BOLLI Writers Guild Prompt for December 5th, 2019 – Write a eulogy for a close friend or family member
by Marty Kafka
You were probably not expecting to hear from me so soon.
After all, we only recently became rather intimately acquainted, and yet, I feel you are a part of my family now. I have even wondered if it could be some of your brethren running around my neighborhood, acquainting themselves with my hilly backyard.
Perhaps I met you personally in the recent past, chasing you away with a broom when you and your unruly gaggle tried to peck at my pant leg. Imagine that, right outside my back door. What Chutzpah! If that was you, I apologize; although if I think about it seriously, it is a bit too late for my indulging in sincerity. If you happen to be listening in right now or even reading this memoir from your perch in Turkey Heaven, please don’t choke on the seeds and grass you are nibbling on.
Well Tom, I am not the first to have tasted the delectable legs and crispy wings you provide. And oh, that white breast! You probably can’t appreciate that you are so very delicious. Add home-made stuffing, mashed yams, green beans, and gravy made from your own body’s fat and giblets. You are a Thanksgiving party in my mouth.
I could embellish your species’ reputation by claiming that you are a self-sacrificing breed, but we would both know that is a bold-faced exaggeration, like the kind our President recites frequently. Nor could I claim that I sacrificed you painlessly using a knife, gun, or other instant-kill weapon. Tom, you were frozen long before we brought you home and Karen packed your hollowed inner cavity with her family recipe for stuffing. Karen and I, as well as Julie and Stetson, feasted heartily at your expense this Thanksgiving. Thanks.
Your brethren have a long history here in Massachusetts, and as far as my family goes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we have always been wild about turkeys. We’ve been celebrating your kin for several generations, especially in Novembers.
We celebrate you, Tom, for your generosity of spirit, poor flying skills, and relatively low IQ (even for a bird0. You are easy prey for us human predators. The qualities you embody are endearing to us.
So, Tom, until we meet again, Good Cluck to you and your family.
Best in Health,
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano.
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.
Near the end of her life, Eloise Pina was recognized and celebrated by the City of New Bedford for her lifelong leadership and dedication to the community. Huge portraits of New Bedford’s historic personages hang in the grand meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library, and Eloise’s likeness is among them, the only woman. At her induction ceremony, Eloise said, “I don’t know all the answers, but when I was nine years old, I met Elizabeth Carter Brooks, and she said to me, I hope you grow up to serve God and the community.” Eloise fulfilled her idol’s hopes and then some. She was recognized nationally as a leader of numerous church and community organization as well as a loud voice for compassionate change. But I was only 13 when I first met her, and I just knew Eloise as my mother’s friend. Soon, she also became my friend.
When we first met, Eloise was a practical nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. She was the de facto supervisor of her department, but because she lacked the requisite credentials, she was not officially recognized or compensated for her role. To earn extra money for her family of six, she helped my mother with housework a few days a week. I remember her as always energetic and optimistic, with a bright smile and a big laugh.
My fondest memory of Eloise is in our garage, near my weight bench. I was a freshman in high school and still only 5’ tall and 100 pounds. I loved sports and was trying to get big enough to be a high school athlete, but I wasn’t growing and was discouraged. Eloise sometimes did bench presses with me, and, sensing my concern, she assured me that I was perfectly normal and that it was her professional opinion as a nurse that I was about to grow. I trusted her and stopped worrying. Sure enough, I grew eight inches that year and was able to become a mediocre high school basketball player who earned a varsity letter, my proudest accomplishment.
Eloise didn’t work for my mother very long because Mom convinced her to take the courses she needed to get her nursing credentials. A year later, Eloise got her promotion, and we lost a housekeeper. But she remained our dear friend.
Over the years, I heard much more of her amazing story. As a young child, she lost her three sisters in a house fire. The only child to survive, she was in and out of hospitals for almost three years.
