Category Archives: FRIENDS

OLD FRIENDS AND OLD BOOKS

Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith

NEW YEAR’S EVE MEMORIES

My earliest memories of New Year’s Eve are of the parties my parents hosted. On a few occasions, my cousin, Irene (called Renee by the family) and her brothers, along with me and my brothers, had our own little party down in my parents’ basement on Sutter Street.  Renee and I were almost the same age – she is six months older than I am – my two brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17) and her three younger brothers, along with our cousin, Chuck, apparently had a good time together, judging from the few photos I have found from these occasions.

I think by the following year, I was babysitting for my sister and the family who lived downstairs from her. I remember babysitting there when my brother Jim brought me a plate of pork and sauerkraut, the traditional German dish we ate at midnight!  Midnight! It’s a wonder no one in the family suffered from any stomach problems.  I cried when I sat alone eating the sauerkraut. I missed being with my family.  I think my parents hosted a lot of New Year’s Eve parties but these are the few that remain outstanding in my memory. I babysat on New Year’s Eve until I got married in1958.

After Jim & I moved to California, he contacted an old friend of his who was living somewhere near Shell Beach in the central coast. We spent our first California new year’s eve with these friends who took us to a party. I thought I was spectacular in my black dress with white gloves! (What did I know about fashion?). New Year’s Day, 1962, found us down by Shell Beach, where we took some photographs. My favorite is myself sitting on a rail fence; my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, dubbed this photograph “California Girl”.   I was twenty-one and the mother of a one year old son. I really didn’t know anything about California at the time but I would certainly learn.

Jim (my then-husband, now ex-) & I spent some New Year’s Eves with friends; the one most memorable was with a group of friends at a Hungarian restaurant where everyone ate traditional Hungarian food that night. We acquired these Hungarian friends in a circuitous way—a man named Alex and his wife Peggy rented an apartment behind our first home in California, a duplex we rented in late 1961. Peggy and Alex arrived from New York at closely the same time.  Alex introduced us to some of his Hungarian friends, who in turn became our friends—most notably Neva and Les. Les and his friends were freedom fighters in the short-lived Hungarian revolution in 1956; when they lost their bid for freedom, most of them immigrated to the United States as political refugees. It was through Les and Neva that I began returning to my culinary roots of Hungarian food foods such as goulash and Palascinta, Palascinta layered with poppy seed filling and cut into wedges. Palascinta can be made many different ways—it is a thin crepe-like pancake—it can have sweet fillings or savory.  My grandmother made Palascinta with jelly fillings. (We called them German pancakes—what did we know about Palascinta?) I can remember walking back to school after eating lunch at Grandma’s house, eating a rolled up palascinta filled with jelly along the way.

Another year, we hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our house—it had to be 1974 or later, because the house in photographs was the one in Arleta.  I imagine if I go through all of my photo albums—over sixty of them dating back to my teenage years—I will find other photographs taken on other New Year’s Eve celebrations.

One of the best adventures I ever had on a New Year’s Eve was celebrated after I was divorced in 1986.  A new boyfriend took me to Pasadena on New Year’s Eve – this is a happening event throughout the streets of Pasadena—the streets on which the famous Rose Bowl parade will travel the next morning. People are camped out along those streets, in small tents or sleeping bags, with folding chairs and blankets (it can get quite cold on those streets late at night!). My friend George had a large sleeping bag and a small hibachi that he kept fed with bits of wood; he was a carpenter and had his truck bed (parked near by on a side street) filled with small pieces of wood; it drew people to us throughout the night – and people come to this almost-event from all over the United States. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life as I was just returning to dating. The next day, all of us had ring-side views of the floats as they came by on Colorado Boulevard. I have many photos of the floats but none of George and I as we sat along the curb drinking wine out of a coffee cup and talking to people who came up to our fire to get warm. I have never again been to Pasadena on a New Year’s Eve (or even a New Year’s Day for that matter) and my relationship with George was brief – I knew he was too young for me, in his mid thirties to my mid-forties – but it was great fun while it lasted.  And I think it was that night that I began to feel like there might be life after divorce.  There was.

