V: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-challenge/ Voracious Appetites

17888889_10209257438288552_2021905848_n
When she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was often at a piano or in a book.

She started out a little bit of thing and ended her days definitely rounder around the edges.  Giving birth to 11 children in all (one child lived only a matter of days) adds pounds to any woman’s figure.  Add to that a fondness for food, a sedentary life and being a great cook and it’s easy to understand why Mary grew to become almost twice the woman she once was.

On a number of occasions, mama talked to me of her days as a young girl. How she played music for a ballet studio. This was the era before CDs, cassette tapes and mp3s. How one or more boys usually walked her home from school. How she was so limber she could bend over backwards and touch her … head? nose? some body part to the floor. Pictures of mom as a child are rare, but the few I’ve seen show a petite, happy girl with a stylish bob and fashionable round glasses.

My very favorite photo of Mary Scott Gash shows her as a young teen, facing the camera with a big smile and lots of confidence, totally unaware that her slip was showing a good two inches on the left.

Of all the things that mom left behind, this is the one thing I miss. Mom promised it to me but in all the moves and busyness of dividing up things and resettling dad, the sepia-toned portrait vanished.  That photo captured the essence of mama. Confident, happy Mary boldly facing the world while revealing a fashion faux pas.

Mom’s mother, Mattie, was a large woman. Short and very, very round. I’ve heard plenty of stories about Grandma Gash. She lived in the Wesco house when the oldest kids were young, having moved there after mom and dad returned from Japan.

The Thornton family car was either a Model A or a Model T (I have no clue, but definitely a letter of the alphabet). The tale goes that on one occasion Mattie wanted to go for a ride with the family. Dad (as politely as he could) had to help push up and into the back seat from behind, resulting in significant list to grandma’s side of the car.

For the most part, the Thornton women folk tend to be hefty.  Dad would refer to his daughters as corpulent, never fat. Mattie passed on the gene to Mary and she did the same. Many of the Thornton girls have fought the battle of the bulge for decades, some with more success than others.

I believe we’ve used food for a number of reasons.  For growth and nutrition, obviously.  To soothe troubled feelings no doubt.  To stuff negative emotions during trouble times. But first and foremost, food has been a source of fellowship, community building, enjoyment and socialization.  Conversations always go better with pie.  Biscuits help bridge any generational differences.

One of my nephews, Mark, runs a large camp outside of Chicago. About 20 years ago our family rented his camp for a week and held a reunion. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and in-laws, babies and old-timers from all across the country spent seven days swimming, hiking, boating, laughing and eating. Mark commented at the final meal of the reunion that our family had consumed twice as much food as the camp usually allotted for a week of guests.

Granted that was two decades ago.  Most tend to eat much healthier now. But I admit I love to see guests enjoy the food I put before them.

Mom did, too.  She served crispy fried chicken with mounds of her fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes.  Comfort food like creamed chipped beef or eggs on toast.  Of course platters heaped with biscuits that we learned to break open with our hands, never to slice with a knife. Mom visited her niece in California and came back with information on tacos and pizza. These exotic foods had not yet made it to our table in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  Mom’s first homemade pizza had cottage cheese as topping not mozzarella. It’s really not bad.

We made doughnuts from scratch and fried them up after Sunday evening church.  Mom taught us how to make taffy — how to cook the candy just so then pull it to the right consistency.  Rich homemade fudge that must be boiled until a drop formed a ball in a cup of water. Who needs a thermometer when you know that skill?

Gooseberry pie and homemade ice cream.  Tapioca pudding — my grandmother made the grape kind.  Hot, savory hurry and rice topped with tart pickle juice.  Grandma Thornton introduced that to the family from their years in India and mom continued the tradition. Chop Suey by the truckload.  In later years, mom and dad added tempura to their offerings.

Food — the making, serving and sharing thereof — was central to the family.  I do believe that is one way mom felt most comfortable in demonstrating her love.

I enjoyed heaping servings of everything she offered.

 

R: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Relatives and runions

 

When Mary’s kids get together the noise volume goes up considerably.  Add to that the din of dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren laughing and talking over the sound of a football or basketball game on TV and you have the makings of a headache. Not an intolerable one, but a headache nonetheless.

