House Hunting in the 90’s

You’re going to buy a house… BY YOURSELF?

Yes, Daddy…women DO own houses by themselves these days!

Well, just make sure you own the land, Honey.  Don’t get involved with any of that condo crap…

Once a father, always a father.  Daddy was still giving his advice, even now at eighty-seven years of age and in failing health.  He still had a keen mind for numbers and understood housing in general, the values, the neighborhoods and the choices I’d have in front of me.  He’d walked through many of the same homes over the years, measuring the kitchen and bath floors to give an estimate on new linoleum.    We were discussing some of the choices and the streets I’d visited with the realtor; I was keeping Daddy apprised of the week to week update of house hunting as a “single” woman.

I’m going to miss this Texan’s company once I finally find a house.  He’s been really nice to work with.

Just be careful, Honey… you gotta watch those guys…you never know……….

I was by now forty-two, divorced for nearly six years, and had been back home long enough to realize that I’d be staying in the area close to the folks and my family.    I had decided it was time for me to once again own a home.  The folks had offered to help with the down payment needed, and a friend had introduced me to a broker acquaintance of his.  I liked the broker very much.  The broker’s part time loan processor had agreed to take me around on evenings and weekends as he still had a valid real estate license.  The latter worked two jobs, packing musical instruments and parts in a warehouse during the day, and then playing loan processor in the evenings and weekends, depending on the workload.

In the first three or four weeks, we had looked at all kinds of houses; many well-kept older homes were now in very sketchy areas; or the neighborhood had declined so much so that the majority of activity was slowly changing over to commercial zoning use.  Some entire streets had bars over the doors and front windows; not exactly your Ozzie and Harriet’s America.  Chances were I’d have to forego the better neighborhoods if I wanted to own anything at all.  As we had already scoured the existing listings on the market in my price range, bank repos were beginning to look like my last resort.  My realtor was running low on properties, but didn’t seem to mind as it gave him something to do besides spending evenings working on paperwork or reading.

Finally, he suggested that I take a look at a home in an older, unincorporated area; so, we two set off that next September Saturday morning to view it.  This particular home had been vacant for over two years.  Surprisingly, there were no signs of vandalism or destruction on the outside; even the inside seemed untouched.  Once I entered and walked on the hardwood flooring, and took sight of the built- in book shelves on either side of the fireplace, I was hooked!  The cottage had a small formal dining room just behind the living room but adjacent to the kitchen door.  The formal dining area was exactly what I had dreamed of, as cooking and setting a pretty table were some of my favorite things to do!

The kitchen was extremely oversize as was typical with homes built just after the Second World War.  Surely a table or banquette had once existed in the far corner from the sink; I could tell by the second ceiling globe’s location just off to the side.

A real, honest to goodness laundry room stood between kitchen, front garage and the backyard door.  I’d finally have walls for the wallpaper that I’d held onto for years!  The two bedrooms were good size, each with a closet; though, typical of the period, the closets were very small.  The home had only one bath; describing it as mid-size would be exaggerating, but it was workable enough for one and would suffice when My Only came down on weekends.

All in all, I kept walking around, smiling and returning time and again to the dining room, the fireplace, the kitchen, then back again.  In only a few short minutes, I had given myself away.

This is the one, isn’t it?

Yes, I think so…  I absolutely love it! It reminds me of the older home my aunts and uncles once lived in in Berkeley years ago.  It has personality…LOOK! The built in room divider!  I could just see my things sitting on the shelves there…

Well then, guess we’d better go back and write up an offer!

We left to do the initial paperwork at the office.  Then, each of us decided it was too early to call it a day; so now what would we have to do?  I mentioned the art and wine festival that was downtown this weekend; if I bought the glasses, would he pay for the wine?  Seemed like a plan.  We spent a really nice Indian summer afternoon in the downtown district, sipping some wine and realizing that we both loved art and artsy stuff.

As luck would have it, the Realtor and I had decided there was something more than first met the eye…somewhat surprising as neither of us was actually looking for anyone at the time.  When I think back, I suppose getting locked out of a patio door at one home for sale and laughing over a cheap liver and onions dinner one evening eventually broke the ice! He didn’t have much money nor did I.  Neither of us was anything more than we presented; there was no pretense. There was also no denying that we were beginning to run out of ways to spend inexpensive, Saturday afternoons…

The house closed about six weeks later.  I took ownership a few days before my last month’s rent was ended, and took a couple days off from work to paint a good portion of the home’s interior.   In between painting, I had begun stripping some of the old wallpaper.  We would eventually find beautiful redwood paneling surrounding the fireplace wall.