In more recent years, Bob & I did not really celebrate New Year’s Eve. And New Year’s Day became my day to start dismantling the Christmas decorations, while watching the Rose Bowl Parade – over and over again throughout the day as KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, televised the parade with my favorite TV personalities, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards—and repeated the program throughout the day. What I might have missed one time, I could catch the next time around. What great memories!

Happy New Year 2013 to all my Sandychatter friends!

FOR MY GODSON KEVIN

FEBRUARY 18, 1991, My godson, Kevin, accidentally shot and killed himself.

Recently, I came across the tribute that I wrote to my friend Penny, for her son, Kevin. “He had so many friends,” she wrote at the time, “No big problems—he had friends from little kids to old people 70 years old and older. He’d sit and talk to them and really enjoy their company. He had the largest service this town has ever had – over 400 people came to his service and there were so many flowers….from the day he was born I had this ‘unreasonable’ fear that something was going to happen to him and spoke of it to several people. Often it would come over me, out of the blue. I see now God was trying to prepare me that I wouldn’t have him long…”

So, I wrote this tribute for Kevin because I was a mother of sons, too.

FOR KEVIN

There are no simple answers.
There are no easy words.
Words come hard. Thoughts come and go.

From the time we bring them into this world, we are constantly in fear of and worry about the greatest of all our fears, that something, sometime, might happen to this child. We are struck dumb over stories of children being bused and battered by their own parents, and we ask ourselves how on earth anyone could do anything so cruel and heartless to their own child.

When they are babies, we watch them breathe and we listen for the slightest “wrong” sound in the night; we are up in a flash when they begin to cry. We encourage them to crawl and we hold our arms out to catch them when they take their first steps. We walk the floor with them when they are feverish and we rush to the emergency room with them when they break an arm or a leg playing baseball or soccer or basketball. We let them crawl into bed with us in the middle of the night, when they have had a bad dream. We hold them close and breathe the damp sweaty smell of their hair and we chase away the bad dreams.

We turn the pot handles on the stove around and we put covers on the electrical sockets and we lock up cleaning supplies and we put up little wooden gates in the doorways.

We let them out of our sight, sometimes, because we know we have to do that to let them grow and we heave a sigh of relief when they return unharmed. We warn them of the evils in the world, constantly, and our warnings fall on deaf ears for they are convinced that they are invincible. We tell them not to speak to strangers and to look both ways before crossing and how to handle a pair of scissors, and not to play with matches.

But they talk to strangers and they don’t always look both ways, and sometimes they handle the scissors by the wrong end and sometimes they light matches to watch them burn. They know that nothing can touch them.

We take them to little league games and band practice and we go to PTA meetings and teacher conferences. We walk them from house to house on Halloween night because it is no longer a world safe enough for them to go alone, and while they welcome our company when they are five or six years old, they chafe over having us along when they are nine or ten, far too old to have a parent walking alongside. But we tell them it’s our way or no way and they ungraciously concede defeat. Really, what could happen to them? They are invincible.

We go to open house and we admire their drawings on the wall and we stand foolish and open-mouthed over a teacher’s recitation…sometimes glowing, sometimes not so glowing.

We go looking for them if they are more than five minutes late getting home from school.

We fret with them over every test and we suffer with them learning multiplication tables and fractions and decimals.

We think we could say in or sleep did you do your homework, did you take a bath, did you wash behind your ears, did you pick up your towel, are you wearing clean underwear? And they say aw, mom, I’m not a baby. And then we drive to school half an hour later to deliver their homework or their lunch money or their science report.

They take driver’s ed and they drive too fast and eat too much junk food and sometimes they experiment with alcohol and smoking cigarettes. We lecture them on chewing their food and on brushing their teeth and eating the right foods and clogging their arteries with carbohydrates. They say aw, mom, and go right on doing whatever it is they were doing that we warned them about. They are, they know, invincible.

They acquire, along with baseball cards and Hot Rod magazines and their own telephone, their own TV and stereo system and several hundred cassette tapes of something loosely defined as Heavy Metal which they assure us is music but we are convinced is a plot to impair the hearing devised by hearing aid manufacturers throughout the country.

They acquire friends of the opposite sex and our heart does flip flops the first time they take a girlfriend into the bedroom and close the door. We find ourselves stuttering and stammering, explaining birth control. Condoms.