Eloise’s eldest child had a different last name and might have been born out of wedlock. I never asked the details, but Tony and Eloise raised her with the same love and care as their other kids, and Millie grew up to become a minister. One of Eloise’s sons was a superstar, but the other was a problem. When his crack addict girlfriend gave birth to Eloise’s granddaughter, she drove her old car up to Dorchester, forcibly took the baby back to New Bedford, and raised her. I don’t know about the legalities, but I do know that it was hard to stand up to Eloise when she thought her path was righteous.
Eloise was a prolific letter writer who frequently expressed her strong and well-reasoned opinions as “Letters to the Editor” in the New Bedford Standard Times. Through her letters, she became recognized as a familiar and powerful voice in her community. She believed that one person could make a difference, but she also knew that leading groups of voices could make change even more possible. She spent much of her life inspiring, organizing, and leading such groups.
In the late 60’s, packs of young rioters from New Bedford’s smoldering black neighborhoods were vandalizing the city’s downtown area. Eloise and her group of churchwomen stood in front of their beloved Grace Church, defiantly refusing to let the rioters approach. Grace Church survived the riots unharmed. When I asked Eloise how she had been so successful when so many other similar groups had failed, she told me it was God’s will. But, she added with a wry smile, she had known many of the rioters since they were little boys–and they knew she still spoke to their mothers.
Eloise was one of the most devout people I have ever known, and I loved her. I believe she loved me back–and forgave me for being a pagan.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
My life is richer because of two women whose paths I was lucky enough to have crossed. They are both smart, strong and beautiful, and, like a lot of us, are currently dealing with the undeserved curveballs life throws our way.
Recently, my friend Hunter lost the sight in one eye due to a sudden arterial occlusion or “eye stroke.” She notified her legions of friends of the loss, informed us that the doctors said the damage was probably total and irreversible, and reminded us gamely that she still had one eye that was working fine. Hunter is tough, well-grounded, indominable. Though we have never met and have only spoken on the phone once, I consider her one of my best friends. I met Hunter through Judy.
Judy was my first girlfriend. She was tall, pretty, smart, and a very nice person. I met her in high school in 1960 when she was scooping ice cream at Gulf Hill Dairy. We dated pretty regularly during my senior year, but I am not sure how to characterize the relationship. At the time, I had nothing to compare it with, but it probably fell into the “semi-serious” category. I do know that, when I went away to college, I expected to see her at Thanksgiving, but, shortly before the holiday, I received a “Dear John” letter. Judy told me she had started dating Dave and we wouldn’t be seeing one another anymore.
Dave was one of the most popular guys in my class, one of the best all-around athletes in the school, my teammate on the basketball team, and a good guy. He was also tall, movie star handsome, and destined to become a Marine officer. I was glad for Judy but a little sad for me. But, because of her, I had much more experience with the opposite sex than I had had a year earlier. And I was strangely proud to have received my first “Dear John” letter. It proved I was in the game.
Judy and Dave have been married more than half a century.
Twenty years later, my wife and I attended my 20th high school reunion. As we stood in line to get our name tags, Judy and Dave walked in. Eileen had heard me tell high school stories and was interested in meeting them. As I made the introductions, I realized, from Judy’s expression, that she had no idea who I was. It was an awkward moment that Eileen seems to take some joy in mentioning, while noting that most women remember their prom dates.
Over the years following that reunion, I kept in touch with Dave and Judy, and when we discovered Facebook, Judy and I began playing Lexulous (a scrabble type game) on line. At some point, she suggested that I might also like to play with her friend Hunter, a woman she had met through their mutual love of rescued Border collies. For a number of years, the three of us played lots of games.
Then, sadly, Dave began suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, and Judy stopped playing, devoting all of her time to caring for him. She was a talented artist, but she gave up all her woodcarving and most of her photography activities. It made me think about how much caregivers have to forgo in order to care for a loved one. Such caregivers deserve much more appreciation than they often receive.
