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…

That Blackest of Fridays

Seems like the American media never miss an opportunity to take a tragedy and embellish upon it for later publication. Obligatory markers are a priority, and sadly, JFK’s Assassination is no exception. 

This is the fiftieth anniversary; the media’s obsession and fascination with unanswered questions, conspiracy theories and the renewed cold war climate has again spun its web around our hearts, luring us into a personal time capsule to endure another painful return voyage. 

My journey always begins on the entrance steps of one junior high school in the Bay Area; we were seventh grade “scrubs”, so enjoying the sunny, mid-day lunchtime break was just another Friday with my friends at our usual spot. I remember no faces, just a mass of chatter spilling out of the cafeteria, spreading the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

The president would want us to go on…

How did my gym teacher know what JFK would want?  None of us sitting there in our gym clothes were able to fully comprehend, let alone focus, on the class requirements before us. The few minutes between the principal’s announcement in the cafeteria and the beginning of fourth period was certainly not long enough for any of this horror to sink in; we were still in disbelief and few details were known. Our president assassinated? In our own country? In Vice President Johnson’s Texas? How were we supposed to run laps and play a game as though nothing had happened?

Until that noon hour, we students were an innocent but idealistic bunch, having been inoculated two years before with the Ask Not serum: 

Ask not what your country can do for you;

Ask what you can do for your country.

 

JFK’s quote hung in our school’s front showcase. Many of us were planning to join the Peace Corps when we were eligible; or, at the very least, become teachers and serve the needs of children on our own soil.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was 43, the youngest man and the first Catholic to take the oath of office; handsome and somewhat boyish charm aside, he was also a WWII Navy Veteran.  Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade?  It was within our grasp because this was America, where anything was possible if one believed and envisioned it so.  JFK’s youthful exuberance represented all that was historic and bold and fresh about the American Dream. 

Mom had the television on when I came home from school. The black and white screen repeated the same footage all evening:

There was the young President and First Lady walking along the airstrip fencing, shaking hands and greeting loving well wishers; the handsome couple smiling and waving in a motorcade; and then the distortion of confusion ina shaking, hand-held camera, capturing the indefinable moment. 

News reels would always follow with photos of people crying in the street, discarded roses lying on the floor of an abandoned limousine, and eventually, Walter Cronkite’s tearing up and wiping his glasses on camera as he completed the official pronouncement that President Kennedy had died.

In between the broadcasts, we reminisced: Mom remarked how JFK had “pardoned” the traditional White House Thanksgiving turkeys just a couple of days earlier; what had been a light-hearted presidential photo op now, in hindsight, seemed eerily foreboding; our president had received no such pardon.  

Grasping for some comfort, Mom and we girls took turns leafing through the magazines stacked on the fireplace wall shelves; midst the keepsake newsprint inserts from the weddings of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Margaret Truman were some Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, and other periodicals with Jackie on the cover; color photos of a loving mother with her two darling little ones were rampant, as was the genteel coverage about her maternal fragility. Jackie had been plagued by difficult pregnancies; she had recently lost their third child.  Any woman’s magazine worth its salt had taken a turn extolling the virtues of this young, refined and well-educated thirty-something who had become our youngest First Lady.

Like many families, we had accepted all the hype and the story lines, including the media’s making of a pill box styled Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.  This was the era when Washington as well as Hollywood deleted any scandals from the story lines that might implicate repetitive or rampant undignified behavior by our government leaders; the Kennedy Administration was no different. 

I remember the initial telecast of asides from grief-stricken public figures.  Ladybird Johnson mistakenly remarked that the most terrible travesty was that the assassination had occurred in her beloved Texas.  She later apologized for this faux pas, clarifying that the most terrible travesty was the loss of our beloved president.

The swearing in of Lyndon Johnson by necessity took place on Air Force One.  The new widow insisted on attending, so the ceremony was delayed until Jackie’s arrival. The historic snapshot conveyed a grief-stricken assembly of figures; the viewers’ eyes eventually focused on the blood-stained skirt in the foreground. Some reports suggested that aides had encouraged Jackie to change her clothes for the historic ceremony, but Jackie had refused.  She reportedly responded, “I want them to see what they did to Jack”. 

I had much admired Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as First Lady, but her words struck me to the core.   I absorbed them completely. I waited for some type of explanation or retraction, but I never heard the First Lady apologize for that which in my sensitivity was a deeply punitive remark.  

We prepared ourselves for the weekend’s continual coverage; maybe new reports would offer some of the missing details.  We were glued to the screen the entire morning when we witnessed in real time Jack Ruby walking up to Lee Harvey Oswald and shooting him at close range. 

Dear God! What must we endure next?

