‘The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material’ – Robin Williams
I sat cross-legged on the blanket with my two babies – our treasures set before us – the delicacies I’d climbed up onto the kitchen chair to pluck from the furthest reaches of the high wood-planked cupboards. Pastel colored tiny marshmallows, breadsticks, rusks, cheese, salami, mandarin oranges, baking chocolate, crackers, roasted peppers, marzipan, big soft pretzels, bean dip! Nothing ‘matched’, none of these foods were anything that ‘mattered’, really. They were just the usual things that somehow live along the edges of the kitchen. Like the Tree That Grows in Brooklyn. Weeds of food. But set out on that blanket on the floor cocooned in the tiny house under five feet of snow and all the world a solid frozen white, the forest with its trees fat and heavy falling towards and almost over the rooftop of this encapsulated scene where we sat talking nonsense and singing nursery rhymes – these ‘nothing’ foods became the most magnificent feast one could imagine.
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Mary, the blonde wisped woman, didn’t have a car. I’d stopped to ask if she wanted to go to the grocery store with me, since town was a good five miles from this steep mountain with the perilous rutted roads we’d somehow both ended up living on. She never wanted to go.
“Tim gets the groceries,” she’d say. Tim was the man at the head of the table. Tim was her second husband. Tim, she’d married to have a ‘good father’ for her children. Tim’s job was as a guard at the State Prison. Tim, left Mary day after day in their home with no money, no car, and not enough food.
The women of the town started talking about Mary. Her girls had been dropped off by their stepfather at more than one of the fun summer things planned for the town kids, and everyone agreed – they were ‘nice kids’. But there was that one big problem: children were supposed to bring their own lunches and snacks for these day-long summer activities. And Mary’s girls always turned up empty-handed. They’d said they ‘weren’t hungry’, that they would eat at home later – and that’s what Mary said too when asked about it. That they would eat later, they didn’t need a snack they didn’t need a lunch they didn’t need anything all day long.
The other children shared with the girls. Some did. Some were instructed by their mothers to not share. “I don’t care how poor she is,” was the trumpeted final opinion voiced by first one then all who would say anything at all about it. “She can still send a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Anyone can afford to send a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
The thing was, I thought it likely that she didn’t have peanut butter and jelly in the house. And I also knew that she would not accept help.
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This is part two of the story, part one can be found here.
To be continued.
It sometimes feels as if this generation (at least here in the United States) invented the idea of food, in many ways. Or perhaps ‘re-invented’ might be the better word. There is a sense of unearthing the primal purity of all that is good and fine, of discarding the cheap and common-place, of a moral high ground which exists only in the idea of food-as-excellence, for all of us who are in the know.
I don’t believe it.
But I know many people who do.
Children learning to cook is one area it appears is being ‘re-discovered’. And we not only try to teach our children how to cook (some of us), some of us like to buy them little chef costumes as encouragement. The hats, the jackets, the pristine white! All combine to make a uniform which supposedly demands respect for knowing a trade.
It’s interesting for me, to look at this postcard from 1915 and to sense the underlying feeling of these children, who are obviously learning how to cook, who have also been dressed up in chef whites. There is a different sense held in the picture from 1915 than is held in photos of children costumed similarly, today. Today, the children are proud! Of their chef whites, of the fact that they are learning to cook ‘as a little chef’, of the fact that this is all so much fun!
In 1915, the attitude, described by the postcard, is: “I’m making good.” “I’m working,” is the attitude. It may not be fun, but I will do it and ‘make good’ of myself. The little faces are serious, not coy and delighted.
I’ve tried to translate the back of the card, but can not decipher it well enough to get a translation. Google Translate says it is Albanian. I don’t think so – first because it doesn’t look exactly like Albanian to me, and second because it wouldn’t translate – though I may have mis-spelled the words due to not being able to discern all the letters correctly. If anyone out there reads this and can translate, please do let us know what it says!
This postcard reminds me of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It looks like Johnny had a bit too much cake.
I’ve had enough weltschmerz, this week. That’s not to say I won’t ever want it again. One never knows. But like Johnny, all I have to say at the moment is ‘please don’t bend me’.
Next week as Valentines Day approaches I’ll have to post a different sort of postcard. Maybe tell a story, even.
Nitie-night for now!