The Proustian Popcorn Pan

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‘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

 

 

 

 

“Never trust anyone over thirty.”

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‘Unless, perhaps, she is your own daughter’

I’ll always remember my very first Big-Time Ad Biz TV commercial. It was for Q-Tips, and was called “Still My Baby.” I didn’t even try to find it on YouTube, not just because this was ages ago, but because it was a pretty awful commercial.

It featured this mom who has a baby on a changing table and a jealous preschooler sulking alongside. To mollify the older child, she asks her to “help” by handing her a Q-tips Swab. Then Mom reassures the child (a girl, natch) by thanking her and saying, “Such a big girl. But you’re still my baby.

Here is The Child at sulky older sister age. She is not sulky, though, since she didn’t have a baby sibling to be jealous of

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

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‘”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!”

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This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

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‘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.

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Lockdown with a capital “L”

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‘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.

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She had a hat

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‘Wearing headgear well runs in the family. Too bad I didn’t get that gene.’

As you, dear Reader, know only too well, we’ve been slowly and-oh-so-surely settling in to the new Ken and Barbie House. All the Big Stuff has found a new home, and we’re on to clearing out the Little Stuff. (I am having nightly horrors about the Junk Drawer.)

We Henrys have been holding regular Family Facetime Calls with our dear Mother every Sunday, and on one of these, not too long ago, I happened to be in the middle of clearing out the coat closet. (How many mismatched gloves can one person have?!?)

My Oldest Younger Brother looks over my Facetimed shoulder and says, “Hey! There’s the Hat!” And goldarnit. There it was.

The Hat. Basically, the only one I wear. And not for “fashion”

It was easy to spot because not only is it large and furry and rather assertive and unmissable on a closet shelf, it’s pretty much the only hat I wear — being as how I only wear hats for function, not fashion.

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“Lean to the left, lean to the right. Stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!”

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‘Feeling the pain; paying the price’

I’m a day late with this post — and, it would seem, way more than a dollar short. I was in the City yesterday seeing a Pain Guy about my herniated disc. Turns out I need to have a rather pricey procedure involving an injection in my spine.

(Of course it’s not just the $$$ that was distracting me from coming up with a Fun Tuesday Topic; I am beyond nervous about getting a shot in my back — I’m sweating so much my fingers are sticking to the keys on my poor ole Mac.)

In the midst of my last marathon. I’m enjoying myself immensely, believe it or not

My more than twenty years of running around sixty miles a week is probably the culprit — though the packing, lifting, shifting and so forth that goes into moving apartments certainly hasn’t helped matters much.

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

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‘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

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Time is indeed fluid

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‘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

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Small place, big personalities

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‘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

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