We hear ourselves sounding like our own mothers, when we open our mouths and start talking about what nice girls did or did not do ‘ in our day”. We were never going to sound like our mothers. Aw mom they tell us, they know about Trojans. They know what they are doing. Nothing can happen. We worry too much.

We hear other mothers bemoaning their offspring, hoping they will hurry up and grow up and get on with their lives, and we think they are crazy, because we aren’t ready for our offspring to hurry up and grow up and get on with their lives. People think we are crazy because we enjoy having them around and harbor secret dreams that they will stay with us for years to home.

Now, here we are. It’s come to this.

All the turned pot handles, all the incantations, the warnings, all the covered electrical sockets, all for —–

We stand on top of a hillside and we scream to the heavens. We cry to this child who no longer hears anything.

Why didn’t you listen?

Why weren’t you more careful?

And somewhere on the wind comes a faint whisper, aw, mom, you worry too much.

Nothing can touch me now

–Sandra Lee Smith

OLD FRIENDS AND OLD BOOKS

Let me share with you a few thoughts about old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four, I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself suddenly in need of a babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael. (Remind me to tell you some time of all the mischief those two five-year-old-boys would get into!)

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up. We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons—and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I would be employed for 27 years—I only went to work “part time for six weeks to help out”, and there I was, years later, retiring the end of 2002 with a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

My oldest son and her youngest started kindergarten together, and her oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

In 1999, Connie died of lung cancer. It seems incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease.

One night, some months later, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it had taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After Dawn left, I opened the boxes and began laying the books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing about cooking in the White House kitchens year ago–Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There is a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book which was the inspiration for an article that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue of the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. There were several books about soups that I have never seen before. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever.

My friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once were. She made other friends and so did I.

But I was deeply touched that some of her treasured books came into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

***

UNCLE BOB’S HOUSE

When we discovered we would have to move, in 2008, I was able to spend most of three months “dismantling” the house in which my significant other, Robert, (no relation to Uncle Bob) & I had lived for 19 years. When we moved into that house on my birthday in 1989, we had a great deal less than what we managed to accumulate in the nineteen years that followed. We had far fewer books, for one thing, and many less cookie jars. A friend helped Robert & my son, Kelly, and I move from a little bungalow in Van Nuys to the sprawling house in Arleta. We had so much space in that big old house, we didn’t think we’d ever fill it up. But fill it up we did.

Anything anyone didn’t want any longer—we happily accepted. My dining room table & chairs – once belonged to the mother of my friend, John. My kitchen table sat in the backyard of my friend Luther until we coaxed his landlady to let me have it. I have bookcases that had belonged to my former coworker, Mary Jo, and an old coffee table that I love was once my friend, Mary Jaynne’s. Mary Jaynne & her husband Steve also once owned the bar that is now in my family room.

Friends & family members knew we’d take any and all cast-offs, and the house on Arleta Avenue was truly a house of castoffs. You could go from room to room pointing out which pieces of furniture had once belonged to someone else. We filled the walls in almost all of the rooms with bookcases and filled the bookcases with books—mostly cookbooks. The only rooms without bookcases were the kitchen, pantry, laundry room and bathrooms. Bookcases even filled the hallway.

Well, moving from 3000 square feet (roughly) to 1500 square feet is a challenge. We’ve been in our new digs for almost three years and are still getting settled. And many things had to be sold or given away. The Lancaster and Burbank Friends of the Library have received boxes and boxes of books and the Boy Scouts of Palmdale received truck loads of things for their rummage sale.

I am telling you all of this because I want it understood that I know a little about dismantling a house—but Uncle Bob’s house was unquestionably a far greater challenge for my girl friend, on whose shoulders responsibility for the house fell, along with her husband, Steve sister Diane, and brother Ron.

Uncle Bob, who is formally known as Robert G. Mooney, didn’t have any children of his own. He did have a loving wife with whom he shared his life for 52 years and I’m told theirs was a true lifelong love story. Their niece, Mary Jaynne, – my best friend – used to spend summers at their house when she was a child, and because she was the closest relative to Uncle Bob, finding a new home for Uncle Bob – who could no longer live alone – fell on Mary Jaynne’s broad shoulders. She, her husband Steve, and sister, Diane, found an assisted living facility that met with Uncle Bob’s approval and bit by bit they got him settled in his new home.

