Tag Archives: Memories

Like Mother, Like Daughter (or son)

Until about three years ago, I wouldn’t eat a fried or poached egg. It had to be scrambled or hardboiled, and the hardboiled yoke bit had to be mixed with something to make it less chalky. If I was served a fried egg, I would cut the white part carefully free of the gross yellow stuff and eat it. If the yellow leaked onto the white, I wouldn’t eat any of it. I remember clearly freaking one day when my mom was cooking me an egg. She cracked the egg into the fry pan directly and started breaking it up with a spoon. This would create cooked bits of yellow and white, not one uniform color. Even as I read this right now, I am sort of laughing at myself. It’s kind of strange. I wouldn’t eat this strangely not quite scrambled and not fried egg thing that my mom cooked. She got upset and huffy about it, but pulled out a bowl muttering about one more dish to wash.

Just this morning, I offered my son a cooked egg for breakfast. I shouldn’t have said anything, but I asked him if he wanted it fried or scrambled. This was a complete waste of time because I already knew what his answer was going to be. Unlike me, he’ll eat a fried egg, but if given a choice…he’ll always choose scrambled. All I could think of when I was cracking the eggs into the bowl was, “one more dish to wash.”

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Skilcraft Pen…official pen of the USA

When I picked one of these up today, I was struck with a wave of nostalgia that caught me off guard. We were at the post office getting the kids their new passports. I had to sign something and the post office employee handed me one of these thin black pens, and I hardly had to look at it to recognize it for what it was. My hand remembered it’s unique slim and spare exterior and gently tapered end. No one else in the room seemed particularly interested in my wave of nostalgia, but I’m blogging about it anyway.

I did what I normally do when something piques my interest and googled the pen to see if, as I thought, the pen used now is the same my dad was using while serving in the US Navy. What I found is a pen with a lore all its own. Look at the link above and you’ll read all about them and their interesting history.

Even though I was sitting in the Redmond Post Office signing papers, I was instantly transported back to 1978 and my dad’s office at Pensacola NAS. I could see his desk and feel the room around me. I could even smell it–a unique blend of government building and hospital clinic. I could sense his presence–always larger than life when in a uniform. If I closed my eyes, I could practically hear his voice as he talks to a corpsman. All from just holding a little piece of plastic. Memories are triggered in such interesting ways, aren’t they?

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Slicing Cake

Every year for New Year’s Day for the last, oh 15 years or so, we’ve had dinner with the same set of close friends. We incorporated a southern tradition of making sure we have black-eyed peas in the form of Hoppin’ John. If you can tell me how the name came about, let me know. The following is about as close as I could come to any ‘evidence.’

While the name’s origin is still the subject of some debate — some scholars asserting that it’s a corruption of “pois a pigeon,” a Carribean dish enjoyed by Southern slaves while still in their native land, and others claiming it’s derived from a 13th century Iraqi dish called “bhat kachang” — the dish’s fans maintain that eating it ensures good luck for the coming year.

At any rate, the menu has always included Hoppin’ John, and, for a number of years, we served ham with it. We switched the menu up later as our friends decided to stop eating pork to barbecued chicken. Add greens and a couple of other side dishes, and you have a pretty good tradition. Oh…don’t forget dessert. This year, I made the dessert, a red-velvet cake with cream-cheese frosting.

It turned out more like a ‘mocha’ color because I tried a natural food coloring that was more brown than red. It didn’t change the taste much and the cake looked pretty enough before slicing.

It wasn’t until the cake was gone and a few days later that I washed the cake plate I had used this year. I have two plates–both of which I inherited. This year’s plate is the one that my mother got as a wedding gift. I know this because in about 1990 I accidentally broke the matching serving platter that went with it. She looked at the pieces of crystal in my hands and practically broke into tears saying, “Oh…I got that as a wedding gift!”

Each Scratch is A Slice Served

When she died, I took the cake plate and have used it ever since. She only used it a few times a year—for birthday cake. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now, and I really can’t remember her baking a cake unless it was for a birthday. On holidays, she only made pies or the occasional “carrot” or “plum” pudding.