When mom was alive, her children made the trip home at least once or twice a year. Seldom did just one family arrive. If not all, at least a majority of the siblings arrived pulled into our driveway in cars packed to the room. The children would pour out of the vehicles and bring havoc with them.

It was great havoc.

Dad and Mom loved to have the family home. The dining room table was extended, card tables set up on the porch and in the music room and TV room. We put fresh sheets on all the beds and made up pallets on the enclosed front porch for the little ones. Extra bags of groceries found their way into the pantry and cooking began in earnest in the kitchen. Penuche-iced cakes, flaky fruit pies, golden brown homemade bread and rolls. Big pots of spaghetti or chop suey– and most definitely mashed potatoes. The Thornton grew up on carbs and carbs they loved! Every breakfast had biscuits and gravy. What better way to start the day?

When I was in high school, just three of us remained at home. Life at 601 Sycamore Street was quiet.  Dad, Mom and I.  We missed the clamor–at least I did.  Mom may have been a bit relieved by that time to be rid of ruckus of such a lively crowd.  I imagine she enjoyed the peace and her ability to read and play without interruption.

But with news of the arrival of family, dad and mom shifted into a higher gear. Cleaning, moving, advance cooking for mom. Mowing and fix-it projects for dad. One year, Watson decided to add an extra bathroom in the house. One tub, sink and toilet could no longer service 23 people at one time.

Dad would descend to his workroom in the basement and spend hours cutting and sanding blocks of wood for visiting grand kids. They needed something to play with and what better than good old-fashioned blocks. And then there was the Christmas he made box hockey for the young ones. Tournaments held on the front porch kept kids occupied for hours, hitting sticks, cheering and raising a ruckus.

 

Mary has been gone for 30 years. Three decades. Yet to me she feels alive when we get together.

She’s in the kitchen rubbing shoulders with her grandsons who have now become the experts on making both biscuits and gravy.  She’s in the living room beaming with pride hearing her granddaughters play the piano. She’s part of the non-stop conversations and outbursts of laughter as her children and grandchildren remain seated at the table long after the food and dishes have been removed.

We’re getting older now. Ruth is 85 and her twin, Alice has passed. Ruth talks of how much she misses her other half. Charles lives in Alaska as does Kate. They get together from time to time. Elsie died a few years ago and we grieve her absence. Her kids are great at getting together. Martha in California has been diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disease. Her traveling is limited.  Sam remains in Greenfield. John left us before mom died and we miss him still. Kate is the one that does the most to keep in touch with all.  She travels each year to most if not all siblings. I’m in Ecuador and feel the distance almost daily.  This is where we are supposed to be and want to be but I feel the tug to be with family.

I miss the way we used to be. The grandkids now are stepping up and creating those family-packed, laughter-filled memories.

Mom would love to see it. The energy and love that flows when the Marquess people gather in Kentucky for riotous Thanksgivings, kids weddings or weekend fishing trips. She’d sit in on the stimulating conversations held by the Caldwells –where 10-year olds have been overhead discussing string and chaos theory. The boys who have grown into fine men bring their families together and celebrate life with their parents. Mary would be thrilled to hear her great granddaughters play the piano with such skill.  She’d smile at all the babies but she might prefer not to hold them. She’s done all that.

Dad took such joy in his growing family. He would sit silently at the table and smile from ear to ear, listening to his children joke with mama.  He said he was blessed with such a family.

By now, many of the younger generations can’t remember mom or dad. They have heard only stories. But let me tell you, those stories are repeated often and with great love.

M: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Meals and a Taste of Becoming an Adult

When she wasn’t cooking for the family she was fixing something for Sunday guests. And at least once a year Mom joined forces with Mrs. Yarbrough to serve some of their most-asked-for dishes at the yearly PTA fundraiser.

Whether those two were feeding a table of 12 for Sunday dinners or 75 paying guests at the annual smorgasbord, Mary and Dorothy felt at ease in the kitchen. And quantity never seemed to be an object.

