Growing up I found glasses restrictive when it came to dance and later when I would swim with my young daughter. Wearing contacts, having Lasik surgery, and then ultimately needing Cataract surgery, I was a guinea pig on more than one occasion. My experiences were highly unusual. Important information!
Valentine’s Day has always been special to me. I can remember as far back as elementary school thinking about my classmates and carefully deciding which rhyme on each card was best suited for my friends. The verse was important; I didn’t dare use the word “love” for a boy. When my daughter Mariah was in elementary school she also was quite discerning when picking her choices from the collective bag of 32 valentines purchased at the drug store. She and I have taken the day seriously. For many years we made our own cards for as many as 50 friends and family. We used watercolors, acrylics, doilies, old-fashioned stickers, glitter and glue. We would top off each design with an appropriate poem. This project would begin early in January, as each layer needed time to dry. What fun we have had with the symbolism of February 14th, a great time to honor our loved ones with sentiment from the heart.
My husband Bryan and I had only been together a few months when St. Valentine’s Day
approached in 1986. I was still healing from years of sickness as a codependent woman.
This was the first time that I was able to give something romantic to a man without feeling needy and trying to control the gift exchange. I didn’t have much money at the time but that didn’t stop me from creating a valued gift. I decided to present him with a basket containing items to stir his five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. I found an inexpensive woven container at Cost Plus and lined it with pink and red tissue paper: For sight, I created a collage filled with a variety of colored hearts; A tape, “Love Songs Are Back Again” by Band of Gold for sound (this wasn’t his taste in music but it is the
thought that counts), Men’s cologne for smell (I found out later he didn’t wear
cologne), For taste, home-made brownies that I learned right away WERE his favorite, and Soap on a Rope for touch. To this day, I feel “Soap on a Rope” is an odd phenomena. It isn’t comfortable to use but it looks practical. These five items completed my presentation.
What I didn’t know was that Bryan had a surprise of his own. A new confectionary had recently opened on 16th Street in our San Francisco neighborhood. An industrious
couple that made the most delicious chocolate leased this small space. They displayed gorgeous velvet heart boxes filled with their trademark truffles. I would walk by there on my way to the trolley and admiringly dream of receiving a beautiful burgundy box. Of course I didn’t dare mention this to Bryan because our relationship was new. He too
passed this store and purchased a box for me, presenting his gift accompanied with a bouquet of flowers. I was deeply touched because I had never before received a heart shaped box of chocolate from a beau. Joseph Schmidt, the owner of the confectionary, became known all over the world. After 25 years in business he sold his company to Hershey. I was fortunate to receive many heart boxes purchased from their outlet in San Francisco but none quite as precious as that first one.
I am sentimental. Bryan also had another gift, one that blew me away. From his pocket he pulled out what looked like a heap of metal wire. I didn’t know what to say because I wasn’t sure what it was. As I looked more closely and unraveled the cluster, I saw that he had fashioned a hanging heart wire sculpture. This piece of original art has rusted over time but it continues 25 years later to hang in our kitchen as a reminder of the great
guy I married. He has always told me he wasn’t creative. I beg to differ with him. I was filled with as much joy from that moving design as the luscious burgundy velvet box stuffed with Joseph Schmidt .
Gifts from the Heart
Are you stumped when it comes to giving gifts? I want to share some
creative ideas to arouse your imagination. When you acknowledge another person with a thoughtful gesture, you will be fulfilled as well. It feels good to see someone smile. Don’t be shy, try one of these today.
1. Purchase disposable bread pans with lids (they often come 3 to a package.) Bake your
favorite bread mix and then wrap it with a beautiful bow. If you can’t tie a bow, no worries, they are sold ready-made in bags.
2. Take pictures of your family and friends doing ordinary, everyday activities,
outside and around the house. Have duplicates made of the pictures (often the second set is free.) Purchase small inexpensive albums, found at camera shops and large drugstores, with slots for 12-24 pictures. Give these to people you love. Parents and grandparents treasure these tiny albums.