As I was putting away the plate, I noticed, for the first time, the scratches on the surface of the plate. I looked at them closely, my fingers running along the lines for a while imagining all the cakes that it took to make all those little marks over fifty years, the hundreds of cakes and slices made over time. Not every knife left it’s mark, just enough to make a record of shared celebrations. I have no grand conclusion here, but it just made me sort of…think.

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Comfort Foods

Tuna a la Sunday

When I was growing up, my mom had a rule about church; You had to attend until you were confirmed. This pretty much meant that we dropped out of the Sunday ritual one by one–first my brothers and then me. Once we were confirmed in the Lutheran church, each and every one of us pretty much stopped going. Well, I hung on a little longer than the boys did, but not by much.

When we lived in Pensacola, Florida, we drove to a place I thought was “way across town” but probably wasn’t so far as it seemed. On the way home, we would stop at the 7-11 for treats. We usually were allowed one comic book and one candy bar. I can’t remember if we had rules around when we were allowed to eat the candy, though I seem to think it was after lunch.

Once we got home, she would make lunch. This would entail either tuna fish sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and rice soup. Campbell’s of course. Occasionally, the soup would be bean with bacon or split pea, but I liked the tomato with rice the best. She made it with water, not milk, too. She would make an entire tray of grilled cheese in the broiler–which makes it easy to make a whole bunch of sandwiches. She’d pile the sandwiches on a plate and serve them to the whole family. And we were allowed to dunk our sandwiches into the soup. (My daughter was at a friend’s house when she was little and was admonished by the mother who had served her, “that’s a nasty habit!” Oopsie…)

While my religious views have veered into another realm, I find it interesting that my after church rituals are not entirely unlike the ones I had growing up. I sometimes stop at PCC (Puget Consumer’s Co-op) to pick up food, though no candy bars or comic books are part of that little errand. And, I’ve taken to making sandwiches for lunch. Of course, that’s a bit different too. Since the daughter doesn’t eat dairy or wheat, I tend to make tuna. And I put olive oil and capers in mine. There’s something comforting about coming home and making (a much smaller) pile of tuna sandwiches.

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I, Luddite

Gold Ink On Black Paper

Ink on Paper

The next morning, after I’d given my daughter the drafting set to use for her geometry homework, my son came down and saw the interesting leather box on the table. Opening it, he looked at all the pretties and asked what they were for.

I took out the compass with a pencil lead and showed him how it works, I pulled out the pen, and I explained how the ink would sort of just hang there between the metal. He didn’t seem to think this was very interesting and said, “It looks just like any other pen then.” My feathers ruffled a bit at the idea that this was any ordinary pen! I’d sweated over using the damn thing for hours.

I decided a demonstration was in order. I ran to the art room and grabbed a bottle of gold ink and some black paper so I could show him how it works. (I suppose the fact that I have such materials says something about me to begin with.) I dipped the pen into the ink and drew a series of lines to show how the thickness could be changed from a very thin line to a very thick line. I realized as I was doing it that he could do the very thing without the mess in a matter of seconds on the computer. And, he would know exactly how many millimeters thick the line would be.

“Back in the olden days,” I said, “we didn’t have computers that would draw lines or circles for us. This is how it was done.” I played with the pen a bit more as he wandered off to do something more interesting before school. Then he asked about the cursive writing, which seems to have piqued his interest at least.

When I said something about how happy I was his school still teaches cursive writing and that they don’t do it in our local public schools, my husband was a bit shocked. Call me old-fashioned or call me a Luddite, I don’t really care. I think it’s an important skill that kids need to learn. I like that they learn how to make a bow, write with a pencil and a fountain pen, draw circles with a free hand and throw a javelin. Sure, they’ll catch up with technology when they need to, but there’s something to be said for learning the basics for a strong foundation. And yes…I want them to build a fire from sticks and leaves, too. Anyone can use a match.