Mom grought her chop suey and Dorothy came bearing buttery homemade crescent rolls and big pans of Swedish meatballs. Other mothers in the community added their offerings to the serving tables: jello salads with fruit cocktail (served on leaves of iceberg lettuce and topped with salad dressing). Mounds of creamy mashed potatoes sat next to filled-to-the-brim bowls of rich brown gravy. Nut-filled Waldorf salads offered the sweet crunch of apples and grapes.  Bowls of home-canned green beans, peas, carrots and corn rounded out the vegetable offerings. Mouth-watering berry pies and tall chocolate cakes weighed down the dessert table.

Parents supporting the teachers ate to their fill and raised a friendly ruckus in the Elementary School lunchroom.  It was a highlight of the year, as least to me. 68da36fb8f0011836144f3468f280f35

I remember kids running wild through the halls while parents visited in the lunchroom. Boys (more than girls) pounded on lockers as they ran past, feeling wild and free in the very halls that, during the week, required us to walk calmly and quietly.

Last year, as David, Katherine and I prepared for our move to Ecuador, I went through all my papers and came upon one of mom’s journals. In it she had written out the menus, itemized the groceries and detailed the total expenses for two or three of the annual community smorgasboards.

Pork roast cost $0.39 a pound. Onions and vegetables for the entire crowd weighed in at cents, not dollars.  When a cup was broken and a bowl cracked during cleanup, mom itemized the cost of replacement. This down-to-the-penny accounting speaks to me of a different age. Where thrift and honesty, sharing of resources and community were stronger.

It wasn’t a perfect time by any means, but it was different. Quiter. Calmer. Like Mayberry and Opey. Like Aunt Bea.

I look at kitchens today with six-burner professional stoves and multiple sinks. Double ovens and islands for extra counter space. How did Mary and Dorothy and all the other women in the 50’s manage? Our kitchen had very little counter space and very narrow cabinets. A tiny four-burner gas stove seems inadequate for the volume of food mom cooked. Our brown (or was it green?) refrigerator stood alone on the wall next to the back porch/pantry/laundry room.  A trash-can-size tin of lard stood sentry next to the cabinets,  an arm’s length from where mom mixed up her pastries.

my3unzh7VY_mR-gQqzbf_3Q
Lard cans came in a variety of sizes.  We opted for extra-large.

Lard is what made mom’s biscuits, piecrusts and fried chicken so good. Not canola oil, not peanut oil, not safflower oil. Good ole creamy white lard. It made her biscuits fluffier and her crusts flakier. Of course, it also choked our arteries.

The basement door, next to our round oak kitchen table, led down to the cellar where shelves were lined with jars of canned green beans, corn, tomatoes and beets.

Mom often served us succotash, a dish made of corn and lima beans made popular during the depression.  The combination of grain and protein met our dietary needs without much cost. But oh, I hated lima beans. I didn’t know the history of the dish nor did I care. I  just knew it was hard to swallow. Mom adjusted the recipe, substituting green beans and I was able to clean my plate without a problem.

One of my very first lessons about what it meant to be an adult involved mom and grapefruit.

download (1)Most mornings as a child I would sit down to breakfast with half of a grapefruit at my place. Mom had taken the time to cut each section and remove the seeds.  I ate mine with salt and gusto.

I scooped out each section and then, when I had worked my way around the half, I’d take the rind in hand and squeeze any additional juice into my bowl. Dad did it best. He had a method. And though I tried to follow his lead, I could never squeeze out as much as he could.

I was in my late 20’s and living in Atlanta when I developed an intense craving for grapefruit like we used to have at home. I went out and bought a five-pound bag of the pink kind. My favorite. I woke up early the next morning, eager to dig in to my half of a grapefruit. Only then did I learn the bitter truth. This fruit I loved did not grow with pre-cut sections.

Mom wasn’t there. If I wanted to taste the goodness I had to do the work myself.

 

Adulthood for me began that morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H: #a-to-z challenge/It’s All about Mary/ Holidays

Home for the holidays.

It sure wasn’t like the pictures you find posted on Pinterest or featured in Better Homes & Gardens. We were more a straggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a table full of food and tons of laughter.

Living on a tight budget meant the Thornton family didn’t spend a lot of money on Christmas. For many years we didn’t even buy a tree. Dad brought home a tree from Greenfield High School where he worked as a teacher, guidance counselor and temporary principal. Dad hauled the tree home after school closed for the holidays and we’d make it our own.