Hunter and I have continued to play online games for over eight years now. According to the Lexulous site, we have played over 3,000 games. The site makes it easy for players to chat, and ,through that online interaction, I have come to know quite a bit about Hunter. She loves dogs and horses and always has several. She has told me stories about her parents and her children, and she is outspoken about her political beliefs. In fact, she is outspoken and effusive about most everything.
Hunter was not as open and forthcoming at first, but, at some point, she expressed a very liberal opinion and mentioned that I probably would disagree with her. As an educated, Jewish Democrat with atheist leanings, born in Newark, N. J., I wasn’t used to having anyone assume I was politically conservative. When I asked her why she thought I would disagree, she told me that she just assumed I was a conservative, religious Republican who belonged to a yacht club because I had been friends with Judy and Dave. I told her she had me pegged wrong, and, since then, Hunter has been much more free-wheeling when it comes to expressing her opinions. Her recent Trump posts have been especially entertaining. I never noted that these two friends were at such different ends of the political spectrum.
Hunter called me once for legal advice when a used truck she had purchased in Texas broke down about 150 miles from the dealer, but all of our other contact has been through Facebook. Recently, I told her that I had added her to my bucket list and planned to visit her in Florida. I am going to do that sometime soon.
When we look back on our lives, the things that shine are the friendships we have been lucky enough to share. For me, Hunter and Judy are two that shine the brightest.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since. He has engaged in memoir writing since joining BOLLI.
In the mid 70’s to mid-80’s, when our sons were young, we typically traveled at least twice a year to visit both sets of grandparents–one set in Cleveland and the other set near Pittsburgh. As the drive was nearly six hundred miles, we (mostly Caroline) had to invent things to do along the way so that the three of them wouldn’t do bodily harm to one another or rip the back seat to shreds. We always brought plenty of books and a number of tapes, mostly Muppet songs, as we sped along the interstates of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. I particularly remember all of us singing along with Kermit the Frog, Why are There So Many Songs about Rainbows? On more than one occasion, usually when we were at least a couple of hundred miles out, Caroline would wonder if she had turned the iron off. After the second or third time, I started packing the iron in the trunk.
When we finally reached my parent’s home after twelve or more hours on the road (there were many pit stops along the way), all three sons would pile out of the car and head for “the drawer of misfit toys” in my mother’s kitchen. The drawer contained bits and pieces of old toys that had long since been lost or abandoned. There was a little ball with jacks, numerous marbles of various sizes and colors, a yoyo, a top, playing cards, toy soldiers, knights on plastic horses, a few Lincoln Logs (but not enough to build anything with), pieces of an erector set, a dart gun, a harmonica, commemorative coins, nuts and bolts, rubber bands, a mouth harp, as well as various and sundry other stuff.
But there were two things that seemed to be favorites. One was a hollow, woven cylindrical shaped object about six inches long and less than a half-inch in diameter with openings at both ends. One son would put his index finger in one end and ask his brother or cousin to put his or her finger in the other end. When he pulled back, the tube would stretch, reducing the diameter and trapping both fingers.
The most intriguing toy, however, was a large horseshoe magnet about five inches long, two inches wide, and about a quarter-inch thick. It had not originally been a toy but must have been removed from some piece of machinery…it was a very strong magnet. There were also two small magnets in the form of black and white terrier dogs. The oldest son would get under the kitchen table with the big magnet while the other two sons would place the two little magnets on the tabletop; wherever the big magnet moved the little dogs would follow. It was pure magic.
Many of these trips took place around the Christmas holiday which meant that there would be a tumultuous unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning and an overabundance of new toys. But as likely as not, after a couple days, all three sons would be back exploring the “drawer of misfit toys.”
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
I retired four years ago and now appreciate, more and more each day, how lucky I was to have been part of the “luncheon group.” With no specific plan, this group evolved over the course of ten years at a large Boston law firm and resulted in five of us having lunch together two or three times a week for another 35. Though we spoke mostly about local sports, firm gossip, our respective families, and current events, it was, for me, a continuing opportunity to study how very smart and very decent people behave. It was a lifelong lesson in humility. Here is just one illustration of what I mean.
