(from a Katrina writing prompt, The Frost)
The frost is here, and I want to park in my garage. I have rarely, if ever parked in my garage. Let’s take a look at why.
When my then-husband and I bought the house in 1988, my father broke a sliding screen, and his father immediately broke the lock on the garage door. I’m not exactly sure how. He manhandled something. After that the bolt never worked right. Rather than throwing ourselves against the stubborn thing, or paying someone to repair it, we mostly kept it bolted. The door is an old one, made of wood, and very heavy.
I could have parked in the garage, but I was a young mother with young children. Imagine a young mother pulling up to that garage in her minivan. I wasn’t going to get out of my car, walk around to the back of the freestanding garage, make my way through it, use an enormous amount of strength to unbolt the door, then get back in, drive in, pull the door down, bolt it, get the kids out of their car seats and shepherd them through the garage and up some steps and over to the front door.
This meant my car windows were often frosty on wintry mornings. But the nice thing about being a stay-at-home mother whose kids ride the school bus was that the sun took care of it for me. Frost melted away before I ever started up my minivan.
My ex did sometimes park in the garage, but once he moved out, that didn’t mean it was empty. It was stuffed full of his possessions for a good seven years after he left. Once I sold all of his remaining items at a garage sale, my sister sensed an opportunity. I wouldn’t call her a hoarder, but given a chance, she would completely fill up other people’s storage; my garage, her friend’s basement, wherever she lived, and of course, she also had two storage spaces. My sister had quite a longstanding love affair with my garage. I was always trying to get her stuff out of there.
During the ten or so years she monopolized the garage, I became an expert at scraping my windshield. I was working an office job, so I would go out and scrape, scrape, scrape my windows, and run the defroster, and curse my life and grumble about my sister at 6am on a cold Oregon morning.
I had good scrapers and bad scrapers. The best was a thin blue tool about the size of my palm and not much thicker than a business card. It was a freebie from my health insurance company during a benefits fair at the office. I almost didn’t take it because it looked flimsy. But during the three years I used it, it peeled off the frost with a scalpel’s precision and a blowtorch’s efficacy. Then it snapped in half.
After some rather dire threats, my sister finally removed her belongings from my garage. This was a difficult time in our relationship, but she rode the bus out and got to work, and she hauled and donated and finally, my garage was empty enough to park in. If I’d wanted to bother with that heavy, malfunctioning garage door, I could have started each day with clear car windows and saved myself all that bother. But I didn’t, so I still parked outside.
While I was dating [Redacted], he found it upsetting that I didn’t park in my garage. I’d go so far as to say it was an affront to him. But once he’d lifted that heavy door a few times, he understood why I didn’t want to. So for my birthday, he helped me clear out my garage and then bought and installed a garage door opener for me.
This was truly a halcyon time in that relationship. Together, we enjoyed cleaning out that garage, getting rid of an old wooden bed frame I’ve written about (but not posted), clearing shelves of the many many things left by the man who built the house in 1984 ([redacted] took a lot of that, to squirrel away in his own stuffed-full garage), and rooting out the last of my sister’s belongings, because they haunted the corners.
The opener was a real gift. It made parking in the garage so easy. I loved it. I enjoyed frost-free car windows for five years. Five years of not having to scrape a windshield. It was heaven, I tell you. And then, my guy moved in. We began to commute together. In his car. Which was parked in the driveway. Where the windows frosted in the winter.
I spoke the words of self-sacrifice. “You should park in the garage. That way, your windows won’t be frosty.” That was mutually beneficial until 2020. We both worked from home that year. But in 2021, he began working somewhere else and I had to commute in my own car again. Which was parked in the driveway. With frosty windows, in the wintertime. But I still worked from home half the time the time. He had to go to the office every morning, so it only seemed fair to spare him the scraping.
Why didn’t we both park in the garage? Well, one daughter put a big ass desk in there. She just dumped it in my garage one day, and she left it. It was there for one year. And then it was there for two years. “Honey, will you get that desk out of there?” “Sure. But I don’t have anywhere to put it.” “Well can you come get it?” “No, you should sell it.” We finally hauled it to the curb and gave it away. This cleared a lot of space, but not quite enough. With a little compression, donation, and rearrangement, we were almost there.
I could practically taste those frost-free windows.
Three weeks later, my youngest daughter and her son moved in with us. Guess where her stuff landed? Yes. That’s right. In the garage, where my car would be parked.
I work in the office three days a week. Most of the time, I’m fine parking in the driveway. But on mornings when it’s dark and cold, I approach my car with trepidation. Will there be frost? I replaced my nimble blue ice scraper with an orange behemoth of a tool that looks like I could use it to strip paint off a submarine. It is almost useless on a curved surface.
Another winter of frosty windows. But it’s so fun to have my daughter and grandson here that I really don’t mind at all.
I’ve enjoyed finding Creepy Valentines and sharing them with you, because who doesn’t want a murderous or suicidal Valentine greeting, am I right? So recently, I came across a feature on antique Halloween postcards from the “Golden Age of Postcards.” I think this is the same era as the Christmas cards that feature dead bugs and homely suffragettes. Anyway, among the witches, I was surprised to see so many postcards featuring amorous pumpkins. I guess even way back when in the days of yore (just like now), nothing says loving like a squash (though wasn’t an eggplant in the olden days). So, here we go. Also, all these cards are in the public domain, so right click to your heart’s content.
Please note the handwritten note: “I send you a kiss-” And what a kiss it is. Two hirsute and swarthy orange globes, all puckered up. I can’t tell if this is a gendered osculation, but one squash has some mighty impressive sideburns. I mean, how romantic! Wouldn’t you be all a-flutter if you received this postcard? Romance galore! However, the cat doesn’t seem to agree. The cat actually looks a little freaked out. Shouldn’t we all be a little freaked out?
A more genteel take on the kissing pumpkins. Here, the pumpkins are a bit less androgynous, what with the breeches and skirts and whatnot. And look, he presented her with a posy of carrots, so that’s romantic, yes? I mean, a little on the phallic side, but at least they’re not eggplants. Also, the apparently male pumpkin is green, which is a nice variation. I like how their little stems perch on their heads like tiny hats. But again, the cat is really freaked out. Perhaps the black cats are a kind of Greek chorus, providing the audience reaction when seeing pumpkins kiss?