I first learned about Uncle Bob years ago when MJ asked us to save all the little pull tabs on cans of aluminum soft drinks or beer. Uncle Bob was a member of Foresters and as a project, the group collected the pop tops and donated the money to Ronald McDonald’s House. They collected over 4, 000,000 tops and Uncle Bob counted every one of them.

We began saving all the pop tops and would give them to MJ once or twice a year. Mary Jaynne discovered, when they began cleaning out his garage, four more boxes about 14”x14” and about 12” tall, full of the can tops. She took them to the Ronald McDonald house in Bakersfield.

Then it became Mary Jaynne’s next responsibility to dismantle Uncle Bob’s house.

How does anyone even begin to dismantle a house in which the occupants lived for over fifty years? It was surely the most daunting task MJ ever took on. They had yard sales and sold things for next to nothing. Mary Jaynne tried to find homes with people like me for the things that had been Uncle Bob & Aunt Joey’s treasures, people who were sure to love and appreciate them. After a lengthy search she found Aunt Joey’s recipe box. Aunt Joey was Uncle Bob’s wife who died from Alzheimer’s in a nursing home when her loving husband could no longer take care of her.

I inherited Aunt Joey’s recipe box – and a handwritten recipe journal – along with some cookbooks and stacks of recipe clippings – and (be still my heart!) close to a dozen old, 50s style aprons that I have washed & ironed and hope to have posted on my blog. I also inherited a wonderful old 1950s deviled egg dish and some 50s tins; I am still working my way through the treasures that found their way to my door.

Aunt Joey had recipes – but, surprise, surprise! So did Uncle Bob! They both enjoyed cooking and I’m told that Aunt Joey was a wonderful cook. Uncle Bob lent a hand mostly with barbecuing but also for get-togethers with their church.

Uncle Bob was in the army from 1942 to 1945 and he was an army cook. I have in front of me several army cook manuals – the Technical Manual for the Army cook, dated April 24, 1942, a smaller manual dated July 1, 1942, a Baking Manual for the Army Cook dated October 5, 1943 and a Technical Manual for cutting up beef, dated July 1, 1943 (that could start with “take one cow”). I like the recipes for cookies – for oatmeal cookies you will need 5 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of lard, 5 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of oatmeal—oh yeah, a pound of raisins and six eggs. (I hope the army had industrial electric mixers to put this cookie dough together! I certainly hope that the army cooks didn’t have to mix everything by hand!)

Another item from Uncle Bob’s pantry is a tea caddy that is the size of a small child’s ball—but absolutely perfect for someone like myself, who makes various pickled fruits from time to time—pickled watermelon and Hot Hawaiian pineapple pickles, pickled cherries and sometimes pickled cantaloupe.

Along with the army manuals is a “Service Writing Tablet” with Robert G. Mooney printed neatly at the top of the cover. This appears to be a school writing tablet for prospective army cooks (I had no idea that the army cooks had special training—but it makes perfect sense). The pages are full of handwritten recipes and directions, written in pencil, and on the last page, in large red handwriting are the words “Very Good!” written, presumably, by the army class teacher.

Aunt Joey’s family was Italian and so her small cookbook collection leans towards Italian recipes. Italian food was also Uncle Bob’s favorite. And, Aunt Joey’s Italian mother lived with them for about ten years, back in the day, and she made Italian “gravy” every Sunday morning so they could have spaghetti and Italian gravy (I would call it a sauce) with whatever was on the menu for Sunday night dinner.

Also, Aunt Joey & Uncle Bob got married in 1943, when World War II was in full swing. Wheatless Wednesdays and Meatless Mondays were encouraged by the government as a way of everybody being able to “do their part” in some small way. (And if you were Catholic, there were meatless Fridays, as well.) Aunt Joey’s collection of recipes contains a number of meatless recipes, such as cashew loaf and cashew patties.

