Friday, March 20, 2015

Hamburger Helper

Embedded in our family lore is an item about me and a not-too-palatable food item called "Hamburger Helper." Yes, there is some truth to this story, but I can explain.

First, I need to go back at least half a century. My family never possessed a car. That was not in the least bit unusual when I was growing up in those post-war years, although by the time I left England in 1963 car ownership was becoming more common. During my childhood, not having a car was never a hardship, although of course it may have been to my parents, when it came to shopping and all the requirements of life, like shopping and going to work. I blithely lived my life jumping on a bus.

Here is the form of trans port ation my dad had before his mar riage. I wrote about this in an earlier post. Fast-forward to 1971: Andrew had just been born and with four children under the age of five I decided I needed to learn to drive. We had a bizarre lifestyle which involved waiting for Ernie to get home before we bundled four children into a car so he could take us all to the grocery store, for appointments at the doctor etc. I don't think I realized that doing all that singlehandedly would not be much fun.

In any event, I signed up for driving lessons in the parking lot of Grosse Pointe Farms. I am a bit vague about who offered the lessons, how many times a week, but I am pretty sure they were at 5:30. (Or was it six?) It involved Ernie and the kids dropping me off, going home for dinner, and coming back to fetch me. They would need dinner, so I bought this product called Hamburger Helper, which called for browned ground beef which was mixed with the contents of the box. That way I could prepare it in advance and it merely needed warming. An added advantage was that the kids liked it. Heaven knows how I fed Andrew. I completed the course, passed the test, parallel parking included.

Last week I went to the grocery store. I had noticed earlier that the shelves were looking different. Some brands were being culled, others restocked. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with shelves stocked full of a product I had not looked for for years. All flavors, all kinds of Hamburger Helper. Chicken Helper! Tuna Helper!

There must be a lot of mature women learning to drive.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Always Greener . . .

Our winter is, perhaps, winding towards its close. Though heaven knows, we have had some pretty rough Marches in the past. All  we have to do is navigate potential spring floods. My guest beds remain un-made. Should I make them with flannel—and have to rip the sheets off and re-make the beds with percale if my first bunch of spring guests arrive on a hot spring day? Or should I make the beds with percale? Then I have to search out blankets already smelling of mothballs to keep them warm? Problems, problems, problems.

This will be with us before long. And worse. I'm just showing this to people who say they like to live in the Mid-west because of "the seasons." Then the question is bandied around, "Which do you prefer, the winter or the summer?"

I know the answer to that one—whichever we are not suffering from at the time.

Friday, March 06, 2015

It Calls For a Reversal

In late 2012 I was pretty insulting to the firm Paper Direct for the slew of catalogs they were sending. And still do. I should not be upset, because they had rightly surmised that I loved to write letters and that I loved attractive stationery.

Paper Direct's Pretty Petals
In the past, many of my letters and non-cyber communication were addressed to my sister-in-law who did not have a computer and had no intention of getting one. So I loved to send her long letters on paper like this. I had to use a computer because I have a somewhat shaky hand these days, but it was probably easier for her to read. After her death I found my correspondence was pretty much limited to e-mail. Not that it saved work: I write some pretty long e-mails usually with photos attached. It would be easy to plunk the text in a letter and mail it, but I have fallen into the trap of instant gratification—the e-mail can be there within ten seconds, I save the cost of a stamp and don't have to make the trip to the mail box.

The other day as I was reading some blogs and following links to some previously unknown blogs, I was thinking that there are a lot of great writers out there. And I got to wondering how many letters they send. Perhaps an aunt or cousin would love to get the content of their blog not on the internet but as a letter. (Don't expect that friends and relatives will read your blogs and follow your life from the internet. They won't. After a long post about, perhaps, a month long safari, someone is bound to ask , "What did you do this summer?" Needless to say, I made up the safari bit, but the underlying truth is there.) I can promise you that the sight of the mailman coming up the walk with a letter will make the recipient happy and feeling loved.

I know that was the case with Flo. So this is a challenge for some of you great writers. Forget the blog and use your skill to enrich someone's day.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where Are They Now? (Anyone Know?)