Me, with no patience, would glob strands of tinsel on the tree after we had wrapped the limbs in strands of brightly-colored bulbs.

c1a21f9aeb72b3f30a894abfe85a15f3I’d turn off the lights, stand back and squint to determine if and where more tinsel was needed. There was always need for more. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

220px-Weihnachtsbaum_und_Geschenke_1970er
Our trees were like this, but uglier and with fewer toys

We had some pretty ugly trees but I didn’t realize it at the time.  And when aluminum trees arrived on the scene and dad conceded to purchase one, I was thrilled to replace tinsel with even more lights.

 

Mama was hands off to tree decorating, at least when I was at home. She left that task to Dad and the kids. She focused instead on practicing for the church cantata and preparing the children’s Christmas program.

Every Saturday during the month of December, had choir practice at the church.  Our choir, though small, sang loud and with great enthusiasm. Mom’s accompaniment drowned out any flat notes.

If I remember right, the cantata was on Sunday morning and the kid’s Christmas program was the Sunday night nearest the 25th of December. Mrs. Mears took charge of the centerpiece in front of the church.  She used a lot of tin cans–large coffee cans –which she painted gold or silver. The arrangements would contain something colorful and reflect the season.  Red and green (of course) for Christmas. For Thanksgiving, her motif might be seed-covered tin cans surrounded by ears of corn. The rest of the year fresh flowers from her amazing garden would fill up the front.

The children’s Christmas program followed the same format for decades. The youth group performed a song song or two. The little kids (and a few reluctant teens) acted out the birth of Jesus, complete with bathrobes and turbans made of bath towels or lengths of shiny fabric. Then Dad would wind up the evening with a short homily and prayer.

That was when the festivities began.

Everyone in attendance received a cardboard boxes stuffed full of hard Christmas candy. Families exchanged gifts and everyone saw to it that no one left empty handed.  The small sanctuary felt alive with laughter, conversation, children’s squeals and music. The world felt safe and warm and happy on those Sunday evenings.

I don’t know what my siblings had as their responsibilities at Christmas, but mine was to set up a little village on top of the organ speaker.

Angel hair served as the base. I would spread it out to form a cloud-like foundation and then, very  carefully I would place our treasured angels and elves, cardboard churches and other figurines just so.  I thought it was beautiful. Magical.  Again I would squint my eyes and look through my lashes at the scene.  Magical.  My villages appeared every Christmas until I left for college.

The highlight in our family was the meal, not the gifts. For many years, our Christmas dinner took place at Grandma Thornton’s house. She and her maiden sister, Effe, lived together a few blocks from our house.  Dad’s sisters and brother would arrive from Indianapolis and St. Louis and the commotion began. Cousins running wildly everywhere. The women moved to the kitchen to help Grandma and Aunt Effe dish up the traditional meal. The men grabbed the rockers and easy chairs and waited patiently until the food was served.  The high point of Christmas dinner at Grandma’s was her money pudding. In honesty, not my favorite dessert, but each serving held a monetary surprise!

Ask anyone who was there at any Christmas and they’ll remember the anticipation of biting into or digging around for the money.

15585185_10208089067243694_2116177740425469255_o
Grandma’s famous money pudding.  She topped each piece with a butter/sugar hard sauce (no alcohol, of course).  Any bite could uncover a nickel, a dime or– the grand prize — a quarter.

Once Dot and Aunt Effe grew too old to host the clan, the party moved across town to our house. Mom held court in the kitchen with help from Grandma and the aunts. My sisters joined in because it was too fun not be to in the kitchen. Occasionally my brothers took part, too.  Kids ran in and out. Hot rolls came out of the oven. Someone mashed the potatoes. Dad always carved the meat, be it turkey, ham, roast beef or all three, until one of the boys decided it was time to take over.

il_570xN.1055612811_3ng6
Our frosted name plates disappeared at some point. Names were written and then erased for the next big meal.

I had the task of assigning seats. Mom handed me her frosted glass name plates and I determined who would set where. I felt very important.

