Leaving Home

Tomorrow my mom is moving from the house I grew up in. The house my father built. The house where we celebrated birthdays, graduation parties, New Year’s Eve spectaculars and observed shivas. The house where I introduced my parents to my eventual husband and where a missile launched in a fight between siblings still marks the wooden bathroom door. (Did you know you can’t fill a dent with modeling clay, paint it with Cover Girl, and expect your father not to notice?)

I remember visiting the house when it was under construction. I wasn’t yet nine. One night my dad and I drove over to check on carpeting that had been installed earlier in the day. My room had a raspberry carpet. Raspberry! And I loved it. It was the only one in the house that wasn’t blue or white. I took off my shoes and just ran around and around my new room.

Some of you reading this blog may remember my house, having spent sleepovers there and playdates. And, of course, among you is my sister who shared her bed (still there) when I couldn’t sleep, and joined me in playing Concentration with Grammy and Poppa on the orange card table (also still there).

Much like the way we recall our precise whereabouts when we first learn of a catastrophic event like 9/11 or JFK’s assassination, recalling details of our childhood home makes the experience almost palpable. For a fleeting second we think that that 9-year-old kid still exists. I can picture where I did (or didn’t do) my homework, where I played with Barbie and Ken, creating a car for them out of a rectangular Kleenex box (convertible), where I hid my diary, where I watched my grandfather pull a treat from the inside pocket of his camel hair coat, where he loved to sit in the kitchen.

I remember retrieving from our front walkway the Philadelphia Inquirer in the morning and the Evening Bulletin in the afternoon, and riding my bike to Wynnewood Shopping Center to browse Wanamaker’s or the drug store. I remember being picked up by dates at the house and later, lingering just a little too long outside, provoking my dad’s reminder from his bedroom window that it was time to come in.

The side of the garage I wedged my mom’s Cadillac into has long been repaired. The cherry tree I loved to climb has been heartlessly pruned into a mass of stumps. My dad’s vegetable garden has been reclaimed by the yard, not having been tilled in years. The pool table and ping pong table, host of scores of challenges to my friends, are both gone.

My preoccupation with the infinite details of moving my mom into her new apartment has given me little time to reminisce. But now that the date is upon us, I can’t help but remember. Fortunately for me, while my raspberry carpet may be gone, the memories will hang around forever.

21
Oct
2015

A Recipe for Memories

I just spent one hour looking for my recipe for artichoke dip. Though it’s simple to make, consisting of three ingredients; artichoke hearts, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese, and I’ve made it every holiday for the past 25 years, I still needed to rummage for that dog-eared document.

It’s kept in a ragged, taped, gold cardboard box labeled Schrafft’s Miniature Chocolates, a vessel that affords me my yearly trip down memory lane.

All sorts of recipes are stuffed inside, some printed neatly on index cards, handwritten on scraps of paper or torn out of magazines, most of which are no longer in print. But they come from the people I have cherished throughout my life.

The largest number are from my late mother-in-law, Dorothy Fisher, or as she writes on the top of all her offerings, “Dot Fisher.” They appear in her handwriting with little added gems: “These can be frozen for later use and, in fact, are good eaten frozen.” I’m immediately thrown back to Christmas pasts, recalling how Dot’s buttery wreath cookies melted on my tongue. (I have yet to replicate her delicate perfection but I always make her cherry cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies.)

Her son (my late husband) Charlie, was a great cook in his own right. So the recipe box includes some of his contributions. The one for chicken marsala is written in Charlie’s hand on a memo sheet from United Press International (my first job as a reporter).

Decades ago, my sister, Susie, started me on a collection of recipes, each one painstakingly handwritten on yellow 3 X 5 cards. A personal comment was added to each, such as on the one for 1890 chicken she wrote, “3 guesses where I got this recipe…” (Our mother.) Or her recipe for Chocolate Chip Cake that calls for a bundt pan. Knowing me to be a novice in the kitchen, she added, “A bundt pan looks like a jello mold pan (Again, a shoutout to our mother) with a round hole in the center. I’m sure you must have a dozen lying around.”

For some reason, a graduation card from my sister with a 1973 postmark remains in the box. I know it’s out of place, but I look at it every year and put it right back inside.

I have recipes from old friends, including two exceptional cooks, Carol Bress (all of hers are meticulously written on index cards with little heart borders and encased in plastic,) and Helen Bosley, who 20 years ago the day after I attended a cocktail party in her house and proclaimed how good her broccoli casserole was, a recipe arrived in the mail. The box includes recipes that remind me of my kids as preschoolers. One says, “Parents: We made Apple Crisp in school today. If you want to make it at home, here’s the recipe.” Of course, we did the next day.

Every time I pull the old candy box from the cabinet I think I really should organize the scattered pieces into a tidy collection of recipes. And then I just say, Nah, and replace the rubber band that holds the lid on the box.

I never did find the artichoke dip recipe.

But, I never actually needed it.

26
Dec
2014

Games of Yore

The other night while finishing chicken satay in a nearby Korean restaurant I watched Jon mindlessly use his chopsticks to pick up the empty skewers. It got me thinking about old fashioned childhood games.

Specifically, pick up sticks. I remember spending hours by myself or with my friends sitting cross-legged on the basement floor or on the front porch adeptly lifting each colorful wooden stick without jostling, even narrowly, neighboring sticks.