3. If you have a digital camera or phone, take the time to e-mail friends and family on your mailing list with current pictures. Keep the camera with you to catch unexpected events.
4. On index cards or colored construction paper make a series of coupons wrapped
together with a ribbon or stapled into a small booklet. Be imaginative with these coupons. For adults: a home-cooked meal, an evening at the theater, a night out dancing, babysitting for the kids at no charge, a weekend getaway, a day at the beach, and on and on. Think about this one. What would the person really want and need, that you are able to give? I have done this so many times. It is really fun! You can do the same for children: A day at an amusement park, swimming at the beach, a professional baseball game or other sports, books or videos of their choice. Just be sure with the children’s coupons you are prepared to do what you offer. Be specific as to how often they can be used or give them one at time.
5. Support your friends and loved ones by calling them on the phone or stopping by their
house to listen from your heart. Ask questions about how they are feeling. Often when our elderly relatives begin to repeat themselves we tune out. Make an effort to really listen and be there for them.
6. Always send a thank you note when someone sends you a gift. Paint a picture with words. Describe how special the gift is and how you plan to use it.
7. Write a letter to a friend who has lost a loved one. After a few weeks, call them on the phone and let them talk about their loss.
8. If you are one of those rare people who find cleaning and organizing therapeutic, offer your service in a card or coupon. A couple did this for me once. It was amazing. They did a spring cleaning in my apartment as a birthday gift. Wow!
9. Take a friend or loved one to a concert or a sports event, even if it isn’t your
taste. Make sure they are available that night and then surprise them with tickets.
You can really make this special by also taking them out to dinner.
10. If you are a couple, include a single person with you for a night out. I have talked
with many divorced and widowed people who feel lost and alone. They appreciate being included for an evening of fun.
11. Offer to drive an elderly person without transportation to do his or her daily chores.
Sometimes people are debilitated and need help with their shopping. If they are incapacitated you could do their errands for them.
12. Bake a variety of cookies and place them in a decorative tin or basket. Use cellophane
to wrap the package and then tie it with a beautiful ribbon and hanging gift card. Sign your note with a gel pen and remember to draw a heart whenever you sign your name.
Love, affection, tenderness, empathy, understanding, and friendship all radiate from the center most vital part of our being. From heart to heart, soul to soul we infuse energy into our consciousness. For each of us on the road to healing it is the best way to come to life. I am going to give of myself today. What about you?
Today, Dec. 7, 2011, Bryan and I are celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We are happily married and share a wonderful life with our teenage daughter Mariah. Our relationship has defied the odds. I have told our unusual story many times and it remains one of the most popular narratives on the internet. Here it is:
Living Rooms and Leaky Roofs
Instinctively, I knew something significant was about to happen this Saturday morning November 16th, 1985, but exactly what, I wasn’t sure. I climbed the ladder leading to the top of my inner-city cottage in a noble attempt to repair my leaky roof. Raindrops rhythmically filled the buckets in the back room as the biggest storm of the year began to descend upon San Francisco. My financial situation was bleak; I could not afford a professional roofer. Armed with ebony tar and plastic sheathing I attempted to hoist myself over the gutter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t tall enough. I never liked being short. And that day, I hated it. I also didn’t much like the fact that I was a single woman and must attack this task alone.
I combed the block to borrow a taller ladder but none of my neighbors were home. Then, I noticed the front door was open to the second story flat in the building directly across the street. I knew at least two guys lived there. Earlier in the summer they had flirted with me. I remember thinking how young they were compared to most of the folks who had been in the neighborhood forever. With trepidation I climbed the worn stairs to the apartment in the azure painted Victorian. I let myself in, walked down the long corridor to the main living room, and introduced myself to the stranger lounging on the sofa. He was shocked; he didn’t recognize me either.
Without hesitation I said, “I know you don’t know me, but will you please help me fix my roof?” There was a lengthy silence. I came to my senses and felt the flush of embarrassment. “Oh, I’ll understand if you don’t want to. I’ll wait for your roommates to get home. What time do you expect them?” They were the ones that had ‘come on’ to me, not this sandy-haired fellow who was now staring at me with a bewildered expression. After an excruciating wait he said, “I’ll help you.” Slowly he got up from his relaxed position to change into coverall work clothes.
As he lingered in his bedroom I thought to myself, “Am I crazy? Am I pre-menopausal? Does this happen in middle-age; you lose your mind?”
As he walked out of his room he told me his name was Bryan and I told him I was Kay. He then proceeded with my eccentric request as though the labor was routine. He hauled the supplies to the roof while I frantically tried to straighten up my house. After some time he told me he needed more tar. I agreed to make the trip to the local hardware store.
What I neglected to tell Bryan was I didn’t have a car; the trip to the store was to be on foot. I was in a bind; I had less than $20 to my name and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the purchase. Luckily I had just enough with a few bucks left over to buy each of us an apple fritter.
When I returned, my new acquaintance said, “Where have you been? The ladder fell away from the house and I have been waiting for hours!” He was stuck on the roof. It kept going from bad to worse. What could I do to thank him for his generosity? Lunch was out of the question; my refrigerator was empty, with the exception of ten bottles of nail polish. Varying from shades of mauve to darker mauve (they basically all looked alike) the bottles were lined up neatly in the portable vegetable crisper. There was no food! It was then I remembered the pastry. As Bryan washed his hands, having finished the repair, I offered the apple fritter. He said, “Sorry I don’t like apples.” I felt dejected and thought, “Who doesn’t like apples?”
Self-consciously I replied, “Well I wanted to do something womanly for you.” By the look on Bryan’s face I knew I had contracted ‘Foot in Mouth Disease.’ I’ll never forget his expression! I practically choked trying to cover up such a major faux pas. Something womanly indeed! What I meant was something involving baking, but you can’t make brownies with nail polish. It didn’t seem to matter that I had nothing reciprocal to offer. We talked in my kitchen for over an hour. I found him attractive and virile and I remember thinking, “What a nice guy; too bad he is at least a decade younger than I.”
When it was time for Bryan to leave, we paused at the front door. He said, “We have pizza parties at our apartment every week, would you come?”
I was flattered and at the same time a little sad. My answer was, “I am probably older than your mother.” I wasn’t kidding.
He replied, “That’s ridiculous. How old are you?”
I knew I would never need to tell my age because surely he wouldn’t pursue me after today. Shyly I responded, “I’ll tell you the next time we get together.”
He quickly said, “We don’t have to wait for pizza parties. Will you have dinner with me Monday night?”
I was dumbfounded. My answer was yes but I felt uneasy about my decision. The minute I heard Bryan walk down the steps I ran to the telephone to call my dear friend Rosemary. She gave me ‘thumbs up’ and encouraged the date. She said, “Go out and have fun; you don’t have to marry him!”
Monday morning I found a sopping note from Bryan on the front stoop. It said he was called to work on the ship and he had to cancel our dinner. I was disappointed and I am not sure I believed him. I thought he might have reconsidered because I was an older woman.
The phone rang Tuesday while I was giving myself a manicure. It was Bryan. He wanted to come over and hang out. Hang out? I wasn’t sure what that meant. I said yes and put away the polish. When he arrived I was fanning my wet nails in the air. He told me to finish the job; I didn’t have to stop to entertain him. The subject of my age came up. The words were stuck to my throat and I hesitantly coughed the answer, “I’m 44.”
“You are older than my mother but I’ve always dated older women.” I felt the floor sink beneath me. Bryan was 25 years old.
Our first official date was the following Saturday evening. As we sat on velvet paisley cushions on the floor of an authentic Moroccan restaurant, eating with our fingers, a tidal wave of energy flowed between us. Our feelings were raw and primitive yet noticeably familiar. We felt our connection was distinctive. After dinner we walked a few blocks to Ocean Beach. Luminous stars were dancing over the swell of the waves surging to the water’s edge. With our feet in shallow sand, Bryan kissed me for the first time. I was swallowed by passion, lost somewhere between confidence and panic. I was falling in love. Do I dare?
Within six weeks Bryan moved across the street to my house. I remember thinking, “If it doesn’t work out it will be easy for him to move; his inventory consists of a few clothes and a TV.” Almost immediately we began talking of marriage and sharing the rest of our lives together.
Before we could announce our engagement Bryan was adamant that he would tell his mother of our plans. The first time he flew to southern California alone for a weekend visit. When he returned Sunday morning I said, “Did you tell her, did you tell her?”
“I couldn’t,” was his reply. My heart sank. “You will have to meet her first.”
The very next weekend we both drove to Laguna. On the way there Bryan told me how he was going to break the news to his mom. He planned to take her shopping the next morning while I stayed with his aunt. I had a wicked stomach ache the entire eight-hour trip. I didn’t sleep a wink that night and spent time in the bathroom vomiting. This was one of the most fretful days of my life.
Returning from their shopping trip Bryan’s mother looked like she had been to a funeral. She took the news hard but was gracious to me the rest of the weekend. When we were getting ready to return to San Francisco she said, “I remember telling Bryan he would never meet anyone sitting in his living room. This could be interesting having a peer for a daughter-in-law. At least we’ll have the same taste in music.”
Today Bryan’s mother and I have a great relationship as I do with his siblings. No one seems to be the least concerned about our age difference, just as it is with Bryan and me. I can honestly say we don’t even think about it, only perhaps when writing an article or seeing a celebrity couple in the news. Sixteen years ago we adopted a beautiful baby girl at birth when I was 54 and this year we are celebrating our 25th Anniversary. We both feel fortunate I needed my roof repaired that rainy day many years ago in San Francisco.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO MY DEAREST HUSBAND BRYAN
After months of worry, loss of sleep, and visits to three different veterinary clinics in the Bay Area, I am overjoyed with the results of a medical condition affecting our beautiful Red Exotic feline we call Leo. I owe this all to the skill and care of Dr. Stacey Holtz and the staff at the Four Seasons Animal Hospital in Lafayette, CA.
My daughter Mariah named our cat Leonardo Da Vinci in honor of the master painter. His breed of feline is picked most often to play the lead in cat movies because of their flat faces and big eyes. Not only is he fun to look at but his disposition is sweet and loveable. Mariah said last summer when we were dealing with a hospitalization of our other cat Yoshi, “If anything happens to Leo I would just die.” I knew how she felt because I too find him irresistible.
During the summer, just a few weeks after Yoshi came home from the hospital, I noticed that Leo appeared to have a dark brown beard all around his mouth and cheeks. It was very strange. I had never seen anything like it. Since our responsible veterinarian, where we live in Oakland, was out of town we were given information by the visiting vet at his clinic. She told me this, “Leo has an infection causing the scabbing and inflammation around his mouth. Perhaps he caught something from dirty dishes.” I was surprised because I have had 13 cats in my adult life and I go to great lengths to feed them and care for them properly. Leo and Yoshi eat from very clean dishes and always have fresh water available. Before we left the office that day the female veterinarian had her technician use a comb to get rid of what she called dead skin. I was too shocked to say much but I took home the antibiotic she gave me and administered it to Leo for two weeks. The inflammation went down slightly but never really went away. By the time we returned to see our trusted veterinarian Leo was beginning to bleed from his eyelids and lesions started to appear on his face. It was awful.
Our vet took one look at him, did some tests in his lab, and sent us to an eye specialist in El Cerrito, CA. After a through examination this wonderful woman recommended Dr. Holtz, a DVM specializing in Dermatology at the Four Seasons Animal Hospital, but before parting she said, “We are all partners in finding out how to help Leo.” Please stay in touch and have Leo’s records sent here.” It really made me feel better to know that the doctors’ at all three clinics were caring, concerned and willing to share information to find out what was wrong with our beloved pet.
It was so painful to watch our precious Leo covered with abrasions all over his head and feet. He barely came out to see us and was more comfortable sitting in dark, quiet places. Mariah and I knew he was suffering and all we could do was follow the routine with his medicine, change of diet and give him lots of love. This took several months of patience and prayers. Dr. Holtz and Freddy her technician has made this whole process bearable. Dr. Holtz was always extremely detailed, friendly, honest and hopeful. She never promised anything but I would leave each visit with a letter of instructions and how to reach her with questions at any time. I felt confident that Leo was in the BEST hands, a veterinarian who dots her “i’s” and crosses her “t’s.”
Today we have a well, happy boy as you can tell by his picture. It is so wonderful to see Leo playing, purring and being his usual adorable self. To me it is a bit of a miracle. Thank you Dr. Holtz!
I wish each of you a bountiful Thanksgiving. Every November Bryan, Mariah and I celebrate this holiday at Eagle Crest Resort in central Oregon. We love the wonderful people we have met over the years, the beautiful mountain views of Sisters, the sweet smelling Juniper trees and the delicious Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Pine Tavern. We feel blessed to spend our vacation in such a special place. Every year at this time I reprint an article I wrote several years ago. It is a story of my past that continues to make people laugh. I hope you enjoy it.
“Will you stop it?” I nervously repeated to my brother John. “Stop it; I just want to get home before someone sees us.” We were schlepping a huge wire shopping cart filled with a big bird, a big dead bird, and all the accoutrements for the next day’s Thanksgiving dinner. The sign on the cart read, “DO NOT REMOVE FROM PARKING LOT.” I was 13 years old and my sibling 11. John was driving me crazy by jumping on the over-stuffed cart, watching him slip and slide down the icy sidewalks on the way back to our apartment. We had been ordered by our mother to make this mile long trek to the super market because we had just experienced our first winter storm and she didn’t want to drive there with my step-father’s car. She didn’t own her own vehicle. We may have been poor but one thing my mother did try to do was have delicious meals on the table. But, they came with a price, always! The beginning of today’s outlay was; we were frozen to the bone as we pushed the cart through the snow dodging any kids playing outside who might go to our local elementary school. We were both humiliated for not following the rules, (my brother less so than I) and for taking the cart. We didn’t want to be seen by any of our peers, and we were dreading the trip back. Oh yes, we did have to return the empty cart and then walk home again.
In our house meal time was a huge production, even everyday meals. Holiday dinners were especially dramatic. We had purchased everything on the list and didn’t dare sneak any treats for ourselves because once my brother had stolen a candy bar from the drugstore and my mother made him return it and apologize to the druggist. I, too, had taken some colored cotton balls from a friend’s bathroom and was reprimanded severely. Neither one of us wanted to face my mother’s wrath so we made sure we only brought back what she requested. By the time we returned home, the final trip, it was cocktail hour. She and my stepfather Charles had just begun to warm up from the bitter cold outside. John and I unpacked the groceries eyeing everything that was needed for the Thanksgiving dinner. We were starving. Actually we were hungry most of the time. The reason being; there were NO snacks allowed in our house and by the time we would finally eat dinner each evening it would be around 8:00–9:00 pm. As we were putting away all the items in the refrigerator we spotted a box of Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles on the second shelf halfway to the back. It was new, for we hadn’t seen it earlier. What was distressing for two hungry kids was the sign that read, “PRIVATE PROPERTY, DO NOT TOUCH.”
Wow, this fueled our anger and we began plotting how we could get some of those turtles. We knew Charles had planned to offer chocolate to his guests and that it was hands off for us. We were never allowed the same delicacies as he. Charles had a lot more money than we did and he didn’t like to share. My brother and I were called “It” and “Ut” and were in the way of his codependent relationship with our mother. The food for the Thanksgiving meal was a different story. Because it was a holiday and my dear Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally were invited, we knew we would be fed. But that wasn’t until the next day. We couldn’t stop thinking about the box of candy. We wanted to taste the gooey, rich, caramel and pecan chocolates. So began our scheme.
John said, “I will get the chocolates from the refrigerator but I need to wait until they have had more to drink.” It was about 4:00 pm and both my mother and Charles were glued to the kitchen where they had easy access to the fresh turkey and the liquor cabinet. My stepfather had been sitting at the end of the table all day and was happy to direct my mother’s culinary skills. She was the chef but he insisted on acting like he was contributing to the cooking. That evening, before the big day, I was asked to make sandwiches because they were busy cleaning the bird, and preparing special stuffing, vegetables and sweet potato dishes. I did this gladly because my brother and I were so hungry and it meant we wouldn’t have to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 pm to eat. As I was making the tuna salad I was eagerly observing their every move. I noticed with each dish they created, the box of turtles was slipping further to the back of the refrigerator, almost out of sight. My brother would feign interest in their progress, peeking into the fridge. He too wanted to make sure the chocolates were still there. We all ate our sandwiches at 7:00 pm and the two adults finished their work around 10:00 pm. Of course each endeavor was preceded by a cocktail. By the time they were ready for bed they were both pretty crocked.
Phase One was over, they were asleep. We now were ready for Phase Two: retrieving the box of candy from the refrigerator, taking our share, and returning the turtles without being caught. John and I agreed to meet in the hall and from there we tiptoed into the kitchen. We were fearful of turning on any lights so we felt our way to the fridge. We opened it carefully using the inside light as our guide. Our first hurdle was the turkey that weighed 20 lbs.; not easy to move quietly. I held the door open with my back while each of us used both our arms to lift it out. We were careful not to scrap the pan as we dragged it from its position. What we didn’t do was agree on where to put it while we worked. It was dark in the kitchen and we couldn’t see each others eyes, so for a few seconds we were left holding the bird midway in the air. I was frustrated because I was afraid of speaking at all. Finally I whispered, “Move it to the table.” With a loud clunking sound it landed on the metal surface. We both froze for a few seconds thinking we had been heard. When nothing happened we preceded to move the other dishes out of the way. We knew we had to work quickly and chose to leave all the food on the table. John grabbed the Mavrakos and we tiptoed to my bedroom where I had hidden a flashlight earlier in the day.
The brown and white chocolate box was wrapped in a layer of cellophane. There was a folded flap on both ends of the candy. I took a nail file from my mother’s manicure set (she always left it in my room hoping the some day I would care for my nails the way she cared for hers) and cautiously wiggled the file under the fold. It was tedious. I knew I couldn’t tear the paper and take the chance of being found out. I also was afraid Charles would awaken. Vacillating between patience and apprehension, I opened one end of the clear plastic covering. With my right hand I gingerly pushed the box through until I could pull it out without disturbing the surface. It worked! We were “In like Flynn.” John and I were both so excited we could barely contain our emotions. Inside were three layers of luscious cocoa brown turtles just waiting to be eaten? We pigged out! I must have eaten six by myself. I didn’t count how many my brother ate. When our cravings were satisfied, we were down to one layer. Uh oh! What to do now? I carefully folded the two pieces of parchment which had separated the layers and put them in my pocket. To fill the space I lined the chocolates neatly in rows. We then returned the Mavrakos to its plastic cover. We were lucky, it slid right in. I licked the flap and miraculously it re-stuck. Feeling quite smug we retraced our steps and returned first the chocolates then the rest of the food to the refrigerator. We each went to our individual bed and fell asleep feeling proud of ourselves.