The group naturally took an interest in each other’s kids, attending their plays and sports events and celebrating their successes. So, when Andy’s son Tim, then in his early 20’s, managed to land a spot on “The Apprentice,” I temporarily waived my boycott of the show and watched it. Donald Trump, the show’s host and resident ego-maniac, was apparently charmed and impressed by Timmy, often referring to him as “our Harvard Phi Bate.” I didn’t know Tim had achieved Phi Beta Kappa status, so I mentioned it at our next lunch.
“Andy, I didn’t know Tim was Phi Bate,” I said. “I knew he was smart, but my daughter Alex, whom I also consider very smart, told me her Phi Bate friends at Yale were so far above her academically, she could only see the bottoms of their feet. Except for Alex’s friend Adam, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a member of that prestigious group.”
There was an awkward pause, and I noticed that Andy was looking at his feet.
“Actually, I was Phi Beta Kappa at Dartmouth,” he said, almost apologetically.
I was astonished and glanced at Tom to see if he was as surprised as I was. But he also looked uncomfortable.
“Uh, I was a member at Trinity,” he admitted.
I turned to Joel, who also seemed to be ill at ease.
“Yup. Penn,” he acknowledged.
Feeling like a complete idiot, I turned at last to Stan, the fifth and youngest member of our little group. He was grinning at my discomfort.
“Dennis, it appears that you and I are not qualified to participate in these lunchtime discussions,” Stan suggested. “Our place should be to sit quietly, listen, and soak up the surrounding wisdom.”
Thank goodness for Stan.
Now, the fact that my three close friends were members of Phi Beta Kappa didn’t really surprise me. I knew that they had attended prestigious colleges and graduated from ivy law schools. I also knew that they were brilliantly accomplished lawyers who had, over the years, demonstrated their extraordinary intelligence again and again.
Joel was kind enough to note that I was the only member of our group who had managed (at a less prestigious college) to be placed on both academic and disciplinary probation in the same year. We are all unique.
During a recent summer, I was on a safari in Botswana, bouncing through the savannah in an off-road vehicle, and spent several days with a lovely English couple named Charles and Elisabeth. By day, we shared adventures observing magnificent wildlife. And each evening, as we dined, we casually discussed science fiction literature, travel, the state of the world, and how to avoid snakes while discretely relieving oneself in the bush.
When we returned to Wellesley, I found several nice pictures of the couple and wanted to send them copies, so I looked Charles up on the internet. He had failed to mention that he was the financial director of the Bank of England and had been knighted in 2014.
But he had never been a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
John Donne leans leisurely against King Arthur. Arthur Rex snuggles soundly with Sweet Will Shakespeare. Towering above them is Fanny Farmer, sans covers, coated with stains from holiday feasts. My books and shelves are home from a long exile in the land of Public Storage. They will never know how challenging it was to rescue them.
The kingdom of Public Storage is ruled by a troll named Chuck. Long of beard and mostly bald, he sits behind a long expanse of counter on a black mesh desk chair with wheels. He never stands or walks. He rolls from side to side, trying mightily to be as unhelpful as possible while appearing to be helpful. King Chuck, like many rulers, is cursed. His computer is always down.
I take a deep breath and walk through the empty room to the counter of power. Chuck squints up at me. “Hello,” he says brightly. “How may I help you today?” He sounds sincere, but I know from previous encounters that he is not.
“I’m emptying my storage unit today. I’ve already done the online notification and canceled the autopay. They said I needed to notify the manager.” Snap! This should be easy.
“They said to notify me?” He looks puzzled and alarmed, as though I had just announced my intention to set fire to his counter.
“Yes.” I begin to sweat. I have deviated from the King Chuck playbook.
“Huh.” Chuck wheels his way to his computer and peers at the screen. He strokes his beard thoughtfully. “Gee, my computer is down.”
I say nothing. I checked when I came in. His wifi is up and running.