Okay, I’m a little more comfortable here because despite the clothes, these are actual Jack-o-Lanterns. I have to say, I like the carved pumpkins better than the smooching anthropomorphized pumpkins. These country pumpkins have a down home lovin’ kind of air about them, like scarecrows come to life. Even though the kiss isn’t shown, Jackie is pointing to the place where she wants Jack to plant a big ol’ pumpkin smackeroo. The cat appears a little wistful, instead of aghast. And it seems the moon approves…
Okay, now, hold up. What in the Sam Hain is going on here? There’s a pretty girl sitting on a huge Moon squash, and a serpentine parade of pumpkin creatures with zucchini limbs and vacant eyes coming to…do what exactly? Take turns looking at her foot? Or are they going to bow? Pay Halloween homage of some sort? Or is it something more interesting than that? What are the pumpkin zombies up to? “Strange things will happen” for sure! If only there were a black cat to provide reaction and commentary on the action.
Okay, speaking of strange things…
“On Halloween your slightest wish
is likely to come true,
so be careful, or the gobelins
will spoil your wish for you.”
I’d like to know who is wishing for what, here. It seems like the pumpkin person is the most likely to be making the wish, what with the googly eyes and goofy smile. But there’s a chance it’s this Diana Moon Goddess person whose wish is the subject. Is she supposed to be a witch? She has moons on her shoes. Perhaps she’s hoping to animate the pumpkin man (though he looks quite animated to me) (all he needs is an eggplant at this point). The “Gobelins” give me no clue. I would hope they’d interrupt this pairing, but they look delighted by the budding romance between Moon Goddess and Squash Man. The little weirdos. What’s going on? Again, without a black cat to react, I am lost.
Okay, even though this witch is making advances on a member of the vegetable kingdom, this still strikes me as relatively tame compared to the other cards. This Jack O’Lantern isn’t aggressively amorous. It’s just a nice Jack O’Lantern that seems completely amenable to being kissed. It probably helps that this pumpkin doesn’t have a body. Or sideburns. And the witch is pretty. There’s nothing overtly aggressive about her little closed-mouth peck, which almost seems innocent. Overall, there’s no foot worship, no weird leering going on. And we don’t have a black cat, but we do have an intense little bat speeding over like a traffic cop to break this up. Come on, little bat. This looks harmless.
Happy Halloween, and may all your pumpkins be normal.
It was Bozeman, Montana, in 1975. I was driving my boyfriend’s Plymouth Duster, bright yellow with a sexy black racing stripe that followed the curve of its bodylines. He’d taught me to drive in that car, and I loved it. Not bad for a girl who had just finished ninth grade.
I stayed with my older brother at the time. My parents had moved to Missoula, leaving me behind with Brother Steve. I had no idea what the future held, but when does that matter to a ninth grader? The sun shone, my stoned friends laughed, and David Bowie sang from the 8track. I was living my best life.
I’ve never understood what happened next. Suddenly the car fishtailed, brakes screaming, tires smoking until my foot remembered how the brakes worked. The only evidence was a trail of four S-shaped black skids on the west end of Bozeman’s Main Street.
Driving ever-so-slowly, I crept down Main to the gas station where my boyfriend worked, and parked the Duster. My friends left the car, swearing it wasn’t my fault, it couldn’t have been my fault, no way was that my fault. I was shaking all over as I solemnly returned the Duster’s ignition key to my boyfriend, the key he’d presented with more flourish than the ring I wore to signify our togetherness.
I didn’t drive again for months. It was time to pump the brakes.
I’ve taught three daughters how to drive. Each had her own set of challenges behind the wheel. One was too anxious, so she rode the brakes. Another wanted to be told what to do long past the point when she should have been making her own driving decisions. She ignored the brakes until I told her to apply them.
The other daughter was emotional behind the wheel, speeding up and weaving through lanes when she was happy, jerking the steering wheel and jamming her foot on the brake pedal when frustrated.
After a particularly dangerous display, I yelled at her to pull over. I delivered my judgment in a cold, harsh voice. “You are not allowed to have emotions behind the wheel. It’s dangerous.”
“What am I supposed to do with them?” she cried.
“Whatever you have to,” I said. “Just don’t drive with them.”
We paused driving lessons for a week. It was time to pump the brakes.
There was a heat wave in my city that week, and everything was overloaded, including me. I was out with friends after a writing class, in an actual bistro, in person. All this felt new, precious, as had all social events since the spring of 2020. After recent bout with Covid-19, I was recovered, out and about again, basking in my temporary immunities.
We ordered fancy cocktails and delicious small plates. My expensive cocktail was absolutely delicious, but it hit me hard and I felt a little embarrassed. I drink so little that my tolerance is always low. Covid had only made it worse. Was I going to talk too much?
Our food hadn’t yet arrived when the server came by and asked if we were ready for another round. My friend raised her hands, palms out, and gently gestured. “I think I’d better pump the brakes.”
It wasn’t just me who found the cocktail potent. This pleased me, reassured me. I was even more pleased with her gentle miming of the metaphor.
Not long after, the power went out on the entire block. We sat in the darkened bistro, suspended in waiting, but our food arrived. We ate and talked, soaking up the drinks and each other’s company. No more cocktails came to our table. Thankfully we all had enough cash to settle our bills, since the registers were down. Two of us had to drive home.
We were relieved to pump the brakes.
Back in the 1980s, my family had many intense conversations in restaurants. We were younger and more alive in both a metaphorical and literal sense. We were tall, smart people with the resonant voices of singers. If you put some or all of us around a table with cups of coffee, those voices rose up to discuss politics or history or music or real estate, loudly and at length.
At times, our conversations were spirited enough to invite participation from the wait staff. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” a server might say. “Excuse me, I heard you talking about…” a server would shyly offer. Of course, we listened politely, but I didn’t really care how the waiter voted, or what neighborhood the waitress grew up in. Backpacking in Italy was probably an adventure, but excuse me. I was talking to my mom.
Once, way back in the eighties at a Mexican restaurant, a young server stood at our table and recited a poem he’d written. It was a lengthy, worshipful ode to Oliver North. He may have been an actor, but he clearly did not know his audience. We never returned to that restaurant. Now it is long gone. Decades later, most of the places we used to go are gone.
The family has also suffered some attrition. Our most recent all-family restaurant gathering was after my father’s memorial service, when we filled a long table at his favorite restaurant–Bannings–for one last meal on Dad.
Bannings is one of those places we all hope to find in our neighborhoods–a family diner with good food and comfortable booths and the most attentive servers on Earth. All the servers at Bannings knew Dad. They vied to have him in their sections. They made him welcome, brought him sides of sausage gravy at no charge, and kept his coffee hot. He always tipped well.
At this post-service-last meal, with all the family and some friends ranged around a long table, meal, many of the servers came by to say they were sorry. They hadn’t seen him because Dad was housebound for months before he died, but they certainly remembered him. “I’d wondered when we didn’t see you.” “We’ll sure miss him.”