Gift giving was not a big thing in our family.  I remember being disappointment most Christmas mornings at the dearth of gifts for me…the that soon faded. Everything else about Christmas day was fantastic!

My childhood memories of Christmas are rich in love, company, laughter, food and warmth.

Mom’s idea of a gift exchange was to go around the house and select things she loved that she thought someone else would appreciate. She’d stack her items to be wrapped on the dining room table and I would get to work wrapping. While I created bows and filled out name takes, she’s play Christmas songs on the piano. Or make a pot of tea.  Or sit and talk with me while I used up the tubes of wrapping paper and rolls of tape.

My daughter, an only child, knows little of a house full of loud, laughing people at Christmastime.  Our tradition is quieter, smaller and more focused on gifts.  I feel I’m doing her an injustice. We have been creating our own traditions, yes. But she knows nothing of the noise, the craziness of 18 or 20 people having to share one bathroom over Christmas vacation. She hasn’t helped put up tables in every room to accommodate a growing guest list. She has never spent long afternoons around a cluttered table with her mom and sisters, aunts and friends  talking, laughing and even shedding a few tears.  She hasn’t seen Dad and the brothers-in-law and uncles dozing in the front room or quietly playing games of chess until they hear the call to come back to the table for supper. Katherine hasn’t played so hard with her cousins that she collapses onto the floor in the glass-enclosed front porch and gives in to sleep. Nor has Katherine gathered with her tribe in the front room to close out the day with favorite songs and special performances by great uncles with booming voices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E: It’s All about Mary/ Everybody has a Seat/ #a-to-z challenge

0-2
Sundays and holidays found our dining room filled to over-flowing

Year ’round, family flowed in and out of our house.  Older siblings and cousins off to university returned with hungry fellow students. Married brothers and sisters brought their beautiful blue-eyes babies for the weekend or for the big holidays.  They littered the two upstairs bedrooms with suitcases spilling over with tee shirts, mix-matched socks, diapers and an assortment of pajama bottoms.

“Mom, I can’t find my pajama top!” some child would inevitably cry each night. “Just sleep in what you’ve got on,” was the response.

A crazy kind of love-infused chaos ruled when everyone landed at home at the same time.  Rooms filled with cackles and wheezes, snorts and guffaws. (A few years ago I learned the nieces and nephews referred to my sisters and me as the “wheezers.”  Why? Because we laughed so hard we wheezed.)

Children dashed in and out of rooms, around the table and up and down the steps, not once listening to their distracted parents shout, “Slow down!”  “Go outside.”  “This is the last time….”

And mom cooked. Man, did she cook. For a woman who couldn’t make a boiled egg when she married, she became quite proficient at whipping up comfort food on her tiny four-burner gas stove.

Homemade rolls were a sure bet for the entire tribe. Mounds of butter-rich mashed potatoes with rivers of white or brown gravy filled the plates. When meat was scarce, potatoes was plentiful.  But it seldom was on holidays or family gatherings. Platters of crispy fried chicken or not-so-thin slices of roast beef made at least clockwise rounds at the table. Plenty for everyone.

And everyone had their chores.

Dad was the meat carver. He pulled out his silver carving knife and sharpener and proceeded to rub the two together to hone a razor-sharp blade. He sliced the roast or ham or turkey and didn’t waste a bit.  Brothers John and Sam would be recruited in the kitchen to help mash the potatoes. John used sound effects to enhance his efforts in whip up the perfect dish.  The noise level in the kitchen increased considerably.

The sisters and other women folk moved between kitchen and the dining room, the swinging oak door seldom still. Freshly picked green beans were cooked with bacon. Steaming ears of corn weighed down each end of the table.  Jiggly gelatin salad with fruit cocktail was  served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce and topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip.

I had charge of plates of pickled beets and crudités and I took my task very seriously. Gherkins and dill pickles were well-balanced and properly placed with green olives, carrot and celery sticks.

Mom cared little about social rankings.  So she sat the prosperous bank president next to the town drunk.  When my closest cousin and his oh-so-smart friends from medical school drove up from St. Louis for dinner, mom would place our friend Joe Gemp in the middle of them. Joe was a 40-something, mentally challenged man who had become part of our family. People from the wrong side of the tracks found themselves right next to some of the community leaders. And everyone did just fine. Mom saw to it that everybody joined in the conversation.

