Friday, June 24, 2011

thursday part one

It was not the heat from a high of 96 that almost dropped me to my knees yesterday as I tried to take this picture.  It was a song. 

For those of you on the outside looking in, I know you're grief weary.  But I want to tell you about Thursday, about how blessedly special but painful it was, and then I promise, I promise, I'll try to move on to happier things. 

Above is a picture of the outdoor patio at a restaurant I took my mother to, in the afternoon, exactly a year ago.  It was hot that day too so we didn't sit outside in these pretty chairs but enjoyed the view of them from a cool booth inside.  As afternoon turned to night, we sipped white wine, nibbling on a platter of fritto misto and later sharing a bowl of tagliolini and mushrooms, the two tossed together in cream.  It was a great meal, a great time.

This Thursday, I found myself back at the restaurant, the warm glow of the chairs begging for their picture to be taken.  It would be nice to have a photo of them I thought, so I stood in the sun and took this picture.  That's when I heard the song; the music piped out from the cafe next door, just a few feet away.  I got weak, I shook.  

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. 
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels

O come let us adore Him, 
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord 

Time stopped.  I froze, standing in the sweltering courtyard listening to this Christmas song, sweat and tears mixed as both streamed down my face.

 Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above
Glory to God, all glory in the highest

O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord

Other people stopped, their heads cocked as they listened, trying to understand why a Christmas carol was playing on a cafe patio on a hot, June day in Dallas. 

I didn't tell them it was sent to me. 

I didn't tell them my mother sent it, at this hour, in this spot, and the fact that Sinatra was singing the swinging version was just a bit of humor thrown in by my dad. 

For as long as I can remember, which feels tonight like a very, very long time, my mother talked about this Christmas carol, O Come All Ye Faithful.  We all knew it was her favorite song; yes, even more than Porgy

In her Last Will and Testament, handwritten with a few words underlined for emphasis as she liked to do, she reminded us of it.  She reminded us to, when we think of her, hum the carol, her favorite. 

"A joyful song," she wrote. 

After a while, I dried my tears and stepped into the restaurant, determined to find some joy.  For me.  For her. 

O hmmm, hmm hm hmmmmmmm........

Sunday, June 19, 2011

on my mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through
just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you
comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines.

I found myself popping in to hear the last set.  It was a small band and the singer's voice was deep and fitting for Georgia On My Mind

It's fitting that I'm here talking jazz today.  My father taught me so much about it. 

He taught me to hear the difference in a saxophone and a clarinet by playing Stan Getz and Benny Goodman around the house when I was a kid.  He taught me to hear the difference in great jazz pianists and "rinky-dink" ones.  I learned to tell early Billie from late Billie. 

It was not surprising then, that I actually cried when my dad told me he'd spent a wonderful evening in a Paris bistro listening to Django Reinhardt. 

Oh, if my dad could be sitting with me at this tiny, tall table, I thought to myself as I listened.  I'd tell him all I know about Georgia On My Mind.  I could explain it was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in nineteen-thirty-something and because Hoagy had a sister named Georgia, no one to this day, knows for sure, whether Gorrell wrote the lyrics about Georgia the lady or Georgia the state. 

I could have told my dad all of that. 

Georgia, Georgia, no peace I find
just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

I would have told my dad all of that so he'd know; all those years, all those rich, jazz-filled years, I really was listening. 

Happy Father's Day

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

fence me in, please!

You didn't get to read the letter I wrote to the city Christmas Eve day a couple of years ago, when huge equipment arrived unexpectedly and began to clear the trees behind our house. 

The incessant beep-beep-beep of the Komatsu, and the painful crunching and cracking of the timber as it was chewed up, were the sounds of Christmas for us that sacred holiday and off and on for more than a year to follow.  Every single tree was removed for a drainage project. 

There was much news about it and many complaints.  I wrote my own letter to the city, opening with: 

It's coming on Christmas,
they're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer
and singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.....

Maybe you remember; I posted these lines last December.  My mom and I shared them each year around Thanksgiving, neither of us wanting the onslaught of what Christmas has become.  It was always figurative until that year when they literally cut down the trees and I'd never wanted to skate away as badly as I did that Christmas Eve afternoon. 

Until yesterday. 

My mother loved our back yard.  The way she carried on, you'd expect the yard to be exceptional.  It's not.  But it's green and shady, reminiscent of the untamed, southern yards we grew up in, and she loved it.  And I loved it.  And the birds loved it.  And she loved watching them.  And I loved watching her watch them. 

Sometimes we'd eat outside at the old wrought-iron table.  Spoke would bring out more wine and join us.  The weather was good, the pasta was good, life was good. 

But yesterday, Mr. McGregor cut down his shrubs. 

I'm not trying to be smart.  He earned this name many years ago when he began one autumn, to shoot squirrels climbing his pecan tree.  My peaceful Sunday afternoons with Puccini became miserable.  He did stop, or stop if I was home, knowing I might snap his photo, across the fence, between the shrubs he just cut down. 

Those shrubs, maybe twelve feet high, were lush and provided welcomed privacy between us.  On our side of the chain link fence, are abelia, thick but not as tall.  There were tangled vines on both sides of the fence which gave shade and protection for the birds in summer and abundant berries in the winter. 

They shaded me from him. 

It was about 100 degrees yesterday.  Many birds lost their homes and their nests with their eggs.  I lost much of what I loved about our yard.  I lost much of what Mom loved about our yard.  As Mr. McGregor hauled away beautiful, dense, photinia, he hauled away my memories.  Precious memories. 