I say “we”.  I sent out Christmas cards earlier than usual that year, announcing my remarriage as of November 29th:

I bought a house and

the Realtor came with it!!!

 

Couldn’t have dreamed up that storyline in a million years…

LEFTOVERS

LEFTOVERS

How many frogs does it take to cook a turkey?

Only one; it’s genetic and she’s damn good at it!

Our kitchen was always fragrant with onions, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme… one of the neighbors from around the block would walk up the driveway and comment,

Whatever you are cooking smells wonderful! Even the flies are gathered at your kitchen window screen…

Mom took this remark as it was meant to be; a compliment. She was normally preparing a holiday or family dinner.  Often, the flies had gathered on the days she was preparing the farce, a traditional meat stuffing combination of beef and pork, cooked with the seasonings, then ground very fine with her hand grinder clamped to the side of the chopping board.  Stale French bread soaked in milk and squeezed almost dry, an egg, and some salt and pepper – Voila! Farce; smelled absolutely divine and scented the entire driveway and two doors down in both directions.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey would be one of two main entrees.  Ham was normally the second, unless Daddy decided to barbeque a leg of lamb. All Daddy had to do was normally clean and ready the old round charcoal barbeque; then wait for Mom to tell him the lamb was prepped.  Daddy’s station was the backyard.  The rest of the meal was in Mom’s kitchen.

Preparing a dinner was always an exhausting effort; no matter the year, the turkey dinner had to be perfect and complete. Thanksgiving might be an American Holiday, but the cuisine had definite French overtones. Nearly every dish took two to three days to complete.  There were no shortcuts in Mom’s kitchen.

At one time, a first course soup with a small amount of pasta was served. Mom made the bouillon from scratch.  End of the first day, she’d place the pot on the dryer to cool down overnight.  Next morning, she’d skim any beef fat that might have congealed so to clarify the broth for serving.  On the holiday, she’d boil the entire pot once again, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and then add the very tiny pieces of vermicelli.  The plates of soup began the meal.

Somewhere between the bouillon and crab salad a bread basket arrived, a bottle each of red and white wines, and the antipasto plates; one plate included salami with prosciutto, and the other was a sectioned glass dish of pickles, black olives, and pepperoncini.

Time to prepare the individual, molded crab salads.  The crab mixture had been made the day before. It included canned crab, finely chopped hardboiled egg, minced celery and parsley, held together with Best Foods Mayonnaise, a bit of lemon and dash of salt and pepper.  Mixture was moist and stored covered the day before. Plates were readied with endive and escarole, and then light vinaigrette was spooned over each.  We watched our aunt don her cobbler apron and team up with Mom; they each knew the others’ actions because they had assisted my grandfather in his kitchen “down the house”.  Our aunt and Mom always enjoyed working together; it was just like old times for them. One was as much a perfectionist as the other, so they got along just fine.

As we grew older, Mom would let us mold the crab mixture in a small demitasse cup, just the right size for a dinner menu this grand.  PLOP! The small little hill would sit in the middle (if all went well) and then one would sprinkle a bit of paprika on the mound for color.  A black olive on top, a lemon wedge on the side. Perfect! The salads were stacked inside the fridge, on tops of jars and other glass containers to remain chilled for serving.

Years later, we convinced Mom to skip the soup; none of us younger generation missed the clarified broth very much; personally, I thought the final dish was not worth the effort. The individual crab salads were so colorful that Mom finally omitted the first course soup and we placed the salads directly on the dinner plates.  They looked so pretty and became one of the last finishing touches before calling everyone to sit down.

Petit Pois (peas) seasoned with green onion, garlic and bacon were prepared; as were Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, yams simply glazed with some brown sugar, and cranberry sauce – both whole berry and jelly (these were the most American recipes on our table; American was defined as anything non-French looking, possibly from a can, sweetened, easily served and didn’t take much fuss.

Cheese, bread, coffee with brandy and a store-bought dessert ended the meal; homemade pies came much later once Bro married a gal who could really bake!

No course or detail was omitted when the aunts and uncles came over.  The entire dinner was served on a linen table cloth, with matching linen napkins that Mom had “done up” herself, another expectation that she fulfilled having inherited the French Curtain Laundry gene too.

What is the ONLY reason to cook a turkey?

Leftovers… of course!

I remember the one Thanksgiving that Mom was rather relaxed in the kitchen.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed this.  She even decided that we girls could help with the hors d’oeuvre plate and whatever we did to make the items look pretty would be okay.

Okay? This from the same mother who told me that the way I chopped carrots made her laugh?