The next morning everyone in the household was up early. Charles was already perched on his throne, the heavy metal chair at the end of the kitchen table. There was an empty shot glass next to his coffee cup. These days he spent most of his time grunting and grumbling under his breath about the two “Things,” (my brother and I) he was forced to have in his life. Warily he made a list of the appetizers, entrée, side dishes and desserts without ever making eye contact with either John or me. He had organized the menu in outline form. With great effort I tried to read what was on Charles’ tablet as I was concocting the cranberry salad. I was especially interested in the last section: D for Desserts. There it was the last item on this lengthy bill of fare, Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles! As he always said, “Save the best for last!” This was before the days of fancy truffles when turtles were the finest offering for a special occasion. Oh dear! I was worried.
What I enjoyed the most about holidays at our house was decorating the dining room table. My mother didn’t feel confident with design and it since it was evident to everyone that I was the artist she left this part of the celebration to me. She was the gourmet and she wanted her food to be shown as beautifully as possible. This always went well because no one else wanted the job and I actually loved it.
I started with the table. We had an old, worn, heavy, mahogany, monstrosity when opened up held twelve people. Unfortunately I needed Charles help putting in the leaves. He managed to pull himself from his seat in the kitchen because I think he enjoyed what I did with the decorations. From the closet in our apartment that held linens I chose a beautiful beige crocheted cloth that my Aunt Letha had made. My Aunt had generously brought over her silverware earlier in the week which we always appreciated. For the centerpiece; I hollowed a pumpkin, zigzagged the edge, and filled it with miniature papier-mâché gourds which I had made ahead of time. Each cloth napkin was rolled and tied with an earth colored ribbon and topped with a twisted ribbon rose. I drew the name of each guest in calligraphy on colored paper placards. Burnt orange tapers, wrapped in tissue paper from the year before, went into my mother’s silver candle sticks. (We never burned candles; they were only for decoration, which made it possible to reuse them several times before they faded.) I wished setting a table and beautifying the dining room could go on all day. I much preferred this to being in the crowded kitchen where the atmosphere was progressively deteriorating the more my mother and Charles had to drink. Usually cocktail hour started at 4:00 pm but on a holiday it began as the meal was being prepared. In other words, it went on all day.
“KAY! KAY! KAYEEEEEEEE,” my mother shrieked. “COME IN HERE! You were supposed to make a pie! A pumpkin pie!
“You never told me that!” I said and I started getting a stomach ache. (I had so many stomach aches in my youth I wished I could wear a heating pad under my clothes.)
“Why do you think I had you buy all the ingredients for a pumpkin pie if you weren’t going to make it? I don’t do pies! I do cakes!” My mother had already prepared a sumptuous chocolate up-side-down cake. I was true, her cakes were amazing, but I knew nothing of pie baking and was totally taken aback with her request. “Get busy, you still have time. Use the ready-made crust in the freezer.” Oh dear, I wasn’t a cook and didn’t feel comfortable in their kitchen. When I read the recipe I was a relieved to see that this pie would miraculously solidify in the refrigerator. It didn’t have to be baked.
“But do I have enough time?” I thought. Our guests were due to arrive in three hours. “Oh well, I’d better go for it.” Fortunately this seemed like an easy method to make a dessert. I carefully got out all the ingredients I needed, plus the proper utensils, and lined them up on the kitchen counter. I had to pile a few items on top of each other because my mother was using most of the counter space. I had learned in school to take my time and carefully read the measurements: 1 can pumpkin (15 oz.,) 4 oz. PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese (softened,) 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, and so on. The instructions were very clear but I was a nervous wreck. I did the best I could under the circumstances. When I was finished, I hesitantly balanced the pie plate and put it in the cold refrigerator nearby the turtles.