But I no longer wish to skate away.....  

I'd prefer to shoot somebody.

    Lyrics from "River" by Joni Mitchell

Sunday, June 12, 2011

eggs, eggs, eggs

It was, even way back then, a quiet time for me and I loved it.  I'd lie on the floor propped up on my elbows, reading the Sunday comics.  Wishing I could stay there all morning, I knew I had only until I heard the whirl of the blender. 

Before getting dressed in his crisp, (no starch) button down shirt, my dad would be in the kitchen in an undershirt, making milkshakes.  There was always a tiny piece of tissue paper stuck to his face where he'd nicked himself shaving.  Our kitchen smelled of Hershey's and Old Spice.   

The milkshakes were our Sunday-Morning-Off-To-Church breakfast.  Milk, chocolate syrup, and one raw egg, were frothed at high speed into a light, foamy drink.  That foam was the best part and as far as I was concerned, almost worth church. 

I said almost. 

My father scrambled eggs for us on mornings when he was ready but Mom was still primping.  He was actually good at it, stirring them into small curds like those in the container of cottage cheese I'd seen in my grandmother's refrigerator. 

He'd start to spoon them out onto our plates and my sister would shriek. So then I'd shriek too.  The buttery eggs were soft, almost runny; exactly as I'd like them now.  Daddy would laugh, plate his own portion, and continue to cook ours until they were firm and rubbery. 

In the summer, my dad would man the grill and in the winter he'd make spaghetti sauce.  Months in between were filled with sandwiches.  Those were what he really loved to eat.  There were buns packed full of North Carolina barbecue, deli meats piled inches high on sourdough, and hot, meatball subs. 

There was one unusual sandwich I remember.  A slice of bread spread with peanut butter and covered with slices of banana doesn't sound so strange but he'd slather the other half with mayo and arrange rings of pineapple on top before putting the halves together. 


At eighty-eight, my dad still read the comics every Sunday.  We'd laugh over PEANUTS.  In his last year, when he could no longer handle mammoth sandwiches, I'd often make my father egg salad.  I learned not to get fancy with it but to make it for him just as he made eggs for me.

Egg Salad

6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
several grinds of black pepper
several fresh tarragon leaves, torn

Mix all of the ingredients together. 
Refrigerate but allow the egg salad to warm up a bit
before serving.

Egg Salad for Daddy

6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
several grinds of black pepper
several fresh tarragon leaves, torn

Mix all of the ingredients together.
Refrigerate but allow the egg salad to warm up a bit
before serving.

Monday, June 6, 2011

let's talk about helene

Writers are like runners. 

Some do marathons or enjoy lone, long distance runs.  They would be novelists.  Joggers produce short stories.  Others seek the thrill of a race; copywriters, maybe? 

And then there are sprinters.  That would be me and my blog. 


Helene Hanff was a sprinter.  She wrote succinct, honest, entertaining stories.  She wrote about what she knew. 

Reading 84 Charing Cross Road, I wished to visit the sparse apartment, wrapped up myself in a moth-eaten sweater, helping Hanff "houseclean" her books.  It wouldn't take long with two of us and when we finished, we'd enjoy a very cold martini. 

By page thirty-seven of Letter From New York, I'd have bought a plane ticket if I thought I could sit on the stoop with Hanff and her friends on warm Sunday nights, Helene having explained to me why, unlike her neighbors, she turns down invitations to spend Sundays at Jones Beach. 

"They crawl out of the cab, hot, tired, sunburnt, rumpled from the train ride, lugging suitcases and tennis rackets and golf clubs.  And as they stumble bleary-eyed and exhausted toward the front door, one of us will say brightly: 'Didja have a good time?'

They just grunt." 

Choosing a favorite of Hanff's books is like asking my dad which was his favorite pizza.  "Whichever one I'm eating," he'd say.  (I think Hanff would have gotten a kick out of him.  Once, rushing to the airport, my dad made our NY city cab driver, pull over to the curb and wait while he jumped out to eat a final slice on the corner.) 


Whether you are sprinting or going the distance, you know what they say; write about what you know. 

Easy as pie. 

Just put one foot in front of the other... 

But for the unconditioned, out-of-shape writer, it seems what you know can't possibly be of much interest.  So what, you made a cherry clafouti yesterday and today you're wondering if the wren will return next month to the same planter on the patio wall. 

Hanff though, can mesmerize with tales of the mundane.  She makes it seem so easy.  There's much to learn from her as she talks about what fills her days. 

So, I'm going to rub a little Mineral Ice on my sorry muscles tonight and tomorrow I'll warm up with some stretches, then hit the pavement running. 

Just putting one foot in front of the other... 

Cherry Clafouti

1 1/2 cup milk
1 vanilla bean
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cognac
1 pound fresh cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon sugar
(powdered sugar for serving)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan.  Slit the vanilla bean open and run a knife down the length of it to remove the pulp.  Add the pulp to the saucepan of milk and place it over low heat, whisking to break it up.  Reduce the heat and keep warm.

In a medium size bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, salt, and flour until combined.  Add the cognac and stir.

Butter any ovenproof dish about the size of a cake pan. 

Toss the cherries with one tablespoon of sugar and distribute them in the pan.  Pour the custard mixture over the cherries, allowing it to settle before putting the pan in the oven.

Bake for an hour or until lightly browned. 
Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar if desired.

In the spirit of Helene Hanff's letters to Frank Doel,
I must be honest and exclaim,