You forget, or at least I did, that his decline was pretty obvious from the outside. He changed rapidly from a relatively hale man who took smoking breaks after a meal, to a frail man wearing an oxygen tank. Of course they noticed when he stopped coming.
After that last meal, I couldn’t go to Bannings without Dad. It was just too sad to sit there and think about all the years we’d met there for breakfast, all our conversations about everything in the world. Dad knew so much about the mechanics of the world, and how our government actually worked. We met there nearly every week for fifteen years.
So I left Bannings alone. A year and two months after Dad died, Covid hit and everything shut down. It was 2021 before I started going there again. One August day, I was having lunch with my friend Sarah and realized it was my dad’s birthday. Our server, who I remembered, didn’t remember Dad when I asked her. It had been almost two years, after all. But she asked me what his favorite dessert and brought me a piece of strawberry shortcake as a gift.
This was so human of her. So kind. And yes, I cried.
My husband and I were at a company Christmas party on the Portland Spirit years ago, and a young woman who looked so familiar came up to me on the dance floor and said, “Karen!” and hugged me. I knew her but I couldn’t place her, so I bluffed my way through the encounter, smiling and laughing and wondering where the hell I knew her from.
As I walked back to our table, it hit me. She was a server at Bannings. She was a doll. And I knew she was going to school, and she was bright and kind and funny, but I absolutely couldn’t place her out of context.
This made me feel like a real jerk.
In my home city, almost no one who waits tables does it for love. They do it while preparing for something better; a new job, an upcoming move, a leading role, or a paying gig. The people who wait on me are human beings with opinions and passions. I know that. I grant them privacy for that part of their lives. I think this is more dignified.
If you are a server or a waiter and you’re reading this, I probably owe you an apology for the fact that your dreams don’t concern me. I know you’re a real person who has tied on the apron. I appreciate you. But I only want your attention when I want it.
Swoop in with more coffee, more water. Bring me extra napkins. Don’t make me wait forever for my check, but reassure me there’s “no hurry” when you lay it on the table. I know some days it takes everything to show up, put on your apron, and tend to your tables. I admire the seemingly effortless ballet of your service, a dance that is actually a great deal of work. I like that you perform it with the invisible grace of a professional.
For what it’s worth, I always tip well, too.
(This post is from a Katrina prompt, the ladder).
When I was fifteen and my boyfriend was eighteen, we moved to Yakima, Washington, part of America’s Fruit Basket, where picking fruit is an almost year-round affair. This fertile stretch of Washington valleys produces much of the country’s apples, pears, and stone fruit. Back then, most of this fruit was harvested by migrant workers who followed the harvests. They made enough to live on. Certainly we could do the same.
He had enrolled in an auto mechanic certification program at Yakima Valley College, and I went to high school. That next June, I’d finished tenth grade and his two-year program had let out for the summer. We lived on very small monthly draws from a trust fund his wealthy grandparents had set up for him at birth and whatever else we could patch together; babysitting for me, pumping gas for him. We were young, alone, and very poor.
So we thought it was time to make some real money by picking fruit.
I’m not sure how you signed up or were dispatched for fruit picking, but the boyfriend handled that part of it and we showed up at a farm at 6 AM, ready to pick cherries. We were met by the orchard owners, an older married couple. They were White, and so were we (well, the bf was actually mixed race, but that’s another blog post).
Everyone else was from somewhere south of the US border. The youngest pickers were maybe five years old. Everyone got buckets that hung by straps around our necks and rested against our stomachs. “Don’t fall on those,” we were warned. “You’ll break your back.” Okay, then. We each took a wooden orchard ladder and went to work.
Orchard ladders are wide at the bottom, narrowing at the top, and have one leg. They are also known as tripod ladders or apple ladders. I looked them up on the internet to find the correct terminology, and discovered they are all made of aluminum now. I found a weathered wood version for sale on 1st Dibs for over two thousand dollars. Those orchard owners could have really cleaned up, because their wooden ladders felt antique fifty years ago.
I’m really not much for ladders in general. We decided that I would pick from the ground and the boyfriend would handle the ladder work. He was a young creature of muscle and bone, and clambered up with no problem. When his rickety ladder swayed out from under him, he simply grabbed a tree limb and hung there until I could reposition that wobbly back ladder leg, poking into the soft earth below the tree.
Picking fruit requires skill and stamina, and I basically had neither. We were a source of amusement to our fellow pickers, and they were a source of valuable help to us. After watching me trying and failing to do anything right, a kindly man showed me exactly how to snap the cherries off in bunches.
Later, a kindly woman came over and told me to make sure I was picking in in the shade. Sun made the stems pliant. They snapped better when they were cooler. The children just laughed at us, but I suppose even that was kindly. In its way.
You were supposed to let anything without a stem fall. If you put too many stemless cherries in your bucket, the grower could reject it. I picked thoroughly but slowly, because I didn’t want my bucket to be rejected. I really don’t handle rejection of any kind very well at all.
The boyfriend continued to maneuver the trees like he was born to it, but he didn’t pick much more than I did. Well, he might have, but in my memory, he didn’t. When the lunch break came, I checked my tally. I’d picked half as many buckets as the five year-olds.
The bf went to our car to get our lunch, and I asked the wife where the bathroom was. She expressed great embarrassment that I would have to use the worker facilities. I reassured her that was fine. I was a worker, right? But I understood her embarrassment when I saw those facilities. It was all concrete and filth. Asking an animal to use that bathroom would have been an insult to the animal.
I was most insulted by a hand-lettered cardboard sign advising me to “BE CLENE.”
We picked for a week (maybe less) and made very little money compared to our fellow workers. They earned the big bucks, as well as my deep respect for their skill and stamina. Toward the end of that week, I got a letter (we never had a phone in Yakima) from my parents asking if we’d come to Missoula and help them with their business of making and selling miniature furniture. They were way behind with their orders.
The boyfriend could run a saw and I could sew. We could both pack boxes. Best of all, there were no ladders. So, we packed up the cats, drove through passes, and came to Missoula, where we stayed for an entire month (and I learned to ride a bike). I might have been hopeless at picking cherries, but I could stuff a tiny sofa like a pro. And there were absolutely no ladders.
(from a Katrina prompt, The Path)
When I was 37, I started working at a business-to-business telemarketing office that has long since gone out of business. Because of that, and because I name no names, I feel I can write honestly about what went on there. Also, the owner got married, closed the business, and moved to a sunny retirement state twenty years ago. I’m out of her reach and she’s out of mine. Mostly.
Anyway, the office was located off Barbur Boulevard/Highway 99 on a sliver of land between 99 and I5 South, overlooking South Terwilliger. This is a hilly area. The building had a tall front entrance, but I would always walk around the building and scramble up a gravel path to the back entrance.