And that got me thinking about jacks.

Does anyone play them anymore? How much time did I invest in playing jacks, either alone or in competition with a friend? Ultimately, our goal was to successfully grasp a handful of metal jacks AND the ball.

And that got me thinking about dress-up. My girlfriends and I would don our mothers’ swing skirts and heels and pretend we were running a household. Today the dress-up costumes kids wear are fashionably different – think super heroes – and, fortunately, their role playing has evolved, too.

And that got me thinking about hide and seek.

All those humid summer nights congregating outside with the kids in the neighborhood. The thick interior branch on the massive Higan cherry in our backyard proved a favorite hiding place for me. In retrospect, it amazes me how many times I commandeered the same spot without getting caught. Eventually, my boundless confidence led me to climb higher into the tree.

And that got me thinking about stickball. Well, actually, it got Jon thinking. As a city kid he and his friends used a cut-off broom stick and a tennis ball and any yard or street as a suitable playing field.

And that got me thinking about board games.

Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Clue, Monopoly, Life. Sometimes we’d play with friends, sometimes with our siblings. More often than not, it was cold and rainy outside, which served as justification for being indoors.

And that got me thinking about card games.

WAR, Concentration, Fish, Gin. My grandparents would sit at the card table where my parents held their monthly bridge games, and play cards with my sister and me. Remember, Susie, how Grammy used to say, “What a sad story!” when she got dealt a bad hand?

All of this, of course, got me thinking about today’s games for children. In a playing field vastly altered by computers and technology, it’s all okay – albeit very different – so long as they are still having fun.

10
Oct
2014

Kate: A Brightness that Can’t Be Dulled

For my extended family, this has been a very trying time. Two weeks ago my irrepressible, ebullient and exquisite step-niece died suddenly from as-yet unknown causes. She was 27.

Over the weekend, my step-brother, my former sister-in-law (I use the term “former” for the sake of exactitude because she very much remains a part of our family), my nephew and my niece’s fiancé led a tribute to Kate at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

The memorial service opened with a loving, honest anecdotal eulogy from my brother and closed with the tossing of flowers into the Boston Harbor. The women in attendance were given a tube of rich red lipstick, a favorite of Kate’s, who was a talented makeup artist.

We became a family more than 27 years ago with the union of my mother and their father, both widowed at the time. Between them they had five children, and 10 grandchildren, Kate being the third from the youngest. Despite everyone spread throughout the United States and one overseas, we have come together often, usually for happy occasions like milestone birthdays, weddings, b’nai mitzvahs and the occasional Thanksgiving.

Amazingly, our parents are both in their late eighties, and as a family we haven’t faced a tragic event in more than 20 years. And now this.

As Kate’s parents would want, we remember this young woman, not with sadness, but rather for the joy she brought to life. We picture her at every family event – most recently at two weddings – acting as the social coordinator, dragging her cousins onto the dance floor and moving spiritedly to the music. Her smile and energy filled a space the way helium expands a balloon. And so Kate lifted our spirits.

No life should end as young as this one. And no parents and sibling should feel such pain. As family and friends we can do little but validate their loss, love them with all of our hearts, and remember their Kate in all her vibrancy.

That, and rock her red lipstick.

30
Apr
2014

To My Dear Friend Ellen

I can’t believe that at one time I didn’t like massages. Luckily, a trip to Canyon Ranch with my daughter, Debra, several years ago cured me of that.

So when my dearest and oldest (not age) friend in the world suggested we go for a spa weekend, just the two of us, it was automatic. Truthfully the draw wasn’t the lavish massage, it was the prospect of hanging out with a friend I love, and rarely see because of geographic distance.

Our mothers have been friends since they were teenagers, and they continue their impressive ways into their eighties. They married, settled about five miles from each other and named their daughters, Ellen.

My earliest memories of playing as a child take place at Ellen’s house. We’d hang out in her parent’s room and make phony phone calls, randomly picking names from a telephone book. We dialed for hours until her mother opened the door and put a stop to our antics.

We grew up going to different school districts but still got together once a month or so. When we left for college, I introduced her to my friends who were going to the same school and to this day she remains close to them.

Among my other favorite memories:

I remember commandeering my sister’s car and driving out to State College to see Ellen and meet her new boyfriend. He had shoulder length, wavy red hair, an equally long beard, and played the guitar.

I remember, a few years later, sitting outside at their patio wedding. Ellen wore a white hat with a brim and looked beautiful. I still use, and love, the china serving pieces she bought me for my wedding.

I remember us being pregnant at the same time and swapping stories, and then we both gave birth to sons.

I remember when I became widowed, all the weekends she and her husband drove out to see my kids and me. And what that meant to all of us, then and now.

I remember sharing all the life cycle events of our children and families. I still cherish the necklace she gave me 22 years ago at my birthday party.

By some divine coincidence, a few months ago my daughter and son-in-law moved to a part of New York not far from Ellen. She has been wonderfully helpful to them in getting settled. And the other night after returning from the spa we all had dinner together.

Childhood friendships are magical. To be with someone who remembers your grandparents, the color of the walls of your childhood bedroom and how you acted when you met the love of your life, is soothing and affirming.

Way better than any old massage.

04
Mar
2014


© 2011-2017 Ellie's Blog All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright