Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Spirit of Thanksgivings Past

There are three Thanksgivings which stand out in my memory. One was in the 80’s and involved my nieces Shannon and Charlotte, Kate’s friend Li King, buses from Milwaukee arriving at 1:00 a.m. and much laughter over Wesley and Buttercup. But the memories are - not surprisingly - blurred. It was fun, I know that, but what we actually did, besides eat turkey, is shrouded in the mists of time.

I have much clearer memories of two earlier Thanksgivings. The first was in 1967. That’s John Theobalds standing with Albert and me on the balcony of the little apartment we rented in Detroit, just over the city limit from here. I had stood on that balcony a few months earlier and watched fires spreading out along a main artery from the city as the Detroit riot got underway. I had been at John’s wedding a few years earlier. He married my classmate Rosemary and by this time they had three or so of their eventual seven children. John was working for Proctor and Gamble and had been sent to work for a while at the company headquarters in Cincinnati. Later the whole family lived in the States for two years and we were able to visit back and forth, but in 1967 John was on his own and we were delighted when he accepted our invitation to visit Detroit.

After the Theobalds returned to Hexham, just outside Newcastle, John left Proctor and Gamble. He felt that he could make a bigger contribution to the world by passing on his love of science to children who didn’t have the best start in life. I lost touch with John and Rosemary for a while and when I finally contacted Rosemary three years ago, I was shocked to learn that John had died of a heart attack seven years earlier while his youngest sons were still in school and living at home. Rosemary has filled me in on the events in her children’s lives. All have been academically outstanding and all the boys have become scientists of various kinds. Rosemary, too, has devoted her life to caring for the less fortunate.

Thanksgiving 1970 involved another guest, Ernie’s aunt Sr. Marie Charlotte who traveled to Detroit from the Visitation Convent in Dubuque. I suppose Vatican II influenced the order to tell the sisters to get out and see the world and we were happy that it was our part of the world she decided to see. Staying with us and a three year old, a two year old and a one year old probably convinced her that she had been fortunate in her vocation. That was also the year that our next-door neighbor had an extra ticket for the traditional Thanksgiving Day Detroit Lions football game. Since that was in the days when the Lions actually won games, Ernie snapped up the ticket. That was one long afternoon, waiting for Ernie to get home so we could sit down together for our turkey.

That little girl sitting between Sr. Marie Charlotte and me is Kate. Today she and Ron cooked a magnificent family Thanksgiving dinner. I hope the baton will be passed on to their children.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sugar and Spice

The cupboard to the left of my stove is a tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit. The triumph of hope over experience. It is the cupboard I set aside for my baking supplies. I am not a baker. I do not like to bake. I once stayed up half the night baking Christmas cookies, because that’s what I thought good mothers did, but they were not very good. I can manage an occasional batch of peanut butter or oatmeal cookies, but that’s it. But I get enthused by words like ganache, and stock up with six kinds of sugar.

Today I cleaned out my cupboard, because Kate, full of optimism and short on memory, has made me Vice President in charge of Desserts for Thanksgiving. I unearthed (and discarded) packets of yeast that became inactive during the Clinton administration, and a couple of packages of Belgian chocolate dessert cups from Trader Joe. Filled with chocolate mousse, they would have made a good dessert, but although they have no sell-by date, the instructions urge storage at or below 70°, and I suspect they have weathered at least two summers with temperatures in the nineties. I also found about six packages of baking soda, a reminder of my trip to the grocery store last Christmas when I unpacked and realized that the cashier had given me a sack of groceries that was not mine. Some poor shopper was minus her baking soda and honey and quite a few other ingredients for her Christmas cooking. I called the store, but no one had yet reported the missing items. I left my phone number, but never heard anything. I felt really bad about that.

Well, I suppose the choice of pumpkin pie is a no-brainer. Homemade pate brisee or store bought pastry? I’ll wait to see how indomitable I feel tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dear Pottery Barn

I don’t buy much from you. I like your catalog: the rooms look nice, but I kind of feel you are overpriced and a little on the flimsy side. I did like your “Chelsea” rug, so when we decided to pull up the carpet in the study and refinish the floor, we decided to treat ourselves (hefty shipping cost and surcharge for heavy item included.) We placed our order in August. The large package sitting in the hall has been our comfort through weeks of moving books, schlepping bookcases, waiting for the finish to dry, moving books back in and various other inconveniences. But tonight, we were ready to get the room into shape for Thanksgiving. We opened the box with the pad and spent a long while getting it just where we wanted it. Then we opened the big box. The one with the shipping label stating it contained our rug.

It contained a large, black, CD cabinet.

Thank you, Pottery Barn, for cheerfully agreeing to return our money (shipping surcharge included.) But I won’t be buying from you again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Just blew in from the windy city

Chicago lived up to its sobriquet. We visited this dynamic city to attend the wedding of the son of two of our oldest friends, Pat and Larry Szura. We spent Friday night in the western suburbs with Ernie’s sister, Mary Ann, and her husband, John. On Saturday we made our way downtown on the Eisenhower Expressway, which during the week is chaotic and congested. On Saturday afternoon it was . . . chaotic and congested. The wedding mass was at the exquisite church of St. Clement in Lincoln Park. Afterward, since we had a couple of hours to kill before the reception, we decided to drop into a nearby Starbucks. This is an area of Chicago that has everything: bustle, ambience, quaint shops, interesting people . . .but no parking. We eventually found a spot in the general area of a Caribou Cafe and fortified by a couple of lattes, we braved the traffic on Lakeshore and Michigan Avenue. We arrived at the reception at the same time as the limo with the bridal party and just in time for Ernie to chase down the street in hot pursuit of Inga’s veil, which the wind had snatched from her head and sent flying.

The reception was on the 66th floor of the Sears Tower, with a fantastic view of lights snaking down skyscraper-lined streets to the Lake. I was mesmerized by the sight of radio towers on a neighboring building swaying in the wind, until I realized that the structure in which I was standing had to be swaying too. Thankfully we could not feel it. The reception was elegant, but the warmth of Pat’s family (she is the oldest of twelve) overcame any stuffiness that might be expected at the wedding of two Chicago attorneys!

The rest of the weekend was spent with Mary Ann, and it was wonderful to see all four McCluskey boys, gathered in a bar to celebrate the end of the baseball season. Before we left town on Monday, we made a point of stopping by the visit Pat’s wife, Theresa, and their new baby, Andrew Jerome. Young Jack showed us his trucks, and Mary Ann got her fix of grandson hugging. We will all be together again at the end of January for Megan’s wedding and we can’t wait to return to that toddlin' town.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ten Years Ago Today

November 10, 1995 was a watershed day in my life. Not because that was the day on which Kate and Ron were married, but because it was the last time I wore nice shoes. They were black suede, Liz Claiborne pumps with a fairly high heel and they were the most expensive shoes I had ever bought. I wore them throughout the ceremony, I wore them in the receiving line, but somewhere around the salad course I took them off (having had the foresight to bring other shoes with me.) I looked at some wedding photos today. I am smiling. I do not seem to be in pain. But something told me that my days of fancy shoes were over.

For the past ten years I have walked in comfort in shoes which are for the most part unattractive, but which accommodate my spreading feet and various protuberances which are now part of my foot structure. For fancier events I actually found a pair of black fabric shoes which work because they had lots of straps and room for my feet to spread. But this weekend I am attending a wedding in Chicago and decided it was time to buy some new shoes. What a performance that was. Eventually I found and purchased a pair of German shoes. The workmanship is wonderful, the leather is soft and the cost was phenomenal. I am delighted with them, though there is a part of me which regrets that I will never be part of the world of Manolo Blahnik. If I hadn’t spent my money on these shoes, perhaps I could have drawn comfort from Eric Boman’s new book Blahnik by Boman: Shoes, Photographs, Conversation.

This seems a good time to introduce you to my new best friend, Lady Bracknell . In her post of November 9, she laments the paucity of “wide-fitting orthopaedic shoes in a variety of attractive styles and funky colors.” However, one doesn’t have to read much of “The Perorations of Lady Bracknell” to realize she wouldn’t be delighted with a pair of shoes emanating from Germany.

I leave you with two more ideas for accessories. The BBC News is anxious to introduce us to the heated bra, while MIT has an insidious line of aluminum foil helmets. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Gales of November

We were living in Detroit in 1975 when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in Lake Superior off Whitefish Point. The tragedy immediately became part of Michigan lore, celebrated in song by Gordon Lightfoot. Every year on November 10th the bells of the Old Mariners’ Church in downtown Detroit ring out 29 times to commemorate the crew of the freighter. Andrew has a large framed print of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the wall of his family room in Maryland, and the now-closed Great Lakes Maritime Museum on Belle Isle used to be high on the list of places to take visitors.

Until this past weekend, the lower peninsula had not felt the violence of the gales of November. On Sunday we were lashed by violent winds, maybe from the north, maybe a byproduct of the tornados, which hit some mid-western states. A number of people in Wayne County were badly affected and lost power. Damage locally was slight. We had the awning over the dining room window torn loose and our neighbor Dave lost some of his siding.

It was a day to stay inside with a cup of tea. The worst the storm could do to us was blow the carefully raked piles of leaves out of the gutters and back onto the lawns. There is comfort being inside a house, warm and secure, when the winds blow outside and “the witch of November” can’t harm you.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friends and Neighbors

The time: the mid-seventies. The place: our front yard. The situation: a water main break, decreed by the city council to be on our property. Our property = we get it fixed. Cast of characters: assorted family and neighbors gathered to offer suggestions, observations or help as we tried to locate the actual break.

That’s David Saunders standing behind Dan and Joe Scicluna, Albert pointing out something of interest, Joe Saunders and Jimmy Morris and Ernie, looking surprisingly unconcerned about the whole mess. The guy in the hole who looks like he is about to audition for a revival of The Village People is our former neighbor, Don Corbin. Note that Don is the only one actually doing anything. He was a great neighbor who could always be relied on for practical help. One of my most vivid memories of him is the time he jumped into his car at 3:00 a.m., then chased and stopped the drunk who had ploughed into our car, which was parked on the street in front of our house. We slept through the whole thing!

This is another photograph I came across recently which took me back to the past. The boys in the photograph are approaching forty and Joe died a couple of years ago. I see Don once in a while. Serendipity played a large part in this story. Not two days after I found this photo, Don was visiting his old house and walked into our kitchen. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it was good to see an old neighbor again.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It's Evelyn's Birthday!

Evelyn is three today. Elizabeth's older daughter is quite a giggler when she is tickled, but photographers have a hard time eliciting a smile from her. We celebrated with this Mona Lisa of granddaughters on Sunday and it is clear that the dinosaurs on her cake were a resounding success. She is such a gentle little girl and it is lovely to think that every year she will celebrate her birthday on All Saints' Day.

As each grandchild celebrates a birthday, I usually add just one photograph. But I couldn't resist adding another; Miss Evelyn in her disguise as Angelina Ballerina has learned the power of accessories from her Aunt Lucy.