It’s hard to remember why I chose this route. I have a dim memory that this shortcut knocked off a set of stairs. I’m lazy about stairs and always have been, so this is possible. But it’s just as likely that I did this to avoid the smokers who congregated out front.
There was a man and two women who stood out there discussing “politics” and aggressively flirting with each other in ways that were downright graphic. The man liked to share details of his sex life, which was bad enough, but the women (one of them an ex-con, the other an ex-logger) both had unfortunate teeth and eating disorders. They were always angling to get their skinny limbs next to each other for size comparison.
You can see why I might bypass.
My preference for the back entrance prefigured my initial attitude towards working at this office. I quietly did my own thing, so it took some time for me to realize that the owner of this company yelled at her employees, especially one woman with a pronounced lisp. The owner would summon this employee into her office, close the door, and let that person have it over, I don’t know, like seven second pauses between calls, or too-frequent bathroom breaks, or two-minute conversations on company time. Once her bile was expelled, the door would open and disgorge a bile-covered, shuffling, often sniffling employee, who was then expected to go back to a desk and produce, produce, produce.
For some reason, she never yelled at me.
In addition to running her telemarketing business and berating her employees, the owner also offered business consulting services. I sat in on a few of her presentations to small business owners about how to improve their sales. Her answer was always the same: they needed to hire a business-to-business telemarketing agency. She just happened to own one of those.
Once she got the contract, skilled marketers like me (a single mother with a high school diploma who had not worked in an office since she was twenty) would deliver results. Leads. Sales. Signups. You name it, we’d give it the best effort that $8.00 an hour could buy.
It was grift at its finest.
First on the list was ease. The office itself was close to my home. The hours aligned with my kids’ school schedules. I was paid more than I earned at the mall. I wasn’t on my feet all day.
Second on the list was that I learned how to use a computer here. I had no idea how to do that when I started, none. I started on an old DOS based program. Within months, I almost Windows-literate. I was also learning the intricacies of business-to-business telemarketing—meeting with clients, writing scripts, assigning campaigns, analyzing data and then writing reports that blame the databases for the abject failure of all campaigns to achieve promised results—that stuff. For this, I received trifling raises and unofficial promotions.
Third, and perhaps most important to me, there were good people in this office. We had fun. Sometimes, when the boss was out on a sales call, we frisked and gamboled like giddy lambs, throwing Kush balls at each other and comparing Solitaire scores. Once, I wrote the office manager a check for a million dollars so he would mow my overgrown lawn (he mowed the lawn but never cashed it). One of our seasonal employees was incredibly intelligent (she’s one of two people I know who have been on Jeopardy). I became friends with another woman, enough to have her to my home off and on for a year. You can find her in the Gentry books (hint: she’s an English major).
So I stayed.
I’d been there just over a year when the owner called me into her office, sat me down, and offered me an exciting opportunity. She wanted me to join her in the consulting part of her endeavor. I’d be out there at her side, doing consultations and drumming up business. According to her, I’d be a natural.
In the six weeks between when I left this office and when I started school, I wrote the screenplay that became my first novel, which quickly led to my second, and so on. At the end of the first book, Gentry has failed everyone and God, and he hates himself for it. He would need to be punishing himself in the second book.
I had an idea what that punishment might look like.
I remember jotting down a page of notes about the second book, back when I was still trying to hide the fact that I was writing from everyone. Most new writers do this. You don’t want anyone to know about your new secret addiction, so you hide it and lie about it because what if someone found out that you were writing???
Anyway, as I made notes, I was cackling. It was fun to imagine how terrible an office would be for Gentry. An assault and an affront and a perfect way to punish himself for his self-perceived transgressions in Oregon.
His purgatorial workplace held a sad woman who lisped, a creepy guy who said gross things, and Fanny, of course. Gentry was a beleaguered IT guy who committed small acts of secret rebellion. My characters were constantly berated by the owner of the company, who summoned them one after another for a good cleansing yelling session about how useless they were. My favorite bit was when Gentry summarized the PTO/health insurance benefits offered by his employer.
How can I explain my benefit package to Mike? It’s a complicated arrangement of smoke and mirrors, designed to give the illusion of benefits. I have health leave as long as I never get sick. I lose all accrued personal time off if I ever take any. I’m paid by the hour if I work less than forty hours a week, switching immediately to salary the moment I put in an hour over that. “Mike, I’m told that I have benefits, but I have no retirement, no life insurance, no dental, no vision, and my health insurance covers no prescriptions, no physicals and no illnesses.”
This was absolutely accurate.
Were there parallels? Clearly, yes. But my fictional office was in Oklahoma, not Oregon. I assumed I was safe, even though much of what I used would be familiar to anyone who had worked there. I couldn’t help myself. And this book has been my favorite of all the Gentry books, right up until I finished the fifth one.
I wrote a lot of first drafts while finishing my degree at Portland State. I mistook them for finished novels, but thankfully I graduated with honors and went to work in a different type of business. One that creates products, as opposed to grift. My company offers employee benefits, as opposed to that stuff I described earlier. I’ve worked there for over twenty years.
My office is downtown. When I take the freeway home, I pass the old building where I learned about B2B telemarketing. It’s right there, and perpetually hung with “FOR LEASE” banners. How could I miss it?
But sometimes, I drive right past without a glance. I’m thinking about my day, or singing too loudly, and I don’t even see it. Other times, I look over toward that back entrance and I swear, I can see myself as I was back then. A much younger me, dressed in the office attire of the day. A pastel striped top. A pale pink skirt. White pumps with one-inch heels, and pantyhose, by god, I used to wear pantyhose. I look like Easter Sunday, 1998.
But those one-inch heels dig into the gravel as I scramble up that path, on my way to wherever it is I’m going.
South Dakota is full of roadside attractions, advertised with tempting billboards that tout the wonders of the Prairie Dog Town, Wall Drug, The Dinosaur Park…it goes on. As children, the three of us were whisked past one after another, with a parent issuing the dismissive, “It’s a tourist trap,” whenever one of us begged to stop.
This did not stop us from begging.
Both my mother and my birth father were born in South Dakota in the 1930s. No doubt they were repeating the highway mantras of their own childhoods. I doubt it would ever have occurred to my grandparents to stop at some dusty place on the prairie. The Depression and wartime budgets of the Odlands and the Zwebers didn’t include spending good money to see tunnels full of crop-eating pests. They had neither time nor cash to waste in an old storefront full of cheaply made souvenirs that would fall apart on the way home.
