The Proustian Popcorn Pan

Standard

‘My brain explodes with salty, fluffy memories’

I mentioned last week that my One and Only Mom was moving to new digs. All went smoothly, thanks to Only Sister Laura and Oldest Younger Brother Scott, who wrestled furniture and wrangled boxes.

Heck, they even unpacked, which in my experience (most recently with our dreaded downsizing, which you can read about in ‘The Tunnel at the End of the Light’) is way way worse than packing.

Boxes ready to be unpacked in the Ken & Barbie House. (Note that I only show my own unpacked boxes)

Mom to OYB Scott while putting things away in her new closet: “I need to go shoe shopping.” OYB Scott to Mom, after opening box containing literally dozens of pairs of footwear: “Um, what about these?!” Mom: “Well, I like shoes.”

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Youngest Younger Brother Doug, while not present for the Unpacking, played a big part in Mom’s Move too — he was one of the Intrepid Ones who sorted and boxed and toted the stuff from her Seaside apartment. (You can just glimpse him taking a much-deserved Baseball Break in the photo at the top of this post.)

A better view of Doug as he and Mom take a Scrabble Break

Speaking of Doug, this piece is kind of about him. He is the one who used to wield the titular popcorn pan. He was the youngest of us, the littlest of the Little Kids, and yet he was allowed — nay, encouraged — to be the Popcorn Maker. I can still see him — or the top of his head anyway — standing at the stove, vigorously rattling away making that night’s popcorn.

Doug on the living room floor, with Major, not popcorn (this time anyway)

We would scoop our portions from the big pan into cereal bowls, then settle on the living room floor for a night of TV watching. Dad controlled the remote, so thank goodness we all liked the same shows: Bonanza, I Spy, Batman, Mission Impossible, Laugh-In. Heck, Dad even liked Hullaballoo.

Kids still enjoy sprawling on carpeted floors — at least the ones in my Mom’s living room

I say this piece is “kind of” about Doug, because, like most of my stories, it’s really about memories. Today’s is about how crazy it is that they can be triggered so easily by something as beaten and battered as an old popcorn pan.

Why, when I saw that picture of Mom holding that Proustian Pan, I was hit by a virtual memory tsunami. I could see the light of the glowing TV flickering off our faces, I could feel the knotty texture of the wall-to-wall carpet, I could hear my brothers hissing “Get down! You make a better door than a window!” And yes, I could taste that popcorn. Which, enhanced no doubt by the lens of nostalgia, I consider the best popcorn ever popped, any time anywhere.

Mom and her personal Popcorn Popper, AKA Doug

Which is true, since it wasn’t pre-buttered or pre-salted or pre-packaged or pre-anything’d. It was popcorn grown by my Grampa Henry on his farm. It came “packaged” on cobs that we would shuck onto newspapers on that self-same living room rug. We’d put the just-shucked kernels into mason jars that we kept in the fridge. (Pro Tip: popcorn pops best when it’s cold; the kernels “escape” the husks with greater force, thus yielding a bigger “puff.”)

Grampa with his Shuckers. Er, kids and grandkids

It’s funny. When I was doing my own sorting and sifting and tossing, what were the things I just had to keep? Why, the things that triggered memories, of course. Well, as long as they could fit into 550 square feet and do their triggering.

I’m not sure what Mom kept –well, except for an inordinate number of shoes — but I sure hope someone hung on to that popcorn pan.

Doug (at left) in the kitchen on a long-ago Thanksgiving. I’m betting the Popcorn Pan got a workout even after the pie

Amagansett, New York. April 2021

 

 

 

 

“And what’s your dolly’s name, Little Girl?”

Standard

‘”Parasot,” she squeaked.’

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites among your children. I remember asking my mother who was her favorite and she would respond diplomatically, “You are all my favorites.”

Who could possibly choose a favorite from among this hot and sweaty yet adorable bunch?

Well, that question is easy for me to answer; I only have the one Child. But then there is the question of favorite nieces and/or nephews. I won’t reveal my favorites, having inherited my mother’s diplomatic nature. But, when they were all little, The Dude expressed an especial fondness for his niece Natalie, my Favorite Sister Laura’s daughter. (I can say “Favorite Sister” because she is my only sister; but I confess she would probably be my favorite if I had seven sisters.)

Me, holding my still-Favorite Sister Laura

Natalie had a doll whose name was “Meat.” I kid you not — Meat. We aunts and uncles used to get a real charge out of asking, “What’s your dolly’s name, Natalie?” and hearing her pipe up in her adorable baby-duck voice, “Meat!”

Continue reading

This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

Standard

‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

Continue reading

Where I grew up, fish came in a stick

Standard

‘Not that my palate is all that sophisticated now’

I had fish for dinner last night. Which means that I ate in a restaurant. (Yes, I was masked. Except when I was actually eating said fish.) See, now that I am a grownup — and a rather broken-in grownup at that — I can handle eating fish. Certain kinds of fish. Once in a blue moon. But I still can’t cook it.

Me, after having not cooked fish for dinner

See, fish was not something in my Mom’s meal rota. We had pork chops (which came with mashed potatoes and canned corn), and “Swiss Steak” (which came with mashed potatoes and peas), meat loaf (ditto), chicken (double ditto) and sometimes — because it was “good for you,” — liver (which came with creamed potatoes and green beans.)