Official Wayne State College Bowl photograph.
In the early sixties the program managers at NBC figured they could swell their audience share with a show which pitted students from two universities each week, not in sports, but in brains. And it was a success. The show was College Bowl, sponsored by GE, and each week from 1959 to 1970 one school was knocked out and another took its place.

In 1968 Wayne State was invited to take part. We never knew what prompted the University authorities to decide that the perfect person to select and train the WSU team would be a member of the College of Liberal Arts who had arrived in Detroit a scant eighteen months earlier. Possibly it was because Ernie had become good friends with Sherwin Collins, the go-to man for the College who had the ear of the Dean. There was no shortage of knowledgable students from which to choose, but the trick was to pick four who together could cover the whole gamut of arts, science, sports, culture—and who would not fall apart at the sight of a camera. In addition they needed quick reflexes, because the first person to ring the bell in front of him/her would have the opportunity to give the answer. The College of Engineering supplied ersatz bells which were taped down to a table with duct tape for training sessions.

Here's a casual practice photo of the team of Chuck Zastrow, Dennis Staszak, Sanford Cohen and Joel Shulman, fingers at the ready. Ernie had John Gregg from the Communications Department to help him and I did my bit by sending down practice questions. That made three of us who knew next to nothing about Astronomy, Geology, Physics etc.

A week before the big day Brandeis beat the school against whom they were pitted, so we knew Brandeis would be our opponents. I don't recall the flight to New York, or the journey to the Warwick Hotel, but I do know that we were shepherded by Mike Sibille, the university PR guy.

I think we flew out on Saturday
morn-ing, which, accord-
ing to my note on the back of this photo gave us time for a visit to the Central Park Zoo. Those of you who know Kate may recognize her peeping through my large pink coat. My only explanation for the white gloves for a trip to the zoo is that this was the 60's.

In the evening we all went for dinner at Mama Leone's. The next day we prepared for the show which was broadcast live.

The WSU team was wonderful, but in the end they were no match for the seasoned team from Brandeis. We excitedly flew home after the show. The cameras had concentrated on the team, of course, but we knew there were occasions when they had been turned on us. Our friends and relations in Detroit and all over the country had been watching. We went straight to the friends with whom we had left eleven-month-old Al to ask their reaction.

The golf match which NBC ran prior to our show had run over-time and College Bowl was not broadcast.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This Nearly Was Mine

The Oscars will be awarded this evening. As usual I will start watching the show and then groggily go up to bed half-way through, bored stiff. I have seen two of the films up for consideration. I love Turing's story in The Imitation Game, a mathematical equivalent of the puzzle classicists found in the decipherment of Linear B and I have written before about my interest in all books about Enigma. I can't say I have much interest in Hawking's exploration in cosmological inflation and quantum gravity. But as a person he is fascinating and therefore The Theory of Everything is equally fascinating.  What do these movies have in common? Cambridge University.

Turing's Cambridge of the 30's has obviously little connection with me, but not so the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking. There is a scene in The Theory of Everything pretty much identical to the one shown here which we took on a trip back to England (except the view in the movie included a random cow or two.)  My trips to Cambridge are because my brother lives just outside the town, not because of any nostalgia.

I came very close to that nostalgia. At approximately the same time as Hawking was riding his bike through the streets of Cambridge to his lectures, I was sitting the exams for Girton and Newnham. There was a general exam which required a precis of a long passage and a couple of essays to test our writing ability. For some reason I wrote on polar exploration. What a great job I could do of that today. At the time I think I had only heard of Scott's tragedy on his return from the South Pole. What could I have written? Instead of the question on eccentricity, I would love to get my claws into question 8, "Old People." Old people? What were you thinking of, Girton?  In addition there were chunks of Vergil, Horace, Livy, Cicero, Hesiod, Sophocles, Xenophon and Plato to translate into English and blocks of English to translate back into Latin and Greek. Joy of joys, I was summoned for an interview. By letter? Phone? I suppose today they tweet the applicants. Anyway, dear reader, I went.

I do not remember the interview. We must have had dinner in hall and I know I was expected to spent the night. I remember a freezing cold room in a stone building and making myself cocoa in an equally cold kitchenette.