Still, from the backseat of whatever large American car we were riding in, these places looked like meccas of wonder to my sister, my brother and me. Wall Drug, with its endless roadside couplet signs offering free ice water and nickel coffee, especially beckoned. But the parents would roar past, shaking their heads. No time, no patience, no way.
Divorce is a strange thing. It might be a source of lifelong trauma in the long run, but in the short run, it can be an enormous liberation. When my mother left an unhappy marriage after nine years, she entered a personal renaissance. She stood prouder, got a little slimmer, raised her hair to beehive heights, and traded in her glasses for something more fashionable. She moved us from Claremont (population 50) to Aberdeen (population 20,000). This was a considerable change. She re-enrolled at Northern and finished her degree. And she decided to take us on a vacation.
Mom would rent a trailer large enough to accommodate her, our babysitter Maryanne, and us three kids. We would tow the trailer behind our current car, a tank of a ’57 Buick (sky blue, white top, and chrome trim).
We would stay in a different KOA campground each night, and we would would stop at every single roadside attraction, except one. By group vote, we skipped the Bible park–as good little Christian Scientists, that would have been an overload of graven images, which were verboten to us. Aside from that, we would leave no billboard ignored on our quest to visit every tourist trap in the Dakotas. And each one of us received five dollars spending money.
In 1968, that was a LOT of money.
My impressions of most places are fleeting. The Reptile Gardens? That place smelled terrible. We walked on wooden paths through a swampy enclosure. I found most of the animals repellant and yet…interesting. Snakes and gators have never been my thing, but there were plenty of them. The Prairie Dog Town? With my love of small furred critters, you’d have thought this would have made an impression, but I have none. I don’t even remember seeing the gigantic cement prairie dog that still stands there today.
The biggest let down was the Petrified Forest. In my eight year-old mind, I expected, you know, a forest. We didn’t have those in the part of South Dakota where I lived, so I leaned on children’s literature. I was expecting something like the talking trees in The Wizard of Oz, but turned to stone, with stone branches and stone leaves. I didn’t expect them to talk, but I did expect the to be standing. But the “forest” was nothing more than a large expanse of dirt and gravel, upon which were scattered fragments and chunks of petrified wood.
The dinosaur park in Rapid City was fun and free. We have a few photos of us kids there, and we’re smiling. The dinosaurs were smooth and green, like the Sinclair dinosaur, so of course we assumed they were scientifically accurate. I have pictures of us somewhere and might add them, but not today.
In 1968, there was a gravel parking lot, a gift shop with a panoramic view of the memorial, and that was about it. That was plenty for me. I looked out the window for a while, recognizing and admiring three of the four presidents. Then I found a little naked souvenir doll more suited to Hawaii than South Dakota, and took her right up to the cash register.
On the way home, we finally stopped at Wall Drug. Back then, it was just a short stretch of Old West-appearing storefronts. To get your free ice water, you went behind the store to a little pump and helped yourself. I’m not sure where the nickel coffee was dispensed, but it was somewhere. You could smell it. I don’t recall any actual drugstore merchandise, as in home remedies or a pharmacist’s counter, but apparently they have always been there, too.
What I do remember is touristy crap galore. The store was a wonder. I wish I had photos from back in the day, but I took a few in 2015 when I went back. Taxidermy dominated the walls, hung with every dead animal you could imagine and a few you couldn’t, like the jackalope.
It even had animatronic tableau. I stood for too long in front of some weird looking robot cowboys doing rope tricks while their eyes spun. When I went back in 2015, these were still there and operational. Sadly I don’t have a video, but here are some stills.
I also remember putting a nickel in a slot so a robotic cowboy would say “Draw, Pardner!” and fire his gun at me. I couldn’t find him, but here is General George Custer.
Thrilling stuff. But not as thrilling as what I bought with the money that remained to me. I wanted a beaded necklace with a tiny Native American on it, but that was rich, and I’d already spent part of the five so I had to be discriminating. I selected an onyx egg, an onyx “worry stone,” a vial of agate crumbs, and a pure white rabbit pelt. That was the end of my five dollars.
I kept that pelt long after I let the rocks go. I knew it was the skin of some poor rabbit. Somehow that didn’t bother me. I loved how soft it was, how white. And then, in the eighth grade, I made it into a purse that eventually disappeared. But for years, it was my comfort. I would take it out and stroke it, soothing as petting a cat, and remember that trip.
It was our first family vacation, and our last. And it was perfect.
I have a few regrets in this life, and not recording some songs in harmony with my siblings is absolutely one of them. I’m speaking of the original three siblings: myself (youngest), my sister (middle) and my Brother Steve (oldest). At my mother’s parties in Aberdeen, South Dakota, my sister and I used to bring down the house with our childish rendition of “Those Were the Days, My Friend.” The three of us together graduated from car-trip singalongs to rousing a crowd with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in 1971 at a political rally in Booneville, Arkansas. Despite the heights of our harmonic glory during the refrain, we remained staunchly liberal, like our parents, and we did not become the next Von Trapps, though my sister and brother were in a band together in the 80s (it wasn’t particularly harmonious).
Harmony came easier to my brother and me. We dueted constantly from about 1974 on, at home and at parties. It was our thing. Somehow, we never got a moment of it on tape. I regret that.
The way sibling voices blend moves me. Even when the voices are very different from each other, there’s alchemy in how they come together, constant infinitesimal adjustments to smooth the harmonies. I believe this is done by instinct rather than decision. Here are a few of my favorites, almost all of which fall into the country category. And please note, even though these are sister acts, I sang far more with my older brother than with anyone else. I miss you, Brother Steve.
I’m all for the rename. But in the Dixie days, the harmonies of sisters Martie and Emily provided a soft grounding for Natalie Maines’ forceful lead vocals. This band has been through the wringer both professionally and personally, andthey are still together. Gaslighter is a BRILLIANT record/song/video, but I like these earlier songs. Also, that fiddle, and the banjo. I mean…
Talk about country! I first learned about the Browns while reading Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass. I had no memory of the Browns, and thought I was reading a not-so-good novel with real characters like Elvis Presley dropped in. At some point I began to understand that, yes, this was a not-so-good novel, but the Browns were real. At one time, they were one of the most popular musical acts in the country world. Bass described how they twanged and arced and hung in the air, blending and bending together like the tones of a bandsaw. I wanted to hear their voices. I ordered a CD, which took months to reach me. When it finally arrived, I played it obsessively.
These sisters have intense, rich voices. Shelby’s is full of emotional punch and power, and Allison’s is low and heartfelt, as big as the sky. I couldn’t prefer one over the other. Each sister has a record that sits on my all-time favorites list (Shelby’s Temptation, Allison’s The Hardest Part). They join each other onstage now and then, and have one joint project, Not Dark Yet. Individually, they are powerhouses. Together, they are sublime. The video below gives me constant shivers from beginning to end.