“Did you take your lock?” he barks into the silence. I hold up the padlock to prove I’ve obeyed orders. Then drop it on my big toe. A genuine Chuck smile emerges. He enjoys his customers’ pain.
“Well, when my computer is working I will email your receipt. I hope you have had a good experience with Public Storage. It’s been a pleasure serving you.” OK, so maybe I’ve been a little harsh.
I walk back through the parking lot to the loading dock. My daughter and her boyfriend, who are the muscle behind the moving operation, are cramming a bed frame into the crowded UHaul. It doesn’t fit, so they break it up. It is not my bed. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter had thrown her old bed in my storage space. They head upstairs in the elevator to retrieve the last remaining occupant of my storage space: a mattress.
I wait outside the elevator doors for their return. Then my cell phone rings. I answer and a nasal voice demands, “Are you in the lobby?”
“Excuse me?” I answer. “Who is this?”
“It’s Chuck. Are you in the lobby?” I look around in confusion. As near as I can tell, this isn’t a lobby, it’s a loading dock. I was in the lobby when I last saw the demon Chuck.
“No. At least I don’t think I’m in the lobby. I’m….”
“I know you’re in the lobby. I can see you.” He chuckles, a rusty sound straight out of a Stephen King movie.
I resist the impulse to hide behind a pillar. I look around and realize there are security cameras pointed at me. “Well, OK then, I guess this is the lobby.”
“There is a mattress in your storage unit.” Contempt drips from every word. “Did you think you could just leave it behind? That’s against the rules.”
A pause while I resist the impulse to run for my life. “They’re picking it up now,” I blurt. The phone goes dead. I never even get the chance to say goodbye.
The kids arrive right after the phone call. We quickly shove the mattress into the truck, and we speed out of the parking lot of Public Storage, never ever to return. Chuck waved as we passed his window. We didn’t wave back.
This morning, I fill the empty bookcases with my beloved books. As I dust each one, I promise, “You’ll never have to live in the land of Public Storage again.”
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
They’re crammed into the glass jar, some gray or pinkish or maybe brown. Some are inert, and others squirm. All are slimy. I force myself to reach into the jar and pull one out, holding it in my ten-year-old hand while, with the other, I force one end onto the hook, into the anus. Or maybe it was the mouth. I could never tell which. I make sure the worm’s body covers the hook so the fish won’t know its dinner comes at a price.
I let the line out into Long Lake, dragging my “worm hand” in the water to wash off the slime. I shiver with disgust, looking to my father for approval. He knows everything about what the bass is thinking. This inlet is rocky; he’ll hide in the vegetation. A storm is coming; he’s more likely to bite. Think like a bass, he tells me, and I nod as if I understand.
Sometimes the bass are not biting. As the sun comes up, it’s pike that we entice. We take them to our cabin to grill for breakfast. Those shared times predate catch-and-release.
My father would face the bow, where I sat, his back to the motor, hand on the tiller. Occasionally, our Johnson/Evinrude outboard would die, and I’d row the boat, stopping in one place or other depending on what my father believed the fish were thinking that day.
“Uh, Dad,” I said on one occasion. “The motor is on fire.”
Swiveling on his seat, fearing conflagration, he loosened the clamps and dumped the engine into the lake. “No point in going farther,” he shrugged, so I picked up the oars. Blisters on my hands were a badge of our bonding.
Cynics dismiss bass fishing as a hobby, not a sport. Bass fishing is hardly about reeling in a fifty-pound tuna. It was my father’s sport, though, and I was grateful to share it with him.
Still, father-daughter bonding would go only so far. Dad and his best fishing buddy were flying into Brown Paper Company property in northern Maine to fish for several days. I longed to be included. My hurt was extreme when he returned, sunburned and bearded, and revealed that the friend’s son, three years younger than I, had gone along.