I returned home, only to hear sometime later that G & N would not be requiring my presence the following year. Now here comes something which in future posts I will refer to as a Brian Williams moment, somewhat different from a senior moment. You will either understand or you wont. I am convinced that somehow, maybe even from the university itself, I heard I was next on the waiting list and that if anyone were to drop out, a place would be extended to me. It wasn't. I don't think I could have crossed paths with Stephen Hawking. He would have arrived to study for his Ph.D. just as I left.

The ambience of Cambridge is unique, and I like to think that this nearly was mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Hundred and Twenty Five Years


We first met in 1945. At least, that's my best guess. No pre-school in those days, just First Form at St. George's Elementary School in Freezywater, Enfield. Come to think of it, I doubt it was called "Elementary" School and "First Form" would have been reserved for Enfield County School (our high school). Yvonne and Diana on the left probably met a little earlier, living as they did in The Greenway, dark-haired Yvonne at no. 7, blonde Diana at no. 4. I lived on the other side of the Hertford Road at 27 Bedford Crescent. I don't remember us being in the same class together, though I suppose we must have been. All I remember of St. George's is sitting with Mrs. Wilson, the Headmistress, and knitting. I am sure we walked to and from school together.

After three or four more years at Chesterfield Road School (our middle school) all three of us passed the 11+. This showed we were in the top 33% of the population, but the streaming was not over. I found myself in the form designated "L" for Latin, a stream destined for university, the other two in "S" for Spanish and "DS" for Domestic Science. Don't ask. The streaming meant little to us and we much of our spare time time together, at  Brownies, playing tennis or taking long walks.

This photo was probably taken at Easter in the mid 50's. By this time we had all decided on a path in life. Or it had been decided for us. I would go into 6B Arts and continue on my path to University, these two would go into 6B Secretarial and become upper class secretaries. Both, I must add, would have been totally worthy University applicants and  they made up for that omission in later life.

Diana and I went on from Guides to Cadets, but when the Cadet summer camp in Cornwall was arranged, there were not enough of us going, so was invited. Here are the three of us on Porthcurnick Beach. Looks a little rocky!

Soon we all went our various ways. We all left England for various periods, we all married. But we kept in touch and the photo at the top of the page is from my visit to England in the 70's. Yvonne was living in Swindon, Diana in Eaton Royal where we got together, together with Diana's parents, for a lovely afternoon. 

Some time after that we lost touch. When people marry, change their names and move around the country, it is hard to find them again. The ace up my sleeve was Yvonne's brother, who for professional reasons was not too hard to find and who put me in touch with his sister, who had never lost touch with the third member of our trio.

They have both had more than their share of tragedies in their lives. By the end of April we will all be 75—that's almost 225 years of combined friendship. How nice, perhaps, if we could go back to St. George's and our days of Sir Brian Botany.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What to wear?

An article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal brought back a memory. It is an incident which will remain vivid as long as my husband, my sister-in-law or any of the people who attended her wedding in 1965 are alive. And I regret there are not too many.

I still have the invitation, but my attempts to look through photographs (I am still organizing) have not met with success. I didn't take any and I am sure the official photographer was told to keep me out of the photographs until it was certain that I was actually going to join the family.

I figured out that Iowa in June was going to be as hot as California and that I could wear my rather nice cream colored two piece linen dress. It looked good—I was a lot skinnier in those days. I hadn't been to many (any?) weddings in England, but I had the suspicion that hats were worn. (This was before the days of fascinators, you understand.) So I was lucky to find a cream linen, rather simple and elegant hat. Thought no more of it.

On the day of the wedding I caused a sensation. A hat! From that day on I was known not for my brains, or for my wit, or even for my origin—I was the woman in a hat. It made sense—I had to cover my head. This was the era when mantillas covered heads in church like never-ending lace curtains. Now when I meet an odd aunt or old friend, I hear, "You wore a hat to Mary Ann's wedding".

So what did I see? An article that hats are the new scarves, rather like orange is the new black. The best point that someone made is that if that is true, hats should come in varying sizes. I have tried on a hat or two in an attempt to keep my reputation going, but they tend to rest on the top of my head like a pin cushion.

My husband claims there is a photo of the side of my hat in a photo in his album in  the basement, but now it is simply a memory, kept alive by a relative or two—and the Wall Street Journal.