Most of the family got up to help clear the table for dessert. Mom would bring out her homemade cake with penuche icing, berry pies and homemade cookies.  Coffee was poured and guests lingered around the table until mid afternoon.

My sister Cathy (now Kate) and I headed for the kitchen. Someone had to clean the dishes. Grandma and her maiden sister, Aunt Effe, would usually join in.  Joe Gemp grabbed a dish towel and set to work drying the dozens of dirty dishes.  The conversations continued and laughter prevailed.  My memories of Sunday dinners are as rich as the desserts that mom served.

Grandma Thornton and Marcia
Grandma Thornton & sister-in-law Marcia were two of the faithful kitchen help

By this time in her life, mom had morphed from a slip of a 21-year old girl who married without any knowledge of homemaking skills into a middle-aged woman with greying strands that fell around her face as she whipped up magic in the kitchen.

We weren’t rich by any means. Dad pastored a small church and supplemented his income by working as a guidance counselor in the local high school.  We’d run short of cash by the end of the month and eat our fair share of macaroni and cheese,  but mom and dad always plenty of food for guests.

I didn’t realize at the time how rare it was to have so many people eat with us until much later when I learned some of my friends never had guests. Dad and Mom took their roles as host and hostess seriously.  In part they felt it was their duty as Christians to have people into their home. Mostly it was because they just loved people.  They made call to serve a delight for hundreds of men and women who dined at 601 Sycamore Street.

Day B: Mary’s Background and Bread

Blame it on the times. Blame it on the fact that when recording history, men have long been considered more important than women. Or blame mom’s supposed blue-collar pedigree. Just perhaps her ancestors bearing the Gash name were too busy putting food on the table to write, photograph and document their family history. We only have snippets.

Dad’s side, however, has passed down a trove of memorabilia. We have a diary from our great-grandfather who served as a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War. A nephew possesses a stockpile of Bibles used by generations of Thornton ministers, complete with notations and personal commentaries. From numerous aged photo albums we get a glimpse at a well-traveled family. Brittle and yellowing snapshots show ocean steamers docked in exotic ports in early 1900’s—vessels sailed on by my grandparents to the Far East. I prize a picture taken of my father at age three (circa 1906). He’s dressed in white shorts, a Buster Brown shirt and waving a racket on a tennis court near their home in India.

From mom’s family, I have very little. One formal portrait of six heart  gorgeous great- aunts with names like Zilpha and Joie and Mattie.  We possess a few saved letters and a photo or two. Not many stories. Not much at all.

My husband David is interested in geneology and has spent massive hours studying both his Dutch ancestry and that of my own Irish/Scottish/English background.  He’s uncovered a great deal about mom’s background. It seems her roots go way back, farther than my dad’s.  And she has connections to royalty. Dad’s ancestor Matthew Thornton evidently signed the Declaration of Independence from the land mama’s line once ruled. I always felt like I should have been a princess. 

Mama is the one I most want the world to know. Not because she meant more to me than dad, but because she was, in my eyes, an amazing person who enriched the lives of so many with her music, her laughter, her warmth and her faith.

Her parents, George Herbert and Mattie Elvinia Gash, moved to Missouri from Kentucky at the turn of the 20th century. Grandpa Gash, recognized as a superior woodworker, helped create the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

st.louisIn 1903, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, authorities had planned a huge exposition to take place in St. Louis. They decided to postpone the exposition one year to allow more states and foreign countries to participate. The Louisiana Purchase celebration combined with the  annual St. Louis World’s Fair– an exhibition that had been around since the 1880’s to the most up to date agricultural, trade and scientific achievements. By combining the two major events, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition/St. Louis World’s Fair would be the largest experience of its kind to date.

The 1,200-acre site was grand. More than 1,500 buildings including several grand “palaces” made it impossible for visitors to take in everything – even with a cursory glance –  in less than a week. 

images (1)
Most of the structures of the1904 St. Louis World’s Fair were temporary and not meant to last

During the seven-month long fair,  19,694,855 visitors walked the 75 miles of roads and walkways.  And while the attendees were walking, they fell in love with a recent invention — the waffle-style ice cream cone.