We were all in a daze; even the solemnity of a four day weekend of national mourning didn’t close the door on the restlessness or fear inspired by these two indescribable acts. 

Images…the boots facing backward in the stirrups, the black bunting across the White House windows, the little guy saluting his father’s caisson… I had expected historic precedence to console… now, one man’s visions had been diminished to an eternal flame, extinguishing a fountain of youthful promise.

There was little consolation from the Warren Report.  I quickly caught the cynical virus from the adults.  I couldn’t then and still can’t break away from my initial skepticism that the historical summation by the Warren Commission was a political assessment rather than conclusive of either guilt or trajectory findings. The report at best rubbed salt in our intellectual wounds; few Americans accepted its findings as convincing; and the government’s decision to seal the documents for fifty years fed our doubts and fueled every conspiracy theory that later arose.

Some years I managed to set the painful memories of November on the back burner. But American journalism’s insistence on commemorating a Camelot that never really existed made forgetting the story’s tragic ending impossible.  They stirred the pot enough so to keep us somber and close to a  seems like just yesterday awareness.

Not that we needed any reminders. Poignant images presented themselves with or without the help of the media; they were permanently embedded in our common psyche. Each November 22nd , we who were old enough to remember that day recalled where we were… and when we heard… and how we as a country mourned. 

I do not exaggerate when I state that a part of my own emotional maturity was frozen in place on that blackest of Fridays; but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that JFK’s death was only partially to blame; my brother’s nervous breakdown in September had already altered some of the family dynamics.

Neither my brother’s vulnerability nor JFK’s death would fade away very quickly.  From my eleven year old eyes, I wasn’t sure of anything that autumn of ’63 except that my immediate future held more sorrowful weeks ahead.  I sought escape where I could, and burrowed even deeper into my school studies, managing to accomplish a fair amount of distance during waking hours before going to bed and shutting myself away from my family’s personal heartache.

Historic events come and go; unfortunately, the more dramatic ones languish much longer than we wish, lurking in the shadows like smears of glue that have yet to dry clear, leaving unwanted traces marring an otherwise precious entry in our life’s scrapbook…

 

DNA of Carpetbaggers

I was really captured by the Great Society Program begun by President Johnson.  I told Daddy that I thought this was the correct thing to do: to give our country’s citizens a fair shake at a new beginning; it just seemed relative to the Civil Rights movement, and I saw the president’s vision as nothing short of admirable.

Daddy was a fair man but a bit more cautious; he agreed that President Johnson’s ideas were based on many good and righteous things. No one could argue against a war on poverty; but in Daddy’s experience, he argued that giving something to people in need didn’t necessarily make them stronger; nor did it teach them to take care of themselves. Daddy understood the human limitations in the president’s vision.

So, what did the Great Society actually accomplish?

Unfortunately, carpetbaggers selling a great society still exist some forty years later; some as intimidating and as mesmerizing as filmdom’s Elmer Gantry…perhaps that classic should be written into the curriculum for the junior high level.  I say junior high because of the great number of emotions and popular fads that tend to distract an already difficult and distracting decade for teenagers.

Sadly, one needn’t research Hollywood’s files to recognize the DNA of carpetbaggers.  They exist in current pop culture as well as political arenas; unfortunately, the more fantastic the dog and pony show, the more effective; especially on the lesser educated masses.

How our country has cheated our native born youth is despicable.  My assumption that all American children had access to an excellent education was quickly corrected once I experienced some conversations in a nation-wide call center. For over ten years, I discovered an ever decreasing, socially inept group of individuals from all races and ethnicities (no one region of our country was left untouched). Sadly, on any given day a number of calls would display the following traits:

Ignorant; these individuals thru no fault of their own could not read at a third grade level; they often struggled to read the manuals and, in some cases, had to be walked through the simplest instructions.  Funny how polite and thankful they could be…

Stupid; these individuals had, to their own credit, honed a “you can’t teach me anything; I already know” attitude; odd that several of them were degreed and in the professions; their natural layman’s sixth sense had been woefully affected by too many tight neck ties …

Illiterate; these individuals were often harder to discern; one had to listen carefully; then, when they walked through the step by step instructions referencing only the illustrations, it was at that point the light bulb went on! One realized just how dependent they were on others to survive in our written word world.  They rarely admitted their inability; often, they profusely thanked me for being so patient.

Uncivil; in this group, individuals could sling insults and four letter words at an incredible speed! They hurled them at both men and women representatives (they were extremely even-handed in their brusque manner).  As the years passed, their language (always unprintable) increased beyond incredible!!!

Apparently, arrogance has slowly replaced much of the civility of social graces; like mob rule. Supported by a group mentality, a bad attitude offers not only strength in numbers but also bi-partisan money-making opportunities by keeping victims at hand.  A few irresponsible individuals in protest, available to argue their talking point entitlements, make for great drama, especially on YouTube.

Perhaps we need to redefine the term: Affirmative Action.

Let America’s citizenry affirm:

  • That legal Americans only (by birth or process of naturalization) can work to further their education.
  • Let the border states uphold both their own states’ laws and the constitutional republic’s laws.
  • When possible, subject captured illegals to either deportation or community service – let them work for the money our country gives them in hospital care and other program services.

We have youth of all ethnic groups that were born here.  They are being used, demeaned, and ignored while politicians clamor for this year’s electoral votes.  I am appalled that we are still cheating the youth of this country, just because they do not meet the “hot minority of the moment”.

You are being used by politically savvy mouthpieces… wake up! Demand better! Or, better yet, leave the party and vote independently…YOUR voice of disgust and embarrassment over these political hacks must be heard!

We don’t need Spain sending representatives over to count our ballot boxes.  We need upstanding citizens answering to their local county clerk and volunteering to count the ballots.  If you remember nothing else, a constitutional republic begins with WE THE PEOPLE.  Exert your independent voice and get involved before your citizenship is declared moot.

Loaves and Stripes

Having been raised by older parents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII,  I was keenly aware what America and its values and opportunities had afforded them and their immigrant parents.  Lessons were repeated year-round, during big and small occasions, on everything from soup to nuts or, in the case of our home, from bread to uniforms.

I was very young and had helped Mommy carry home some of the groceries that day.  I was tall enough now to help unload the items, so she instructed me to put the fresh loaf of French bread on top of the washer, a surface that was often used for spillover storage in our kitchen.  So, I pulled out the long loaf and plopped it down.  Mommy immediately picked up the loaf and, turning the label and bread right-side up, gently replaced it back onto the washer’s surface, explaining to me as she did:

We never put a loaf of bread upside down or treat it roughly, Annette.  You should always lay it down with its top crust facing up; this is a matter of showing the proper respect and thanks for the food we have on our table. We need to appreciate all we have, Honey…

That made quite an impression on me; but the story wasn’t finished.  Mommy shared how when my grandfather had first come to America, he tasted the soft white bread and thought it was cake.  Throughout my growing years, Mom’s grocery lists always differentiated between French bread and American Bread, i.e. normally either Roman Meal or Wonder Bread.

Testimonials from Hollywood stars were in full swing; commercials first appeared in black and white on families’ original round screen televisions; those families who didn’t yet have their own TV could congregate down on the boulevard and watch the exciting new technology through Uncle Al’s TV Sales and Repair shop window.   Even Annie Oakley solemnly stood there and, with conviction, promised the parents just how good Wonder Bread could be for their children; it helped build strong bodies in eight ways!  What parent could dispute that?

Many years later, I married a man eight years older than I; one of my more enjoyable one-liners was reminding him in front of others that by the time I was born, food science had advanced so much that Wonder Bread now promised to build strong bodies twelve ways!   The line was simple but effective.

Then of course there were the men who wore uniforms – police, military, didn’t matter.  We were to address them with absolute respect.    Regarding the veterans around us, I was instructed by both parents not to ask any questions about their war years.  Daddy would later clarify:

The ones that seem to talk a lot are usually the ones that saw the least; don’t believe everything you hear.  Learn to watch who the quiet ones are, Annette; they are most likely the men who experienced the horrors of war and saw the most hell.  You’ll never hear them admit how bad it was, or even talk about their experiences, not even after years have passed…

Most of Daddy’s peers had either served in the war or had worn a uniform in some capacity.  Daddy was too old to enlist, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t serve in some capacity, so he left his pattern-making job and helped build semis for the war effort.  I grew up hearing stories of how my family and others learned to live with rationing of such things as sugar, meat, fuel,  ladies hosiery…nothing that I would ever really comprehend well, since Mommy and I just walked down the boulevard to pick up sugar when we needed it.

The war may have ended, but the life style habits were deeply rooted and affected our upbringing.  We wasted little in our home, and we were grateful for everything, no matter how minor the item might be in the greater scheme of things.  Whether in private or in public view, we children were expected to behave at all times, which included please, thank you, and responding when spoken to.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and all American holidays, flying the flag on each day that the local merchant’s calendar instructed us to do so!

Our American Flag even flew from our front window sill on July 20th, 1969, when man first walked on the moon.  Mom and Dad insisted and I obliged, as it was easier now for me to reach the holder fastened above shoulder level.  Among that summer’s snapshots is a photo of our flag on display in front of our home; there are no markings on the back, but I know it was taken on that same day because it meant so much for our family to share in our country’s pride and greatness.