Years later, when he lost his leg to diabetes, he couldn’t handle the instability of a small boat and settled for deep-sea excursions on charters. The fishing was never the same for either of us. Yet, on what would have been his hundredth birthday, my husband, sister, and I went deep-sea fishing out of Gloucester. Post-hurricane, there were fifteen-foot swells. Hearty men hung over the gunwhales, projectile vomiting. Protected by pride and Bonine, I stayed the course and fished for six hours.
I owed it to my father. My reward was fresh haddock for dinner—and a connection reaching well beyond the line cast over the water for some unsuspecting halibut with a big mouth.
After a long career in broadcast journalism, Margie has turned to writing memoir and fiction at BOLLI. She has been a member of the Writers’ Guild and serves on the Journal committee. She is also an avid and successful blogger. You can read and subscribe to her blog at: https://marjoriearonsbarron.com/
Her name was Audrey, and she was the new girl in school in the fall of 1952. She had long, black, wavy hair, big brown eyes, and blemish-free olive skin. Wearing a sleeveless, bright colored dress, she wasn’t built like Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobridida, but, then, she was only eight years old. I was instantly smitten, and she hadn’t yet spoken a word or looked my way.
Audrey was anxious to make new friends, and I was anxious to be the first in line. Soon after, she invited me to have dinner with her and her parents at her home. One of the most unforgettable experiences of my youth was playing spin-the-bottle with her in her living room while her mother prepared an exotic Italian meal. I used the word “exotic” because my familiarity with Italian food was limited to spaghetti. I had no idea what her mother was cooking, but it smelled great, and I wasn’t really there for the dinner anyway, even though I did enjoy the food. Altogether, it was a very memorable afternoon. I got my first kiss from Audrey and will never forget the aromas emanating from that kitchen.
My budding romance with Audrey came to an abrupt halt only a few weeks later when my teacher caught in the coat room hiding a love note in Audrey’s coat pocket. Miss Weigle (which was, of course, pronounced “wiggle” by most) made me stand in front of the class and read the note out loud. Needless to say, it was an earth-shattering experience for me, and I am sure Audrey was equally embarrassed. It didn’t kill my ardor for her, but it definitely put a damper on our evolving relationship. It would be another five years before I had the courage to admit to others that I had romantic feelings for a member of the opposite sex. In our senior year of high school, she was selected by her peers to be homecoming queen and the most popular female in our class.
I have since learned never to write anything down that I would be embarrassed to have read out loud in front of other people.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
My parents were aghast when I strode home from school wearing a large, gold helmet, bowl-sized shoulder pads, and a huge purple shirt bearing the number 34. It hanged to my shins. At nine years old in Brownwood, Texas (population 12,000 or so), I was on Miss Wilson’s football team.
My dad was a doctor in the 13th Armored tank division, training here to join General Patton’s final push. We had come from Brooklyn to be with him. Miss Wilson was the principal of the grade school. She was also spelling teacher, math teacher, librarian, baseball and football coach.
I was in the 3rd grade when I arrived. After appearing in a class and answering a few simple questions about Africa, the topic of the week, I was promoted to the 4th. In short order, the 5th. And a few days later, the 6th. Was I really that bright?
Anyway, in the 6th grade, the guys automatically became Miss Wilson’s football team. Me included, shrimp that I was, who knew nothing about football. When I was playing line during practice scrimmages, I couldn’t understand why the kid across from me sometimes took a running jump over me when the ball was snapped and, at other times, just stood there looking down. I dIdn’t even know the difference between offense and defense.
I made it into one play during the season. It was a game played under the lights on a Friday night–yes, in 1944, this was a Texas tradition even for grade schools–and my dad brought a few of his fellow officers to join him in the stands. We were losing 35 to 0 and had the ball when Miss Wilson pushed me onto the field. “Tell them to pass, pass, and keep passing.” It took me a while to get out there. I repeated her words to our quarterback in a tremulous voice and got up to the line. I don’t remember what happened immediately after, but my father told me I appeared exceedingly brave after receiving smelling salts on the sidelines.
That was my football career.