0014D503Ice cream cones would become one of mom’s favorite foods and, though she developed diabetes as an adult, she would work her diet so she could have a Dairy Queen ice cream cone every Friday. 

Other food and drink introduced and/or popularized at the exposition were the hanburger and hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea and cotton candy.  The world met Dr Pepper and Puffed Wheat for the first time ever in St. Louis in 1904.

I mention the food because, well, it’s mom I’m writing about. Throughout her life, Mary had a fascination with food. She loved to cook and eat and share it. In every one of her letters to me, she never failed to mention what she (or dad) had for lunch, what they ordered when dining out or what the hostess served at a recent tea. 

Years ago, when I was in college, my boyfriend went with me to the post office. As I opened a letter from mom and began to read, he asked, “So what did your mom have to eat last week?”

She used food to feed my hurting. She firmly believed in comfort food. And while it may not be the healthiest way to deal with hurt feelings, a broken heart or deep teen sorrow, Mary added a huge helping of love toeverything she served.

breadMondays were bread baking days. We didn’t have to money to buy the white processed bread in the colorful packaging in our local IGA. Wonder Bread cost a whopping 25 cents a loaf–far too rich for our budget. So homemade bread it was.

She’d spend an hour or so mixing the ingredients, kneeding the dough and forming rolls and loaves for the family.  By the time she was done, her hair would be falling around her flushed face, her cheeks both rosy and freckled with flour. 

Because she was busy with after school piano lessons, my job was to remove the bread from the oven when I got home. I’ll never forget the fragrance that  front door to 601 Sycamore Street and catching a whiff of her homemade goodness. I made a beeline for the kitchen. Without fail, mom would have included a tiny pan just for me. I placed her golden brown loaves on racks to cool. Then I indulged in my personal-sized pan of heaven.

Mom nurtured my body with her cooking and she nurtured my soul with her music. Nothing better than sitting in the kitchen with your own loaf of Mary-made bread, melting butter and listening to music being made in the next room.

Life can’t get any better.

 

A is for almuerzo

For less than the cost of a small hamburger and drink at McDonalds, you can walk away from lunch in Cuenca having eaten a three-course meal, drink included.  Almuerzo (lunch) is offered in small restaurantes along every block. Patrons squeeze into tiny establishments–indoors or open-air–with three, four or five tables and wait for the owner/chef/ waiter to serve the mid-day meal.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 16.47.14
Grab a complete lunch: $1.75 to $3.50

You have little say in the menu. That’s all been prepared ahead of time.

First comes juga. A glass of fruit juice —  be it anything from pineapple to naranjilla, maro or mango. Ecuador grows hundreds of varieties of fruits, most I’ve never heard of.

Babaco is bright yellow, tart to the taste and shaped like a torpedo.Some call it champagne fruit. Chirimoya, also called custard apple, is the size of a softball. Eat the sweet pulp, spit out the many black seeds. Pitajaya, Ecuador’s most expensive fruit, is so sweet you’ll want to cut the top off and eat it with a spoon. Drink up…it’s good for you.

Sopa comes next.  I’ve attempted to eat a mystery soup with cheese, beans, some kind of meat and plantains in a creamy broth but handed it over to husband.  David loved it. I’ve wanted seconds on creamy broccoli soup and chunky potato soup. Lunch is a gamble.

For the main course, rice is a staple. And it often comes with a side of papas frite (french fries). Carb diets don’t have a chance in Ecuador. A small portion of meat–beef, chicken or pork–provides the protein. Count on three or four bites, just the right amount of ounces for any die-hard weight watcher. A small green salad usually adds color to the  plate.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 16.47.44The owner/chef/waiter clears the table and places before you a small amount of sliced fruit,  a tiny bowl of jello or two-bites of a chocolate brownie. A taste of something sweet. Nothing more. You got your sugar from the boatload of rice in the main course.

Lunch is over and you leave well-fed, with cash in your pocket.

I compare the $1.75 for a homemade meal here to the $12-$15 lunches I had in Atlanta where I too often left overfed and overcharged.

 

I’ll go with almuerzo, por favor.