I was starting to be concerned… Mom was smiling,  laughing with us in HER kitchen,  and whatever we did was OKAY???

Then it hit; no aunts or uncles were coming; we’d be just the immediate family this year.

Brat and I told Mom we liked her much better when the relatives weren’t going to have dinner with us; that she was much easier to be around.  She took this all in, and didn’t even get angry.  I think she realized just how much she had worked all those years and wasn’t even sure herself if she needed all the fuss to enjoy the day…that was a nice moment of awakening in Mom’s kitchen for us all.

Must be genetic; in true Rubberneck Avenue fashion, I have exhausted myself cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner.  Mine is updated; no soup,  a crab salad appetizer, some tweaks here and there.  Oh yes; bread dressing a la Americaine.

So, I must console myself this Friday After with only leftovers … it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to keep up the family traditions…

We Were Americans

Mom and Dad brought a common heritage to their first and only new home on Rubberneck Avenue.  Our table had the same four food groups from “down the house” like our grandparents‘ home: wine, French bread, salami, and cheese.  The traditional hospitality of offering a casa croute (sharing of the house bread) continued on Rubberneck as well.

While our table often identified us as French descent, herein lay the distinction:  we were Americans first.  We joined the melting pot of other first and second generation families whereby respect and love for country were inherently as important as the November celebrated reason for gathering.   Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth, we ate turkey on Thanksgiving; the main course, however, was followed by the required bit of French bread and blue cheese to enjoy with the last sips of wine, while we listened to the stories that our uncles with accents had to tell.

Talking Turkey

Our most American tradition – celebrating the year’s harvest and blessings – is once again upon us.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that Americans can historically claim as our very own. Does that mean that other peoples before us were ungrateful?  Not by any means.  But IT IS OURS, the one day on the calendar that evokes a melting pot of commonality, culture,  and deep emotions; encouraging a nation of immigrants to give official thanks for the many blessings and bounty we share in our land.

I submit that while holidays can be difficult at times, maintaining some or all of the family traditions can be especially comforting; let these rituals provide the familiar landscape wherein each of you can still participate, even if the role is slightly amended from years before.  If need be, add a new tradition. I suggest:

The “Talk Turkey” Challenge:

  • Give yourself permission to share a story that you’ve never told before; grandparents, this means YOU.
  • Encourage all ages to join in the conversation.  Keep the technology at a minimum (football games excluded)
  • Don’t pull rank; parents often do, then wonder why the kids never talk.  Embrace the ones around you; life is too short to let a minor grievance ruin the holiday camaraderie.
  • Allow a bit of silliness!  (Not necessarily at the expense of table manners, but you be the judge; lots of family stories evolved from dinner tables in past years; try not to shudder.)
  • Fight over the last drumstick; cajoling a sibling into a little childhood skirmish can be fun, especially if one or both parents or an aunt or uncle are still around to watch and laughingly reminisce…
  • Consider each new happenstance a future memory; find the humor in it and laugh together.
  • Look into each face around the table. Observe the personality nuances and mannerisms.  In as brief a span as five years, table personalities will change; children will grow, friends will leave the area; family branches will sprout afar.
  • Can’t travel to be together this Thursday?  Just wait until the next time you can all regroup!  The possibilities are endless!

Growing up, it was easy to take the Thanksgiving holiday for granted; November was a happy month, the start of the Holidays!  Some of us matured rather abruptly once we saw our president assassinated; we all remember where we were, who informed us, and the immediate days after when, as a grieving nation, we gathered that next week to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Many of us remembered only a little boy saluting goodbye to his daddy.

The old adage, Death has no age, was suddenly meaningful; it is this year for some whose  loved one will be missing for the first time this Thanksgiving.  The holiday season can be a particularly painful period.

The coming months present some economic challenges for many; some earners last year are currently unemployed and find themselves in a completely different scenario than the last time they hit the pavement.  Hitting a keyboard can be just as frustrating.

Thanksgiving will arrive just the same. This season, keep our fellow countrymen in prayer.  Choose how to make Thursday one of the sweeter Thanksgiving Days in recent memory.  May we forever feel a depth of gratitude for the lives and goodness He has bestowed upon each of us.

Rejoice! Celebrate! Praise God! Lastly, may God Bless America.

The Seasons Are But Few

You loaned me once a garden, and whispered quietly,

See what you can create in it with tools and reverie.

You’ll draw from each day’s tending any lessons meant for you.

Understand the garden beds are loaned; the seasons are but few;

They’ll come a time when blossoms fade; remember well their place!

I heard Your Admonition as each season showed its face.

 

I came to know, try after try, each bloom would have one chance

To catch my eye; my stewardship became more joyful with each glance!