And fish was generally not found on Midcentury Midwestern restaurant menus. I can’t remember fish appearing, like my salmon last night or my branzino last week, even in “tonight’s specials.” No, fish mostly came in a stick, battered and fried — and was primarily eaten at school lunches on Fridays as sort of a penance. Or during Lent. Ditto.

I don’t have a photo of fried fish sticks. But this one of fried chicken is much better. In many ways

In all my growing up years, I can’t recall anyone of my acquaintance — certainly not anyone in my family — saying, “Gee, Mom. Let’s have fish for supper.” No, fish was what you ate as sort of a default option.

Continue reading

Lockdown with a capital “L”

Standard

‘When my Mom did some prison time’

My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.

My Mom when she got “capped,” which is like graduation for nurses

I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)

Mom, with one and a half kids

Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids. 

Mom had plenty on her plate, with kids ranging from Big (me) to Little (Toddler Doug) and three more in between. That’s Middle Bro Roger sporting a muscle tee on the left

But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.

Continue reading

I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me for dinner.

Standard

‘Well, on second thought, maybe don’t call me “Karen”‘

Big surprise: my name isn’t actually “Lutheran Liar.” It’s Alice, a name I didn’t like much when I was a girl. Back then I wished my name was Linda or Debbie or Nancy or Sandy or Barb. Cool girl names. Cheerleader names. Girls-with-flips names. (That’s me, without a cool name, but with a reasonably-cool flip, in the picture at the top of this story.)

Instead, I got saddled with the name Alice. Which is a perfectly lovely name, really. But at the time I thought it was a “Grandma Name.” Maybe that’s because, in my case, it actually was a Grandma Name: the name of my Peterson Gramma. To add insult to name injury, my middle name was also a Grandma Name: Celia, the name of my Henry Gramma. (I couldn’t — and didn’t — do this to The Child. Her name would have been Bertha Myrna.)

My Gramma, the original-in-my-family-anyway-Alice

Continue reading

“When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”

Standard

‘Me and the mimeograph machine, making news after school’

Somebody Up There must not want me to go to The City. Last week when I journeyed there for a necessary errand, an epic storm struck right when I had to catch the Jitney home. In spite of being (what I thought was) adequately prepared, I — and everything I had with me — got thoroughly soaked. (I tried to make a video of myself pouring literally cups of water out of my rain shoes — yes, “rain shoes”, I told you I was prepared — but it was too dark and wet down by my feet.)

The errand that took me into The City: watching the countertop guys make a template for this curved counter in our itty bitty kitchen

Here’s how the side with no curve turned out

As you know only too well by now, The Dude and I are downsizing and need to get everything out of the old apartment. So, every time I slip into The City I try to bring some stuff back with me. If I’m traveling by Jitney (which is a fancy New York name for what is essentially a bus) I can’t take, say, boxes of books, but every little bit counts.

Continue reading

Before the parade passes by

Standard

‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

Continue reading

Time is indeed fluid

Standard

‘Coffee Time flows smoothly into Wine Time’

When I was a kid you’d see signs advertising Dr. Pepper in places like gas stations or in the drugstore (where there was a soda fountain and racks of ten-cent comic books). These signs would say “10-2-4,” and it meant that you should give yourself an energy boost at those times by quaffing a bottle of Dr. P.

Kenya dig it? Dude Man loves Dr. Pepper, but he loved Stoney even more. Too bad you can only get it in Africa

Well, around my house these days we don’t limit ourselves to sipping occasions at ten, two and four.

I’m basically drinking something all the time.

Many mornings I reach for my trusty Incest Mug. You can get the story about why it’s called that right here

I roll out of bed, go for a “health-giving walk,” then grab one of my collection of mugs. Which I fill, and fill again. And sometimes fill again again. In between refills I Accomplish Chores. (When I retired, I decided that a Healthy Structure For My Day would be to do things I have to do in the morning and things I want to do in the afternoons.)

They used to call coffee the “Think Drink,” which might explain my winning NY Times entries, for which I received several of these mugs

Continue reading

Small place, big personalities

Standard

‘The Colorful Characters of Clinton County’

I was watching a clip of Donald Trump slip-sliding his way down that ramp at West Point and immediately thought of Dennis Rose. “Gription,” Dennis would have said. “Trump’s shoes ain’t got enough gription.

Well, if “gription” isn’t a word, it oughta be. Dennis used it to describe what was wrong with his own sneakers during a basketball practice one afternoon long ago in the Carlyle High School gym. (I didn’t witness this word coinage myself, those being pre-Title IX days, when the sportiest we girls could get was playing dodge-ball in that same high school gym. While wearing bloomers. Honest. Bloomers.)

Dennis’ locution was colorful, but, trust me, there were other Clinton County denizens who made him seem pasty-pale in comparison.

There was the guy named Bill who rode his bike everywhere. Sure, no one bats an eye at an adult on a bike now (even sealed in Spandex), but back then a grownup riding a bike caused, well, comment. Indeed, we kids were told to “stay away from that man.”

Kids riding bikes was another kettle of handlebars entirely. We went everywhere on bikes. Well, except not to school. Bike riding to school–even on a swell banana bike like Rog’s–was considered very uncool and just was not done

Continue reading