That’s pretty much perfection, in my book. Lest you think these sisters do not rock, here you go:
I have one CD by SheDAISY, their debut “The Whole SheBang”, and that appears to be enough. I have never bought or even listened to another. I’ve been playing this record on car trips since the year 2000 and still love it. It’s straightforward commercial country done right. I have no idea if they’re still performing together, but the harmonies these three sisters create are grand, swooping, impossible to tease apart. I’m going to post two examples and I hope you listen more than watch.
The first one, “Little Goodbyes” is such a funny song, very country pop, but the video is of the “beautiful women make sultry faces while singing” variety. It distracts, then gets old.
“This Woman Needs” is a HEARTBREAKER ballad and has hair-raising shivery harmonies. It’s also an oddly crappy video with too many jump cuts. But it’s a gorgeous song.
Okay, finally, a sister act that is not country at all. My kids told me about these three sisters long before I actually heard them. “Mom, you’d love Haim.” “Mom, have you ever heard Haim?” “Mom, I think you’d like Haim.” I finally encountered them as actors in Licorice Pizza. This led to watching the video below and while watching it, I fell hard. Este, Danielle, and Alana (who starred in the movie) are so…talented, striking, odd, fascinating. They have quite different voices but listen to them blend into something special! And watch the whole thing because it builds in a wonderfully strange and subtle way. When did they film this, and how did they do it, and could they be any more cool?
I played this for my five year-old grandson and he was transfixed. He remarked, “They all have the same shoes.” He’s right. They sure do.
Did I miss anyone besides the Jacksons (can’t/won’t talk about them, it makes me too sad)? Because I’m sure I missed some people. Let me know in comments.
Catachresis: The use of a word in a way that is not correct — for example, the use of “mitigate” for “militate.”
I describe it like this. I reach for a word and grab the one beside it on the shelf. I want to say “cerebral,” and I say “cereal.” “Mutual” instead of “mutable.” Almost immediately, I catch myself and correct. But we both notice.
“I did it again,” I say to my husband. “You did,” my husband affirms.
I’ll do this like four times over two days. Then it subsides for weeks, even months. But I know it will come back, especially when I’m exhausted. You know how Autocorrect will plug in the wrong word, even when you’ve carefully typed out the word you want to use? That’s what my brain is doing to me right now. It’s AutoIncorrecting.
Sometimes it’s not the word right next to it on the shelf, but more kittycorner to it. I might mean to say the doctor prescribed something, but I say she subscribed something. Almost there but not quite. It reminds me of my grandson, with his “consplosions” and “conspiraments,” his use of “extract” rather than “distract.” Except I don’t find it charming when I do it, because I’m not five.
It’s been a couple of months since I mixed up my words, so I’m probably due for a run of stumbles. It only happens while speaking, never while writing. Since I make my living at the latter, I’m grateful for this, but still embarrassed. I have an expansive vocabulary that can also be a bit cumbersome. I’ve been teased about my wordiness my entire life, but I love words. I’m particular with them. This catachresis overrides my careful choices.
Please don’t come at me with advice about having my brain checked out for early senility, because I know where this came from. This started after I had COVID-19 in January of 2020. I’ve been struggling with this particular piece of neurological fallout ever since.
I believe that most of us who’ve had it are struggling with at least some damage from the virus. Catachresis one of three symptoms of long COVID that I try to ignore. I get a little wheezy some evenings. Occasionally, something will taste completely wrong to where I couldn’t identify what’s in my mouth without visual cues. I deal with these other lingering guests as small inconveniences, but I hate it when the wrong word comes out.
I whine about getting sick quite enough on here, but since I had “the birthday flu” this spring, my daughter and five-year-old grandson have moved into our house, where we hope they’ll stay for the school year. My grandson arrived with a cold, so I promptly caught that. It was horrible. We got over it. Then he picked up another cold in swim lessons. I came down with it on a weekend getaway to Yakima with friends.
The bad news is, I’m going to get all his kindergarten colds. The good news is, my immune system seems to be working again. Yes, I had a cold, but my body seems to know what to do with it. I was tired over the weekend, blew my nose now and then, had some cough drops. But I was functional and even able to taste all the fine food we sampled on a weekend of restaurants, antiquing, and talking about our lives.
A week later, I seem to be over it with no secondary infections, sleepless nights, or hacking. I haven’t even had a flare-up of the catachresis.
I try to stay calm. I’ve had COVID twice and I can’t do anything about that. I don’t think this is the last time, either. But as I was coming down with the cold on Friday night, I was terrified that it might be COVID again.
Both of my weekend traveling companions are recently retired frontline workers. One has had COVID three times, but the other has not had it, not even once. She worked with the actual virus for years, and she did it on the daily. She’s either the most cautious person in the state, or she’s immune. Maybe both? I did NOT want to be the person who gave it to her.
This friend is a scientist. She has patiently listened to my crackpot theories about the virus, and read the Vanity Fair/ProPublica article at my urging. She might not buy the lab leak theory (and please don’t assume that I do, here’s a rebuttal), but she was the first person to explain to me that Covid is not actually a respiratory virus. It uses the respiratory system to hitch a ride to its actual target; the heart, lungs, or brain. No one knows exactly what it does in there, but she fears what it has done to the population as a whole.
As I told her, “Well, we’re all just going to be a little more stupid from now on.” My stupid is Catachresis. But I don’t say the word out loud. I’m afraid it will come out as “catechism.”
So I’m finally returning to the topic of family recipe boxes after a helluva time, but that’s another blog post. Some friends sent long and detailed stories(which I love), and others dashed off a note to go with their photo (which I also love). Sometimes we even get the recipes (I love that too)! You can right click on any image and open in a new tab to get a clear view of any recipe cards.
I thought I’d kick it off with my Grandma Berry’s recipe box. My grandmother died some time ago, and my dad brought this back from Minnesota with quite a few other keepsakes after Grandpa Berry died, years later.
I think this was one of those subscription recipe boxes popular in the seventies. It has those plastic cards, plus recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers, and standard recipe cards in many different hands.
The tape across the back speaks of constant use. The dust on the top speaks to the fact that I have never opened it until today.
And now, on to the others.
My cousin Amy says: THE recipe box. I went through it – few things in there that I recognize as recipes I would consider saving. Most are 50’s era recipes saved from the back/side/inside label of boxes, cans, and bags of preserved foods. Yum! <—familial sarcasm here
My recipe box, box obtained as a freshman in high school for the debate team.
Karen’s note: The top photos are the recipe box I returned to cousins on my South Dakota side, talked about in this post: Recipe Boxes Part One. I’m glad it found its way home, even though it sounds like the contents are not that inspiring. And I tend to forget all the uses we had for index cards back in the day, including debate notes and indexing term papers.
April says: First, I have nothing from my grandmothers. One only spoke Spanish, the other died when I was five. I only remember her sauerkraut was very good (the Latvian grandmother, obviously). I have two recipe boxes, both given to me from my mom. I’m sure she got the big, ugly orange one free from Betty Crocker.
Most of the recipes I attached were the handwritten ones from mom. She usually sent printed recipes with her notes on the edges. The carrot cake was from Susan, and the cereal one was from Dad.
I don’t know if you knew I won a recipe contest from BH&G one year. You basically sell your recipe to them, and they give you a nice award to frame and several copies of your recipe as shown, as well as a mention in the magazine. I have no idea what prompted me to do it, but was shocked I was one of the winners. It was before pesto was a thing in the US. I thought you’d get a kick out if that one.
Karen’s note: April is a fantastic cook and a vegetarian who modestly omitted that she won a blue ribbon for her pineapple pie at a fair when she lived in Oklahoma. She has never made that pie for me. She also never made her BH&G prize-winning pesto for me. But she’s served me plenty of other delicious dishes, so we’re good.
Joni says: What I have is not a family box but recipes written on scraps. I even have some from Peter’s great aunt written on a small piece of paper with an old fruitcake recipe. Others are older books from family. Here’s a Facebook post about my recipes.
I love my cookbooks. It’s not that I see them as the unbendable rules of culinary art but more as the Bob Ross variety of suggestions that maybe this soup needs a happy bit of fennel in that corner of the pot. In fact I can go for months and not pull one out, but so many of them have a memory attached.
I have rather battered books from my late aunts both of whom cooked for a living. One is a small green book held together by black plastic rings. It is from one of the many small church women’s group. This one is from the Martha Circle and is dated 1954. The advertisements carry telephone numbers of only three numbers. The recipes can be challenging to decipher and I would get Mom to explain directions such as ‘take a ten cent bag of marshmallows.’ It is the stuff of ’Prairie Home Companion,’ much of it is white-soup based with only a hint of bell pepper or pimento to accent the purity.
CUSTARD HOT DISH
6 dry bread slices (buttered and cubed) 3 eggs beaten
1 cup grated cheese salt
2 cups scalded milk pepper
Pinch of dry mustard
Bake in a slow oven in a pan of hot water (about 275)
About 1 hour. Heat together:
1 cup cream of mushroom soup 1 can of tuna fish
Serve over custard hot dish
This not to say that the recipes are not good. Some are sturdy farm dishes, others just a bit daring and trendy. But when it comes to breads, cookies, and cakes, nothing-but-nothing can beat Minnesota farm baking. Bars, pies, cakes, and hot dish.
I grew up on ‘Hot Dish.’ Our family recipe was overcooked macaroni with browned hamburger, and a can each of Campbell’s Tomato and Vegetable Soup. Absolutely loathe the stuff to this day.
My then brother-in-law gave me two small paper cookbooks that he found while ripping out a wall when remodeling a kitchen. This little treasures have so many weird and wonderful items. The 1930s cover has stylishly uniformed maids and contains Jellied Prunes as a temptation. I think I’ll pass.
Peter has added his contribution with his copy of Elizabeth Craig’s ‘Cooking in Wartime,’ a lovely little volume produced with the forthcoming rationing in mind.
GREEN PEA LOAF
1 Cup drained, canned green ¾ cup stale breadcrumbs
peas, or sieved, soaked, 1 beaten egg
and boiled dried peas. ¾ cup milk
½ can tomato soup salt and pepper
For 4 persons. Rub peas through sieve. Stir in other ingredients. Mix well, and pack into a small, greased baking tin or fireproof dish. Cover with greased paper. Bake in a slow oven for forty minutes. Turn out on to a hot dish. Cover with half a can of heated tomato soup.
Now my shelf has a wide variety of books some are reprints of old ones like ‘THE FRUGAL COLONIAL HOUSEWIFE’ which has a recipe for humble pie, or a modern printing of medieval recipes with my favorite one beginning ‘First you take a peacock and break its neck, then flay it, feathers and all.’ Most have one or two recipes that I use as a guide because, lets face it, I don‘t like being told what to do.
Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese represented exotic places I wanted to learn about. Others have even more meaning as they are inscribed by the one who gave them to me. My aunts, a cousin, my mothers good friend, Berta and the one that means the world to me is inscribed ’to the sister of my soul’ from Joni Kay. The funny thing is it’s one that has both American and European measurements so it’s a handy guide when trying to convert English recipes to my American brain. Someday, maybe, I will use these books for cooking but if I don’t that’s all right. They give comfort. They connect me with history, transport me to far away lands and they reunite me with people no longer here. They bring me comfort and warmth to my soul and if I never use them to cook again it’s okay; they’ve done their job.
Karen’s note: Joni lives in England now, if you couldn’t tell by her husband’s contribution. The post above was originally a 2013 post on her Facebook page. She advises me that the curry recipe calls for a small piece of ginger, which her friend tells her is the size of a thumb, if you’re going to try to make it.
Carli says: My box is part hand-me-down. The photo of the three cards is Grandma’s writing at top, for a beloved family recipe, a carb nightmare they fed the kids when the adults had to make meat go farther, mom in the middle with a classic that matches that 70s card, me age 10 or so on the bottom with a recipe I think from a kid cooking class. I have no idea who “Diane” is that I got the recipe from, but something makes me think it was a Saturday kids’ cooking class.
Karen’s note: I love a good carb nightmare! And find three generations of recipe writing quite impressive. Also, April’s mom had the same recipe cards.
Deneane says: Flowered box was Mama’s, brown box was Nana’s. Dad pulled his favorite recipe from each. He never uses these boxes, but still keeps them at his home. I’ll be there the 23rd (to watch him skydive).
Karen’s note: Hot sausage and sauce, creamy pralines. Can you tell Deneane is from the South? I’ve known Deneane for decades, and I met Deneane’s dad when they passed through Portland on a train trip through the West, so he could complete his goal to see all 50 states. We had a quick visit in Chinatown during their layover.
Over lunch, Deneane took out her phone and blithely showed me a photo of an enormous golden heap of a bear they’d seen at one of Montana’s national parks. Shaken, I explained this was a grizzly, and they were lucky to be alive. “Well, he was between us and the car,” her dad said. I’m not surprised that a man who calmly walked past a grizzly on his way back to a parking spot would also jump out of an airplane. For her favorite family dessert recipe, visit Deneane’s blog, The Wretched Cook:
Marsha says: This was my mom’s, our family box! I have my husband’s family box too but it’s not as charming. Let me know what else you want?
Karen’s note: This is enough, Marsha, because it’s possibly the most charming vintage recipe box I have ever seen, with the possible exception of my own.
Tiffany says: Very plain, but stuffed with Mom’s faves. My sister has it.
Karen’s note: You call it plain, but I find it beautiful. Look at that foil design. It’s Art Deco. And I am interested in the full recipe for Dark Zuchini Bread, do you have it?
Janet H.M. says: My mom still has a 1950’s Fannie Farmer cookbook. I got this little recipe box when I was in elementary school. The hinged lid came off years ago, and I put new recipes in a computer file or notebook, but I refuse to throw this out.
Karen’s note: Never throw it out, Janet. Trust me. It’s a legacy for your daughter. One day she’s going to crave that Meal-in-One Pot Roast, and there it will be, just waiting for her.
Mari says: Made for me by my daughter when she was still a kid.
Karen’s note: I love anything shaped like a house. What cozy, homey delights reside in there?
(There are two and they are both wonderful)
1. The Green Notebook
The battered green notebook is my mom’s handwritten recipe collection and one of my most prized possessions. It’s probably the thing I’d save in a fire if I’m being honest. Just reading her beautiful handwriting and looking at the stained pages takes me right back to my childhood kitchen. It is filled with an eclectic array of recipes from the homiest of fares to the fanciest of party foods. Snickerdoodles to tea sandwiches.
My parents were children of the Depression who strove to be more while still being humble. They ended up being a fun couple of bohemians who just wanted to taste the world, feed everyone, and take care of people.
Both of my parents were quite experimental in the kitchen so eating was always an adventure. Whatever Julia Child or The Galloping Gourmet were cooking that week we were bound to be eating soon. Of course, we had had our share of S.O.S. and Hungry Man dinners on those nights when mom wanted a break but it was soon back to souffle, filbert cheese stuffed onions, and beef bourguignonne.
I always remember that when I invited my friends for dinner, they thought it was so cool that they were always served wine just like the adults but…the food was weird. The next time they were invited they always asked, “uh…what are you having?” before committing to actually staying for dinner. Squid, it was a no. Tacos, it was a yes!
2. The Haunted Cookbook
After my mom passed away in 1979 one of the things I missed the most was baking with her at Christmas.
Months after her passing, I ran across her old Spritz cookie press in the kitchen cupboard. Feeling nostalgic, I decided I wanted to make Spritz cookies for Christmas that year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the recipe.
I called my dad at work to ask if he had it. He said it was probably in her Betty Crocker cookbook, it was on the bookshelf in his kitchen, and that I should just use my key to let myself in to get it.
When I got to his house I found her cookbook right where he said on the bookshelf. There was a scrap of paper sticking out of it. Curiously, I opened the book to the marked page, and SURPRISE, it was marking the page for Spritz cookie recipes that I wanted. On that scrap of paper was a note in my mom’s handwriting that read “All recipes on the page will work in the press – please do not take my book – Love Mom”.
My heart almost stopped, I got goose bumps all over and I knew in the moment that she was still looking out for me.
In 2001 my dad passed away. I packed up all the treasures from his house that I wanted to keep, moved them to my house, and then held an estate sale. Many months later I was getting ready to bake some cookies and went to get the Betty Crocker cookbook. It was nowhere to be found. Somehow it must have been left at my dad’s and sold at the estate sale. I was heartbroken.
Close to a year later, I stopped in at my friend’s bookstore, Churchill’s. While visiting I happened to glance up at the case near the cash register and there sat a copy of a Betty Crocker cookbook just like the one I lost. I picked it up and almost fainted. Inside and on the cover were the scribbles that I had made as a child. It was my mom’s cookbook! When I asked my friend where he had gotten the cookbook, he said someone had brought it in and sold it to them that morning.
Once again I could feel my mom’s warm arms around me. She was still looking out for me through her cookbook.
She’s now safe at home with me contained in a shadow box; cookbook, note, her personal measuring spoons (that I’ve kept all these years), and a photo of her.
I bought a replacement cookbook to use.
Karen’s note: Lisa’s parents were restaurateurs in Yakima, including a beautiful place called The Abbey. I never ate at one of her family establishments. I wish I had! Also, we have these same aluminum measuring spoons from my own mom, along with an aluminum biscuit cutter with a bent red handle she used to cut out the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted.
Janet L says: Our neighbors in the 1960s were the Mellingers. A least two generations of that family still make these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and call them Marian Happe Cookies. There is a quick & easy take on flourless chocolate torte. It’s not as intensely chocolatey, but it’s tasty. And a few more!
Karen’s note: Janet is another of the vegetarian/incredible cook people. Her baked goods are the stuff of urban legend, but the hilarious thing is, we always went out to lunch when she lived in Portland, so I never had any! When I asked Janet if there were a box to go with these recipes, she replied, “I don’t know what became of mom’s box. I bought my beige plastic filecard box in the 1980s. It is not photogenic.” So she shared her favorite contents, which I understand, but seriously, Janet, ugly recipe boxes are still treasures.
Sue says: The box is Norma’s. Norma is Mom. The meatballs and fudge recipes are Norma’s. The potato chocolate cake and peanut butter cookie recipes are from Norma’s mother, Maude.
Karen’s note: Sue is another fantastic cook. If she picked these recipes to share, you can bet they’re delicious. Everything she does with her hands–cooking, quilting, painting–is done with such a sure hand. Exact without being overly exacting. Artful with an innate naturalness. I first became aware of this when I visited her after spending a month making gummy little worked over salt dough Christmas ornaments with my kids. Sue had a couple she’d made in her kitchen, they were smooth and perfect and lovely. I took one look at those unimportant little ornaments and understood that she was an artist through and through.
Karen’s note: As a woman who specializes in concise communication, Carrie sent no anecdotes, but she inherited this from her mom. It is repurposed drawers from a library card catalog. It reminds me of my own mother’s, an antique dovetailed wooden box used for some aspect of business storage. It held a jumble of recipes on cards written in her own indecipherable hand, recipes given to her by friends, and folded up recipes torn from newspapers and women’s magazines. Like I said in my other post, we used it to hold her ashes, so I know just exactly where it’s buried. I have never known what happened to all the recipes.
To wrap this all up, I thought I’d put in a pic of my own vintage recipe box, the one my mother kept for years (right). Beside it are the other vintage recipe boxes I meant to fill for my own girls. I thought this was something I would never, could never do. I’m feeling inspired by this post to attempt it. Sooner or later, they’re going to want to know how I made my food taste like it does, and only I can tell them.
Thank you again, lovely friends, for playing along.