Nine years I worked those garden beds; my turn to pass the rake had come.

I one last time watched roses climb; old fashion scents spiced cinnamon.

The lemons, ripened on the tree, awaited the next someone’s hand.

Impatiens filled small garden spots, sweet rose-like, ruby, budded strands.

 

I walked outside the back, recalling once more words You’d said;

I touched the lilies; marguerites; the fuchsias bowed their heads.

Beneath the overhanging branch, I looked up toward the sky.

Releasing hold and heart, I whispered thanks, and accepted why.

When I’m Reduced to Prayer

 

When weakened by dismay, Lord, remind me that You care.

Restore in me a thankful heart.  Cajole me into prayer!

 

When weakened by life’s hurts, Lord, remind me that You live.

Restore in me a quiet peace. Teach me to forgive!

 

When weakened by earth’s trials, Lord, remind me that You know.

Restore in me a calm repose. Feed me; help me grow!

 

When weakened by life’s games, Lord, remind me You are near.

Restore in me a sense of trust. Protect me from such fear!

 

When weakened by temptations, Lord, remind me You were man.

Restore in me a humble bent. Call me, take my hand!

 

A Family Affair

I remember walking around the corner shoe store repair, heading back up the street on the way home with Mommy that day…she was really excited! Mommy had her carryall filled to the brim with lots of good things.  An aunt and uncle who lived very far away would be coming to visit us in the next few days.  I asked who they were.  My mother told me that I had been too young to remember when they last visited.

You know your little pink rocker, Annette?

Ohhhh…the light bulb was beginning to turn on…  They were the ones who had sent me the small rocking chair with its rattan seat; something especially for me from very far away.  So, I knew of them by the little rocker that was mine.

One thing about listening to my mother – you got a textbook history in any and all topics – and their story was no exception.

Originally from Georgia, my uncle had been stationed in California many years before. This Georgian absolutely loved kids and noticed a little guy in the neighborhood playing all alone.  Apparently, my future uncle asked the little guy’s mother for permission to play ball with him; that’s how my uncle met my aunt, who was my father’s baby sister, a young WWII widow.  Eventually, the two adults fell in love and married.  Years later, my cousin would follow in his new father’s footsteps and also choose a Navy career.

Mommy continued on…Uncle was now a Lieutenant Commander.  Mommy stressed how very important his new position was.  Actually, my mother stressed about almost everything!  Aloud, she hoped she had picked up enough French bread and that the meal she was planning for the night at our home was different than what another sister-in-law would be serving, and that she hoped we had enough cheese and salami on hand…Mommy’s excitement was absolutely infectious!

There were a few times that I “connected” well beyond my four years of age, with the particular significance surrounding our household events.  Hence, I was starting to pick up just how very important their visit would be, so I asked Mommy:

Will we have to salute him?

Naturally, that made the rounds pretty quickly once their visit had begun.

By the time I was growing up, Armistice Day had been renamed Veterans Day; my mother made sure that I knew the historic background of our country’s holiday at a very early age.  I had a cousin who was born on Armistice Day when it was Armistice Day.  I was born on Christmas Eve; thus far, no one had renamed it.

This would be the first of many visits from Uncle Bake and Auntie that I would actually remember.  So, I listened quite intently as Mom explained that because Uncle was still in the Navy, they couldn’t visit us very often – like around the holidays – when most families gathered.

Because their visits with us were always limited, the days took on a holiday feeling when these two returned to the West Coast.  Each visit might be short, but that wouldn’t stop any of the siblings from filling it as full of family good times as the suitcase full of comfort foods returning with Auntie.

One of the things that Auntie missed most was the sourdough French bread; no matter where in or out of the country they had been stationed, she still claimed nothing ever came close to the bread from California.  Over the years, the older siblings would chip in and help fill up one suitcase going back with Auntie and Uncle to their next post; it would be filled to the brim with Larraburu French Bread and enough salami to feed a company!

Each May Americans remember Memorial Day with a quiet moment of reverie for the family members who have passed on; the same ones we used to hug and kiss goodbye, then send off with a suitcase full of Home.  Today, there remain several opportunities for those of us who want to support our living Veterans and current military men and women; they, too, would appreciate receiving “a bit of Home” now and then.   None of us need wait until May or November to remember our military.  Their calendars have twelve months, just like ours do!

So, when a few extra dollars can be found, at any time of year, send them on…the internet makes it easy to find a favorite charity, adopt a soldier, gift a military family, or send a donation to your local VFW or USO.  Then pack that picnic lunch and give thanks for another holiday in this precious land…