Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mom Memories - Thanksgiving Pie

Thanksgiving has always been a family time and was traditionally celebrated at my parents’ house for as long as I can remember. There would be anywhere from 14 and 28 people stuffed around two dining room tables, which had been pushed together. The entire living/dining room area had to be re-arranged; the coffee table and living room chairs moved to other locations. It was always hectic, with lots of laughs and plenty of noise. At some point mom would start digging through drawers and cupboards a contained state of panic, searching for the Thanksgiving napkins she’d bought on sale at Big Buds. She liked to hide things, but she could never find them when they were needed. So, at Thanksgiving we’d end up with St Patrick ’s Day napkins (there's not a drop of Irish blood in the family), at Christmas the table would be decorated with Easter paraphernalia, and Easter inevitably meant candles with Thanksgiving turkeys on them.  The amount of food was always outrageous and delicious. Once dinner was finished, dishes would be piled two feet high on the kitchen counter and the desserts would be brought out. Mom would have baked 3 or 4 pies, all with crusts edible only to a certain point, then impossible for me to eat. She worked for years in food services in the mess halls at Uplands so all veggie trays came decorated with radishes that looked like small mice, and carrots in the shape of party favors. Dessert squares were always presented on small red or green dollies, which we ate along with the dessert squares because they were impossible to remove.  Mom was in her glory at this point in the meal, and her stories and reminisces would begin. We’d heard them a thousand times, but it didn’t matter. She had a stage, and we were her audience.

In 2006, we made the tough decision to move our parents out of their home and into a retirement facility. Dad had been diagnosed a few years before with Alzheimer’s disease. Mom had suffered a couple strokes which took their toll on her vision and comprehension, fallen down the stairs and fractured her spine and hip, and had been battling colon cancer.  We had delayed the move as long as possible, even going so far as to install automatic stair climbers on both stairways so she could ride up the stairs instead of walk. She used them to transport laundry and out of date celebrity magazines, not herself.  Dad was becoming more and more confused and thin.

Being at the retirement home obviously changed the dynamics for holiday family dinners. Instead we gathered at my home. Their small unit did not have an oven for safety reasons. It probably shouldn’t have had a stove top either. Lots of charred pots, but nothing Old Dutch or Javex, her two favourite products (unfortunately), couldn’t handle.  Holiday dinners were especially tough on her.

Mom’s last Thanksgiving with us was one for the books. She wanted to participate so was assigned two activities, rice krispie squares and pie crust. The rice krispie squares she prepared at the retirement unit.  She was an insanely messy cook, so I figured the best plan was to pick her up the night before Thanksgiving and bring her to my house where she had a lot more room to prepare the pie crust dough.I had all ingredients on hand as instructed. She washed her hands and got right to it. I stood by waiting to assist. I can cook, but I am no baker. She started adding flour, shortening etc. to a large bowl, then an egg and some water and started mixing it, then kneading it, and kneading it some more. I do not make pie crust, but I know kneading is not a good thing for pie crust. She stood covered in flour. My counters were a mess. She had a look of determination on her face, her eyebrows vexed, lips tight together. Finally, she laid the huge ball on the floured counter and started to roll it out with a rolling pin. It was impossible.  Not only wouldn’t it roll, it wouldn’t extricate itself from the rolling pin. She persisted and it ended up as a ball in her hands again. Now she turned on the cold water and ran the dough under it. Then she tried the rolling pin again. My counters were covered in small cement like pieces of dough. She looked at me almost defeated. She still had it between her hands and was beating on it. She looked at me with an ‘ah-ha’ moment, smiled and told me she had forgotten to add the vinegar. Vinegar was poured over the dough, and the rolling pin came out for Round 3. Finally she admitted defeat, gave up and admitted to me that she couldn’t quite remember. I felt bad for her. It was after 10pm when I took her home.  Once back at the house I frantically searched for a pie crust recipe that didn’t call for shortening or lard. I found one that used butter. So this time I made the pie crusts using two knives to combine the ingredients. I was thrilled when they actually turned out. Finally, I had made what looked to be perfect pie crusts.

Thanksgiving Day after the meal, the desserts were rolled out. Mom uncovered her pan of Rice Krispie squares. The top was sprinkled with ...parsley. It was for decoration, she said.  When the family dug into the pies, the accolades began. What wonderful pie crust! Mom just nodded, smiled and thanked everyone.   

Happy Thanksgiving ! 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tart Talk - My Friend 'Evil Marie'

I thought it might be fun to 'honor' some of my friends by sharing some favorite stories. I wrote this a few years ago when a good friend was turning 50.  She had (has) an alter ego named ‘Marie’ who is her direct opposite in personality. Marie loves Richard Nixon, pearls and black dresses, has a peculiar 'queen like' wave, can do a perfect imitation of Elmer Fudd's 'Fire' and dislikes rude furry felines. The best one word description for Marie ...evil. 

Excerpts from the TART** interviews…  In September we’ll be witness to a monumental event, the 50th birthday of the world renowned, much loved, often feared Marie . IIn anticipation of that grand event the TART took to the road earlier this year to interview a number of individuals who have crossed paths with Marie over the last number of years…

From an Interview with Richard M. Nixon…

Tart: Mr. Nixon, few of us knew Marie in the early 70’s during your disastrous fall from grace but in later years she always maintained you were set-up as the fall-guy. Can you comment sir?
Richard M. Nixon: Certainly. I’m afraid my memory is even worse that it was then, but I do remember Marie. She was a bright beacon in the night. That girl actually believed in me. Perhaps it was only pity…but what the hell. She warned me even before that Watergate fiasco…STAND UP YOU LOSER. BE A MAN.. NOT A SCHUMK. STOP YOUR GODDAMN LYING and CRYIN’. I wish I had listened.
Tart: What is the last memory you have of Marie?
Richard M. Nixon: I guess it was that last walk across the east lawn and up into the Air Force II helicopter. I turned to wave and there she stood…like a sentinel in the crowd. I waved once….she did  that little fluttery wave like thing she does so well, and that was it…it was over!

From an Interview with Margaret Thatcher…

Tart: Lady Margret, I recall in the early 80’s that the British press were absolutely frantic after someone broke into No. 1 Downing and absconded  a glorious set of pearls, a family heirloom I’m told, never recovered. Can you comment?
Margaret Thatcher: Yes, yes, they were lovely indeed. Kept the beauties in my girdle and thong drawer. Such a shame.
Tart: Is  it true,  years later when visiting Canada you believe you actually spotted the thief at a dinner reception in Ottawa.
Margaret Thatcher:  Yes there sat the thieving  bitch dressed in a black suit with my dead grandmothers pearls wrapped around her neck looking eerily like a Margret Thatcher imposter!   In fact at a later reception we actually had a picture taken together. This Marie woman was cagey enough to have removed the pearls for the portrait. Her companion was a swarthy looking Mexican fella.
Tart: Do you regret not wrestling her to the ground?
Margaret Thatcher:  Absolutely and if I ever happen to see her again she won’t be so lucky…

In conversation with SPAWN (ex-feline of Marie)

Tart: nice to see you again after all these years .the Plastic surgery has certainly helped keep the authorities at bay.
Spawn: Yeah and helped keep that bitch marie from a search and destroy mission.
Tart: Recall for us, if you will, Spawn from Hell, that sad day in the spring of 94 when you knew it was time to move on..
Spawn: yea sure. Well me and my two fat buddy cats had heard the whispering between Marie and the Mexican for days but couldn’t quite make out the words. The Mexican was trying to appease Marie ...but you knew where that was leading. Cripes, when Marie got her small twisted mind around something..that was it. We started noticing some other clues as well.  The Mexican who was as  retentive as hell when stacking our vittles, ya know, by color, by date, by flavor stopped doing so. The fat cats thought he was nuts, but I kinda’ liked the variety. The Mexican liked to match underwear and socks. Us three cats would laugh until we started choking up hairballs and end up peeing on the floors. And that’s where the trouble started. 
First the floor...then the leather couch! BIG DEAL! But that evil Marie..she didn’t see the humour. The whispering meant only one thing…out! The Mexican dragged us down to the Humane society (nice name huh?) Marie tried to look sad. Someone will take us she said..yea sure..a couple of 15 year old matted queens. Two days later I blew that joint. I’ve been in the witness protection program ever since, hence the disguise. Someday though...I’ll be back..they don’t call me Spawn from Hell for nothing. Got that Marie’s new address?
Tart: No comment. Thanks for telling your story Spawn.

The Tart caught up with Mr. Elmer Fudd at his Hollywood Hills home…

“I’m switting in my cwar..I turn on da’re wolding me quose..I jus’ say whoo..”

Tart: Excuse me, Mr Fudd can I have a few moments of your time?
Mr Fudd: Well..certainwy
Tart: Mr Fudd I want to take you back if I can to Ottawa Canada in the summer of 1989 when it came to your attention that a local woman had been impersonating you singing your hit song “ Fire” at  impromptu performances for her silly friends.
Mr Fudd: Wes..dat’s twue Ms Twart. I was on twour in Canada hunting dat wasscally wabbit  when it came to mwy attwention that this Pwincess chick was entwertaining her fwends by imperswonating me. The ferver has cooled down ower time but I know dat witch is swtill out dere singing my goddwam song! I ewen hear she twinks she’s dwat ratfink chipmuck Chip! Can  ya believe it..her and some DALE lookalike traveling around pwetending  to be dose two chipmucks ! Wat daya  twink of dwat?
Tart: Weird isn’t it ? Thank you Elmer Fudd. .

Other Marie episodes from 'Tales from the Tart' vault…

The Picnic Bitch Chronicles: These episodes took place over several seasons until the Picnic Bitch Tiara mysteriously disappeared.

Sunday Morning Coming Down : Sunday morning in Borehaven…  
 Marie rides her bike over to visit the Tart for a Sunday morning coffee. It’s 10:30 am. The Tart, who has no conception of how to survive in surburbia and has not made contact with the neighbors in 6 years except to harass their animals, decides the coffee is in need of some Baileys....

The Night Stalker: How Marie tried to run down the Tart one dark night..

Caught in the Act: How Marie was finally caught sitting parked in a Mini-van..something she swore she would never do. The Tart has the photo.

Valentine’s Day Massacre: How the Tart survived an overnight adventure in the BVI's with Marie and The Munk, by attempting  to fly her underwear from a hotel fan in a vain attempt to seek help from passersby.
A Toad’s Tale: How a lovely summer brunch outdoors at the Munk's turned into a 'pee your pants' event when Marie was bombarded by toads dropping from heaven. 

** Tart is one of my nicknames.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mom Memories

It’s coming up to the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s taken me this long to allow myself the luxury of thinking about her. Before now, anytime she moved into my thoughts, I quickly pushed her away. It was still too hard to think about her.
Grace and Rose
Last week I took dad to see mom’s only remaining sibling, her sister Grace, who lives in a nursing home not far from where dad lives.  My mom Rose and Grace were the closest in age and were the best of friends. When they had the opportunity to get together at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they shape shifted. They were no longer 80 and 82, but 10 and 12. They always snuck upstairs at some point in the evening, and closed themselves in a room. There they’d whisper together,  and examine the contents of several bags each of them had been saving for the other. Several of us downstairs would get called up to try on something that was 3 sizes too big or small, or hadn’t been ‘in style’ in 10 years. No matter, Grace had been a seamstress for 60 years. Nothing was wasted. When Jerry’s long sleeved shirts wore out at the elbow, Grace would cut the sleeves off and make the shirt into a short sleeve shirt. She’d even take the buttons she’d removed from the sleeve and sew them on as decoration around the now ‘too wide’ sleeve hole. They were a riot. Mom could make Grace laugh until she cried. They told many stories of their youth. One of my favourites had to do with an old pair of boots. I can remember the boots sitting on top of a home-made pine closet in Grace’s tiny bungalow, just east of Ottawa. They were rotted black rubber boots cut off long ago just above the ankle. They hadn’t been worn in over 70 years, but for a pair of ageing sisters, all you had to do was mention those boots to stir up laughter and memories of a time long ago.
Front - Rose and Grace (1936?)
Rose was born in 1924, the twelfth out of what was to be a family of thirteen children, on a farm east of Ottawa. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her younger sister Grace a couple years later. After their mother’s death they were cared for by older siblings. The family was extremely poor but resourceful and hardworking. Rose was a rebellious tomboy known for beating up on the boys at school, especially if they teased her or her sisters. There was only one pair of black rubber boots to be shared by the three youngest girls. Each morning a fight ensued before the three mile hike to school, to determine who would wear the boots. Rose usually won. Often she would attempt to hide the boots the night before. At dinner one night the smell of rubber slowly permeated the kitchen air. Rose had hidden the boots behind the wood stove. Fortunately, she was able to save them by dousing them in cold water but they had to be severely cut down. 
One Sunday morning when Rose was seven and Grace five, they were left alone at the farm to do chores while the rest of the family attended church. Rose was cleaning out the wood stove and had given Grace a bucket of ashes to discard behind the house. Instead, Grace threw them behind the chicken shed. The resulting fire destroyed both farmhouse and barn. Clouds of black billowing smoke could be seen for miles but nothing could be done. Rose and Grace sat weeping at the end of the lane, terrified of the punishment their strict father would deal them. Luckily, Rose was wearing the black rubber boots.
After the fire, the family was split up and sent to different farms to live with relatives. Rose and Grace lived and worked on their uncle’s farm. Often they’d hear the train whistle blow in the distance, stop their field work and run the half mile to the track to wave to the engineer on his way to Ottawa. Each time he passed he would blow a special whistle just for them. Rose wanted nothing more than to take that train. Ottawa was only thirty miles away, but it may as well have been on the other side of the planet. 
When Rose was sixteen she took that train into Ottawa and left Grace in possession of the old black boots. Grace never got rid of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where were you Kelly??

Ok I'm 57 years old and I signed up for a Womens Adventure Bootcamp a month ago, because my friend Kelly told me how much fun it was. Right. Day 1, it's 6am and I'm standing in what used to be an old corn field with a group of mostly 30 somethings. It's dark, and we're being asked why we're there. There is no rational reason. I was living and working in Vancouver when most of these women were born. It's been gruelling to say the least. I am almost always the last person to finish anything.
This morning was the worst. I woke up at 525am and looked outside. It was pouring rain. First thought....I am not going. Then I started thinking about Kelly. I debated...would she show? I thought yes, she did last week after a Muttley Crew meeting where we inhaled a lot of red wine. She showed up, I didn't. So there I was in the dark at 605am lying in a sandy puddle doing pushups on a wet yoga mat that had been taken over as a worm raft. Where was that Kelly??