Ice the cake after it has cooled on an old cow feed sack that has been bleached and ironed and used for a half-century for this purpose only, and is as pristine and wonderful as the finest silk.
Then, sit at Elma's counter and eat the cake and look at Elma and watch her beam.
Each forkful is heaven, for she has fed another person in a lifetime of feeding people of all backgrounds, colors, religions.
"So glad you like it," Elma says.
She meant "like" her cake.
But this is not a story about a woman winning a red ribbon for a cake. It's not about a cake, either.
This is about an amazing tiny woman, 81 years old, still winning blue ribbons for a life that she sure earned.