When our guests began arriving around 5:00 pm I happily served them hors d’oeuvres which consisted of cream cheese spread in celery, sprinkled with paprika, which I had made myself. At the time I thought that was a big deal and loved eating them as well. There was a five minute discourse as to the correct pronunciation of paprika. Was it “papreeka” or “papraka?” This drove me nuts. I couldn’t care less. Charles was in charge of the drinks which were mixed cocktails. The booze flowed freely and the noise level increased with each hour of the party. It was expected that my brother John and I would entertain the group of adults with our rehearsed vaudeville routine. There was a small space in the alcove between the living room and the dining room which we used as our stage. The two of us loved performing and this was our chance to get some attention from our family. What we didn’t expect was what we happened that night.
We put on our costumes and danced to jazzy music coming from our 78 record player. It was so much fun! I took myself quite seriously and thought I was the next Isadora Duncan. My brother wasn’t much of a dancer but he was called rubber legs for the way he could twist his torso like a pretzel. We always looked forward to these family recitals. All of a sudden Charles began mimicking what he had seen at Vaudevillians Theater: “Get off the stage,” he shouted. “You are done, you are a has-been.” At the same time he pretended to throw rotten eggs. “Take this you two. Take this!”
My mother at first looked surprised and then to my astonishment she too began shouting. “Here is a rotten tomato!” with a theatrical arm throwing gesture as if she were pitching a baseball. All the guests participated in this improvisation to our horror! We were devastated! Both John and I ran to our room crying while the group, slurring their words, practically in unison, called us spoiled sports. So much for partying and living it up with liquor!
Aunt Letha came to our room to try and patch things up. She didn’t participate in the drama but she was too afraid of my mother and Charles to support our feelings. “They were just playing and kidding around,” she said. “They didn’t mean any harm.” She was looking down at the chipped linoleum, kicking it with her foot, and she added, “Come back to the group. It is time for dinner.”
Neither John nor I wanted to look at any of these people we called relatives but we were hungry. We begrudgingly left our spot on the floor of our bedroom and took our place at the table. The turkey with all the trimmings looked spectacular on the colorful table. I felt a rush of excitement for the part I played in making the environment look so inviting. For a minute I felt like I was in another world; a world of beauty, balance and harmony. But it didn’t last long. One of the adults said, “Oh Letha, isn’t this the bedspread you made for Aunt Martha?” She was referring to the magnificent crocheted tablecloth I had chosen from the linen closet. Everyone looked down at the table and immediately let out a roar of laughter. I indeed had picked the bedspread which was thicker and bumpier than the more delicate tablecloth. I felt terrible. It wasn’t funny to me.
Most of the meal was spent with the sounds of silence, with the exception of the occasional lip smacking from Uncle Joe who claimed the louder the smacking, the better the food. I don’t remember Grace having been recited not do I remember giving thanks for anything. After dinner we paused for a least an hour for everyone to refill their high-ball glasses. My brother and I crouched in a corner fiddling with a deck of cards. We were dreaming of the desserts and couldn’t wait to take our pick. We knew we would have to wait for the adults to get inebriated before they wanted the sweets but it didn’t take long.
Soon someone said, “Where is that pumpkin pie I heard Kay made?” I was kind of excited myself because I had never made a pie before today. Charles piped up with, “We also have Jane’s delicious chocolate up-side-down cake and Mavrako’s Turtles.” I helped my Aunt carry in the choices and back to the table we went. In fact my mouth was almost watering. Everyone wanted the pie over my mother’s chocolate cake. I watched her carefully because I didn’t want her to feel my dessert was getting more attention than her up-side-down creation. She didn’t seem to mind and was anxious to taste the pie. My heart sank at the first slice of the knife. It was absolutely liquefied; it wasn’t in the solid state it was supposed to be. What happened? I’ll never know for sure. Did I measure wrong or wasn’t there enough time in the refrigerator? Everyone insisted on trying it. I couldn’t believe what happened next. The whole family exclaimed how delicious it was, some even saying it was the best pumpkin pie they had ever eaten. At the same time they were raving about the pie, Charles was opening the box of turtles. “Hummm,” he said. “They certainly don’t give you very much for your money anymore. They are about the same as the price of gold. Enjoy, have a chocolate.” So much for partying and living it up with liquor!