Here, then, are a few recipes from Aunt Joey’s recipe box, written in her own beautiful handwriting:

For fun, here is Aunt Joey’s recipe for Cashew Loaf (presumably cashews were a lot cheaper in 1942 than they are today):

CASHEW LOAF

Mix all together, bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes:

½ onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 #2 can Chinese noodles
1 cup whole raw cashews
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ soup can water
½ cup American cheese (grated)
Optional: ½ can diced fried chicken
~~~
MEAT BALLS* & SAUCE
Combine, form balls & brown in oven:
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 cup bread crumbs
5-6 eggs
1 onion, chopped
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ tsp sage
½ tsp poultry seasoning
1 TBSP soy sauce
¾ cup grated cheese

While the meat balls are browning in the oven make a sauce of 1 small can tomato juice
1 can stewed tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp salt
½ tsp parsley
½ cube butter (half of one stick. One stick of butter or margarine is 4 ounces. Half that would be 2 ounces)

Pour sauce over balls and heat in oven until hot & bubbly.

(*Sandy’s cooknote—if there is too much grease in the pan, I would drain off the excess before adding the sauce—also, there is no meat in these meatballs.)

From one of Aunt Joey’s cookbooks, titled “Favorite Italian Cookbook/from Northern to Southern Italy/500 Special Edition Recipe/sponsored by the Los Angeles District Council of the Italian Catholic Federation” (a title that is almost as long as those on very old cookbooks from the early 1900s) I came across a recipe titled “Spaghetti Gravy” and I really felt obligated to share it with everyone.

Here, then, is Spaghetti Gravy:
1 clove garlic
2 TBSP olive oil
¾ lb ground beef, veal or both
½ lb pork sausage
3 to 4 cans canned tomatoes
6 can tomato paste
¾ cup chicken broth
3 bay leaves
¼ c. dried basil
¼ c. dried thyme
1 TBSP salt (or salt to taste)
½ tsp pepper
2 chopped onions (optional)

Brown onion, garlic and meat in hot olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer at least 1 hour. Remove bay leaves and pour over spaghetti. (my mother never put onion in her spaghetti sauce—said it was too sweet.) If uou like a darker color add red wine to sauce (1/2 cup).

ITALIAN SWISS STEAK (Bistecca Alla Italiano Svizzero)

(I often wondered where I found my recipe for the Swiss Steak, that I began making in the very early days of married life. I think now is was most likely something my sister Becky learned to cook and served to her family. Her first husband, Sam, was Italian and this recipe is similar to what I began cooking in the early 1960s. My sons all loved Swiss Steak and it was made with an inexpensive cut of beef):

1 ½ lbs round steak, 1” thick.
3 TBSP flour
1 package spaghetti sauce mix (such as French’s)
2 TBSP olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 tsp sugar
2 cups water
½ cup red wine

Cut the steak into serving pieces. Mix flour with a tablespoon of spaghetti sauce mix. Coat steak on both sides with this mixture. In a large skillet, brown meat on both sides in hot oil; remove from pan. Separate onions into rings; add to skillet & cook until lightly browned. Return steak to pan with remaining spaghetti sauce mix, sugar, water & wine. Cover pan and simmer 2 hours or until meat is tender. Serves 4.

Sandy’s cooknote: I used to add some chopped bell pepper to my Swiss steak recipe. My sons all loved Swiss steak with a big bowl of mashed potatoes to go with.

THE MOONEY’S FAVORITE HOT CHICKEN SALAD
Combine:

2 cups diced fried chicken (leftover fried chicken would be good for this or you could pick up a few pieces of fried chicken at the supermarket deli section).
2 cups diced celery
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup slivered toasted almonds
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ACCENT
2 TBSP lemon juice
3 or 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
Pour mixed ingredients in a greased casserole dish. Top with 1 cup crushed potato chips or chow mein noodles and ½ cup grated cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.

AUNT JOEY’S RICE VERDE preheat oven 350 degrees

Combine:
3 cups cooked rice (This would be a good recipe to use up leftover rice)
¾ lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 TBSP chopped pimiento
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
½ cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups sour cram
½ cup sliced olives
Bake in greased casserole at 350 degrees for ½ hour, uncovered.

AUNT OLIVE’S KENTUCKY CARROT CAKE* preheat oven 350 degrees
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated carrots
1 ½ cups oil**
½ cup walnut meats, chopped (You can substitute chopped pecans if you wish)
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs (let eggs come to room temperature)
1 8½ oz can crushed pineapple, drained—save the juice

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Bake in a greased & floured pan 8×13” at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.