When the baseball season came around, I was first up in the batting order–a cinch to draw a walk because of my measly size, even without crouching. And walk I did at the begining of our first game. The next pitch was thrown for a ball as I stood there when, all of a sudden, there was Miss Wilson charging at me.
“Why didn’t you steal?” she shouted.
“What do you mean?”
“You gotta steal on the first pitch!”
Really? I didn’t know that, but, on the next one, I followed her command. The ball beat me to the bag by about ten steps. The shortstop held it out at me, waist high, and I slid right under it into the base….safe!
There she was, charging again.
“What was that?!”
They had never heard of a slide inTexas! So this pipsqueak from the north had something to teach them.
When we returned to Brooklyn, it took a fair amount of persuasion by my mother to convince the principal of P.S. 234 to allow me to move ahead. He wanted to discount my Texas education altogether and send me back to the third grade where I belonged.
Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.
The Writers’ Guild prompt was: “A Memorable Dinner Date,” which I chose to approach in a somewhat different way.
by Sue Wurster
For some, uranium dating marks time. For others, it’s tree rings. For us, it was dinner. Not long after we started dating, Kathy chose to prepare our first home-cooked meal in my ridiculously tiny New York City efficiency apartment.
“So, where are your spices?” she asked me, turning from what constituted the kitchen (a grown-up version of the kid unit) to the den (the desk right behind her).
“Up there on the left above the sink,” I pointed. Where else would they be? I thought. I’ve got all of three cupboards.
“I see salt, pepper, and a jar of Lawry’s,” she returned, “—but no spices.”
From that moment, the cultivation of my Midwestern palate was underway.
Two years later, we took it as tacit endorsement of our relationship when Kathy’s mom Betty added a bowl of sage stuffing to her Thanksgiving fare. (And I thought I’d been subtle about not having developed a taste for her renowned oyster variety.) Kathy’s grandmother Caroline and the New Orleans family retainer Ella had passed their gourmet secrets to Betty who, in turn, gave them to her daughter. Ten years later, after Betty died, Kathy placed her mom’s large, red recipe box on a shelf in our pantry and made her famous brisket and kugel for dinner.
Now, Kathy never actually used recipes, her own or anybody else’s. I, however, follow them religiously, and what I cook ends up coming out just fine. Kathy, though, could read a recipe, toss it aside, and do her own thing—always resulting in something … extra fine.
After Kathy died, I thought I’d try to carry on some of their best traditions myself—not Betty’s oyster stuffing, of course, but her brisket and kugel, for sure. I went to that red box in the pantry and discovered that it contained no recipes at all. On card after card, Betty described her dishes and made notes—hints, reminders, directives. I could actually hear her voice: If you forgot to get shallots, add a little garlic.
The one ingredient our spice rack eventually lacked when it came to home-cooked dinners was time. Not t-h-y-m-e time but, rather, the minutes and hours that gourmet cooking entails. As teacher parents with papers to grade and picky eaters to feed, we ended up resorting to the quick and easy. My gastronome’s array of gourmet cooking paraphernalia gathered dust in the pantry. There never seemed to be enough grown-up time for the espresso machine. Panini press. Crepe maker. Sushi shaping tubes. Or the bread machine. All ended up waiting, as were we, for our picky eaters to develop their more sophisticated palates.
It’s been almost seven years now. About two years ago, Cara pulled out the fancy steamer for her experimental veggie concoctions. And a few months later, after a shopping jaunt in Natick that somehow ended up with her buying yeast, of all things, Dani commandeered the bread machine. Both have dipped into that recipe box to create their own versions of both Grandma Betty and Mommy’s perennial favorites.
From that first dinner in my city shoebox to the last dish of Thanksgiving oyster stuffing, what Kathy gave all of us–every day, in every way–was the very best in true “soul food.” Complete with spices.
This blog has been such a highlight for me at BOLLI, and I hope to see more members choose to write and share thoughts, favorite books/movies/tv shows, local recommendations for restaurants and/or other establishments, memories–or take your camera for a walk and send us the results!
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