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Holding a Memory

When my daughter set up a search for her compass to do her geometry homework the other night, it was nowhere to be found. It took me a long thirty seconds to decide whether or not to go ahead and cop to the fact that I had a way better compass only a few feet away.

I opened the cupboard above my computer and found the black leather case that I had placed there when we moved into the house ten years ago. It is one of those things of my dad’s that I got from him when I was in college. It’s a Keuffel and Esser Drafting set, in the Mercury series. I tucked the black leather case up above me years ago and occasionally look at it just for fun.

When I was taking Howard Rosenberg’s Art 101(or was it 102?) class at UNR, he asked us to create a piece three times; first in pencil, second in ink, and third in three dimensions. In retrospect and after years of therapy, I can say I loved the assignment, but I made it tricky on myself by choosing a pattern that involved tons of half circles spaced a quarter of inch apart. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was very quilt-like and a precursor, perhaps to some of the current quilt art I enjoy now.

Dad's Keuffel &Esser Drafting Set

The second part of the assignment was a challenge. Drawing a smooth semi-circle with ink is nearly impossible without the aid of a good compass. But, I was at a loss for how to do it in ink. My dad came to the rescue by pulling out his old drafting set that he had used while studying architecture. There are several little pointy ended compasses as well as some that are made to hold ink the old-fashioned way–suspended between two pieces of metal. Did I mention that part of the assignment was to use this old-fashioned sort of inking method?

By the end of the weekend, I was in tears. I had made twelve or so drafts, each of which had at least one blot on it, and I gave up. I cut and pasted the two most successful pieces together. Did I mention that Howard, who apparently is still pissing off students at UNR with his irascible intensity, wanted perfection? Not a blob of ink was allowed. I took the whole collection of botched pieces into class and showed him my cut and paste job. He began to rail at me for daring to cut and paste things together. When I pulled out the whole set of attempts he visibly softened and said, “Well, at least you really tried” before moving onto the next student.

After that, I used the set occasionally, and never as intensely as I did that one weekend I slaved on half circles. It’s a quality set. The metal is probably stainless steel and in pristine condition. The heft of the pieces in the hand is so much more satisfying than the plastic piece I’d gotten via Amazon over the summer. While I’m not willing to hand it over entirely or let her take it to school, I am letting her use it at home.

It’s just…kind of cool to see it in use again. I have things from my mom that I use on a daily basis, like her Dessert Rose dishes. Whenever I use something that came from her, I do think, “Oh. This was Mom’s…she used it…I’m using it and enjoying it now..” and I like that connection.

But, I don’t have so much of my dad’s stuff that I use. Paintings hang on the wall, but they don’t get touched. Bill uses Dad’s kiln on a more regular basis, but I tend to stay away from the pottery stuff. As I watch my daughter look at all the shiny pieces, I imagine what it was like for my dad to get it all those years ago, my own enjoyment from using it, and I find the connection meaningful in a powerful way.

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Filed under Grief, Memories, Moving On, Parenting

Leftovers

I’m not a huge fan of leftovers. I think it comes down to the fact that, with three older brothers, we simply didn’t have them very often. Anything not eaten wasn’t eaten for a reason, usually the “yuck” factor. I recall having leftover spaghetti, but my mom would cut up hotdogs, mix them in and make a baked casserole out of it.

As a food professional, she also had exacting standards about how long anything stayed in the refrigerator. Things didn’t sit around gathering mold. It wasn’t until the last year or so that I have become comfortable with the notion of leftovers let alone actually eating them.

And, it’s been in the last couple of months that I’ve been able to open someone else’s leftovers (usually Bill’s, not just anybody’s) and eat them. Last night, I went to my writing group and didn’t share dinner at Spicy Talk, the new Chinese restaurant in Redmond. Everyone else went for dinner and brought back several small packages of leftovers. I decided to give them a try for lunch, and wasn’t at all grossed out by opening up “someone else’s food.” I know–it’s a strange food hang-up, but I’m getting over it. It might have had something to do with the fact that I love Dan-Dan noodles. My lips are still buzzin’.

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