Icing: Combine ¼ cup butter or oleo (margarine) ½ lb powdered sugar, small package of cream cheese, ½ tsp vanilla. Beat mixture until fluffy. Fold in 2 TBSP crushed pineapple. If desired sprinkle with finely chopped nuts to garnish.

(Sandy’s cooknote: Personally, I would double everything—it’s easier to measure, too. Use ½ cup or 1 stick of butter. Use a 1 lb box of powdered sugar and an 8 ounce package of cream cheese–and if you have the time, sift the powdered sugar – it will blend better. Leave out the crushed pineapple in the icing. Add a little of the pineapple juice to make the icing the proper consistency. Use the drained crushed pineapple in the cake recipe.)

*Aunt Olive was Uncle Bob’s Aunt.

**regarding the 1½ cups cooking oil that goes into most of the old carrot cake recipes, I discovered you can substitute ¾ cup applesauce for half of the oil.

Sometimes we wonder what became of things like a recipe box full of handwritten recipes and magazine clippings, or perhaps a particular cookbook that someone had kept for years, making notations from time to time on the margins of the pages. My friend Nancy tells me that sometimes these discarded treasures end up being swept up to give to a junkman so the house can be painted and vacuumed for the next occupants. Uncle Bob can rest assured; his and Aunt Joey’s recipe collection has fallen into the right hands and will be handled with care for many years to come.

Happy Cooking & Happy cookbook (or recipe box) collecting!

Sandy

GROWING UP WITHOUT ELECTRICITY, GROWING UP WITH OUTHOUSES

Compiled by
Sandra Lee Smith

Note: Once again our online retiree group has (along with solving many of the problems of the world), reflected on issues such as growing up without electricity…to growing up with outhouses).

Marge Sallee wrote:

Thomas Edison did us all a big favor when he invented the light bulb. I just can imagine living as the pioneers did when their activities were pretty much limited to daylight hours. Thank goodness we were all born when had a lot of the comforts were pretty common place. Dorman’s family lived on a farm in the Ozarks, and electricity didn’t reach them until after WW II. He was probably 10 years old then. One of the first places they wanted it was in the dairy barn so they could use milking machines. Their lives changed drastically once the power line was connected to their house. They bought a refrigerator, a cooking stove, lights throughout the house, etc.

Growing up, even in a big city, we accepted what we had because at the end of the Depression, and then WW II years, most of us lived with some of those inconveniences. We even felt like our house had more than most of the neighbors. After the war when the economy switched over to manufacturing more things for the home, we all moved up in comforts. It was usually one thing at a time — a hot water heater, a refrigerator, a stove that used gas or electricity. We lived in that house I was born in, until I was a sophomore in high school, to an updated older house that had a furnace in the basement. But looking back over all these years, we had a great life in that house on the Platte River in Denver. We never felt deprived though we knew we didn’t have everything.

Marge Nagy wrote:

Marge, you mentioned how Dorman grew up without electricity. Me, too, until I was about 4. And even after we had electricity, I recall it wasn’t all that predictable and a lot of evenings it was out. We used oil lanterns – smoky and smelly! We got running water when I was 7, before that we just had a hand pump in the kitchen sink. The old coal cook stove had a reservoir on the one side, we filled it with water and it would heat when the stove was on. Needless to say we didn’t have a lot of hot water in the summer as the stove was only on to cook meals! We finally got a bathroom put in a few years later – used the old pantry to make a bathroom. I was very happy to not have to use a chamber pot or wade through the snow to go to the outhouse in the winter!

I have fond memories of that old cook stove – and that’s what I learned to cook on because we never had a gas stove until I was in my teens. The oven was always warm if the stove was being used, so in the winter my grandmother often opened the oven door, pulled up a chair and propped her feet on the oven door to keep her feet and legs warm. I remember sitting there with her many a time – eating our soup for lunch, etc. I also remember some days when the door was really hot when first opened and how our shoes would start to smell from the heat burning the soles!

In the living room we had a big coal heater; I recall a hole cut in the ceiling (which was the floor of the bedroom above) for the heat to rise up there. All that work and dust with the ashes.

I always say I’m glad I was born on the cusp and didn’t have to live my whole life that way. My Mom worked very hard hauling wood, hauling water. We did not have central air, just a cook stove and an oil heater.

Sandy wrote:

I have to confess I have lived with electricity and running water all my life BUT when I was about 12, my parents bought a cabin on the Whitewater River, and it didn’t have running water or indoor toilet–and if I remember correctly, no electricity either. I remember lanterns. I hated the outhouse. I was always afraid of going out there at night – fearful something was going to reach up inside the toilet and grab me by the butt. I still hate outhouses.