 

 

Got Juice?

Husbands and wives have lots to learn about housekeeping practices, including the manner in which the family refrigerator is organized. Take designer containers, juice keepers, bottles or pitchers; do you know which ones are normally used for breakfast juice or leftover coffee at your love nest address?

My father learned this the hard way, having mistakenly heated up the contents of a covered glass jar and served it to my mother for her Sunday morning coffee.  Unfortunately, olive juice does not taste anything like coffee, even with added cream and sugar.  Fast forward a few years ago.  My Rogue arrived home before me and during the course of the evening commented on how “very sweet” that juice is, but he’d get used to it.  My immediate reaction was to ask “What juice?”, but after he had described the particular pitcher, I made an immediate beeline to the kitchen.  No need to panic, I assured myself.  I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator, filled the hummingbird feeder, and then settled in for my weekend’s quiet vigil.

Seven Sure Signs that my hubby mistakenly drank from the pitcher containing hummingbird syrup:

Number 7:  When his favorite barber asked, “Want the usual?” he responded “No, just feather the sides, please.”

Number 6:  He changed his voter registration to the Green Party.

Number 5:  He was the only fan sitting at the tennis match who moved his entire body from side to side during each and every rally.

Number 4:  He insisted on our choosing a garden theme with lots of red accents for the master suite.

Number 3:  He now prefers Landscaper’s Challenge to Monday Night Football.

Number 2:  He showed an unusual and renewed curiosity in my old houseplants.

Number 1:  He continually switches from chair to loveseat to sofa and back to chair during cocktails.

Innocent Bystander

For the most part, my father was a very unassuming man in attitude and countenance.  It didn’t help him at the age of ten to have been compared to his older, more handsome siblings.  All nine were lined up in front of some old French woman who had decided it was her position in the small community to rate the physical attractiveness of each child.  She began with the girls, remarking how tres jolie each one was, and similarly with the young beaus of the family, when she came to my father.  This was the English translation:

“This one’s homely, but he’ll improve”.

To hear Daddy tell this story many years later, he said he immediately hung his head down in shame.  A remark like that stuck.  He could laugh about it now, and for the better part of his life he adapted a self-deprecating nature.  He could be competitive, however! He excelled in sports and was a great ball room dancer, so he made his own mark in the pool of available young men in West Oakland.

Daddy was still a rather bashful young man, often turning down a drink with the requisite Non, Merci (en francais), rarely accepting anything unless he was completely comfortable in the situation.  Years later,  he shared how he had learned his lesson the hard way, having passed up lots of good port and sherry over the years at Mom’s aunt’s house, wherein a guest would only hear an offer once per visit (and visits could be as long as two or three hours).  Daddy smartened up after a few times and quickly accepted whatever cocktail was first offered! My guess is that his desperate Yes, please was more than likely uttered in English; his French was very poor (as Mom reminded him and constantly corrected his pronunciation).

Clothes figured in there somewhere, but the young man who had once cut a slender form in the required barbershop jacket and straw hat had succumbed to the more comfortable striped overalls and gunmetal work pants that so expressed his tradesman persona.  This was the man I knew; the one who was lovingly cared for by Mom.

Overalls saved the knees from linoleum laying wear and tear. Daddy in overalls saved Mom a lot of fussing; for one thing, she didn’t have to constantly remind him to Pull up your pants! Also, as Mom continually emphasized to him, the stripes made him look thinner. Seriously, for a man standing at five foot four and one hundred eighty, this was somewhat of a stretch in my view.

But dear Mom wasn’t through with my father yet!  She already scolded him when he didn’t part his hair just perfectly.   As Daddy once retorted:

I could be lying in the box and you’d still be complaining my hair wasn’t combed just right!

For Daddy, Mom’s corrections became a game.  Regarding his French accent; he’d repeat her corrected sentence and dramatically extend the last syllable, emphasizing the rolling r’s and the lingering a’s just to irk Mom… This worked; Mom might be shaking her head in dismay, but she was laughing as we, at his irreverent, playful responses!

Daddy had never been a scholar, but his wood working and cabinetry were among the best of his class. He was not exactly a Jesus the Carpenter type as depicted by European artisans, but he was a man whose skilled hands, work ethic, and compassionate demeanor were evident in his countenance. My father was without pretense and very unassuming, even when he had reason to be extremely proud of his accomplishments as a son, a husband, a father, and not the least of these, a first generation born American.

Thus, I always found it comical that, no matter the occasion or the opportunity,  most of our family pictures with Daddy included his sitting or standing among us, looking as though he ‘d accidentally walked into the wrong group photo… as though he were an innocent bystander who just happened to get caught in that particular Kodak moment…

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…