Marge Nagy wrote:

On an added note – to those of you who grew up in the outhouse era. I recall when friends came to visit, or if we visited with people who had an outhouse, before going home all the women usually wanted to use the outhouse. ALL the ladies went at once, and went in the outhouse at once if there was room. Definitely was no privacy and I always hated that. Even in later years, I recall my mother and her sister often going into a restroom together (if we were on a vacation trip or something of that sort). I’d always wait until they came out, then I’d go in ALONE!

Doreen wrote:

This was a common etiquette for business dinners. After the dinner you would invite the ladies to freshen up and all of you would go together. I hated it too, but oh the confidences divulged in the washroom made it very interesting. I think this was something that happened in the day when the men worked and the women were included in the social aspects, a form of bonding – I guess.

Sandy wrote:

This made me laugh because I have this one girlfriend who is Mexican American and HER best friend is also Mexican-American; they ALWAYS go to the bathroom together no matter where they are. They did this when they came to visit me at my house. I thought maybe it was an ethnic thing. I have no desire for company when I am doing my business.

Doreen wrote:

Another thought in the outhouse era, they may have banded together for the novelty or protection from who knows what at the outhouse. My Aunt Carrie had a twin outhouse clearly marked his and hers. It was whitewashed and her side had a child-size hole to suit the smaller butts, with a step stool to climb up. They always had lids. On the outside she painted red and yellow flowers and it was very colorful.

The path leading to the outhouse passed through her flower garden and it wound around so you couldn’t just go straight to the outhouse you had to wind along the garden path. Because it would be muddy when it rained, she had fieldstone rocks embedded in the soil and you didn’t have to get your good shoes muddy.

Outside the outhouse was a foot scraper for those muddy trips and inside a piece of home hooked carpet on the floor. On the walls she hung posters and cartoons chosen at random or provided by friends so while you waited for natures call you could always read something. The inside always had flypaper hanging to catch the pesky flies so the experience was quite pleasant.

My mother had a chamber pot in her bedroom and the girls in the family were allowed to use it. Only overnight though or in severe winter weather. She always kept the pot emptied and scalded it with hot water and put a teaspoon of chlorine in the bottom to keep the odor down. She also had a washstand in the bedroom with a pitcher of water to wash our hands in. This washstand was only for bathroom purposes. In the porch we had a family sized washstand that was used for everyday cleanups and before and after meals.

In the winter a barrel behind the coal and wood stove sat full of water (melted snow) and it was always warm from the stove. When the barrel was full my Mom would wash clothes. The men and boys usually hauled the water or snow in on a daily chore but sometimes I would be on call to do this job. I expect some of today’s back problems come from that early wood and water work.

Elinor wrote:

I grew up in San Francisco. Even the cheapest flats we lived in had a bathroom and electric lights. But we spent one summer in Calaveras County,Calif., about 5 miles from Angel’s Camp where they have frog jumping contests..My step-father and two other men had a lease on Michel Mine and they built 3 cabins. Ours had a separate room for me.
I was about 15. Outside my room was the generator and boy, was it noisy, but it produced the electric for our lights. There was an outhouse up the hill of course. Down at the stream was where we kept bottles of milk cold. The store was 35 miles away. We went there once a week and if we forgot anything we did without. My Mom cooked stacks of pancakes for breakfast and big pots of stew or beans or spaghetti for lunch and dinner. My brother, my cousin and uncle worked on the mine too. Gold was $35 an oz but getting enough ore to sell was a long. hard job for the crew. My step-dad decided the real gold was in the city where he worked on roofing jobs. Once we took a trip to the city and came back to find our cabins had been broken into, even windows were stolen. That’s when we gave up and went back to the city. Later my step-father joined the Seabees (construction branch) so he wouldn’t be drafted.

Doreen wrote:

Yes, the toilet is a great leveling ground. I remember at work we had a number of well dressed female executives who never fraternized with staff in the coffee room or elsewhere (parties etc). However, in the bathroom it was totally different. They had tears over their husbands, their children, their lack of promotion and they were well supported by the underlings.
**

THE INVISIBLE MOTHER

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’

Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??

Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

Some days I’m a crystal ball; ‘Where’s my other sock?, Where’s my phone?, What’s for dinner?’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature — but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe .
I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:

‘With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book.

And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names.

2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard, ‘I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.

‘No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he’d say, ‘You’re gonna love it there…’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

AUTHOR UNKNOWN but isn’t this a wonderful tribute for mothers everywhere?

–Sandy

THE DINING ROOM TABLE

THE DINING ROOM TABLE
AS TOLD BY
THE RETIREE-GROUP

These comments were inspired by an article I shared from My Daily Meditation.
The article dealt with how tidy we keep our work space. However, this was written sometime prior to 2008 when we moved to the desert. Now–I still have a dining room table–but my “office” is a corner of the family room and is more cluttered than ever before. The overflow all ends up on the dining room table. But here’s what we wrote about our dining room tables a few years ago:

Sandy wrote:
Ok I am guilty big time of this – my office is a TOTAL MESS; there is a lesson to be learned here, somewhere….if only I could find it.

Sharon wrote:
Ha ha..now there’s just me here in the house (so) my dining room table is covered with scrap-booking projects, along with bills, etc, but I DO know where everything is. I’m organized in my clutter…and I eat in my rocker in front of the TV or radio…which I was never allowed to do when growing up! If I plan to have company for a meal, I will have to clean the table off or cover it with a cloth or newspapers…

Marge Sallee wrote:
Sharon — Your comments about your dining room table brought a big smile to my face. We must be sisters under the skin. I spend most of my time in the study, and it gets out of hand at times. But I have an ongoing battle with the dining room table. The house is laid out in such a way that the table is the command center of the house hold. I have finally trained Dorman to use a box for the newspapers when he is finished with them, so that stack usually is under control (totally absent most of the time). The mail is always sorted there and too often the File 13 items never get to the trash but linger on the table. We always have space for us to eat on one end, but if Wendy and the children come to have supper with us (often fast food that she picks up on the way over), my first response is “Give me a few minutes to get the table cleared off.” So much of the stuff is really put there by Dorman himself, but it seems to be that whatever lands on the table is MY responsibility. Now that I use the walker more, it is very hard for me to carry things to put them away. I manage. Sometimes he is very helpful and other times, I just stuff things into a bag and carry it dangling.

That table is my trial, but I haven’t been defeated yet — overwhelmed at times, but not defeated.

Doreen wrote:
In a condo we have a combined dining room and living room with a large table. I have two leaves I can add to it. When I have a project I add the leaves and we eat at one end. It is always busy it seems, but if I clean it off it seems the whole place is clean.

Regarding the mail, I finally got an upright wicker basket and all mail comes in and goes into the basket. Next to the basket is a garbage can. If it’s junk mail, immediately goes into the bin. The opened mail often ends up back in the mail basket. Every 2-3 days I go through and divide the junk from the magazines from the bills etc. and file the remains. Before the mail basket – it ended up on the kitchen counter, usually while I was making supper and as in many households it became my responsibility to deal with.

I think all homes should be built with a Christmas tree closet (where the tree slides in and out – still decorated perhaps) and a mail station. In Saskatchewan we definitely require large entries. We have boots, coats and require space to store the shoes and we have more clothes than many parts of the world because of temperature changes. However, new homes are still being built with the 4X4 entry and the double closet door. I want a 10X12 entry with an attached bathroom facility and closets for coats, boots and shoes.

Sandy wrote:
Here are my comments about the dining room table – most of the time when I am doing projects, I work in my office on a large folding table (that never seems to get put away) and for the past week I added a card table to work on also – because I have the stacks of old photographs spread out everywhere. When I stopped scanning old photos to take a break and work on my current photo album, I used the folding table which is actually better, height-wise, because I can sit in my chair while working.

Our office has become very crowded. I have two desks – one is for the computer & printer…and Bob’s “desk” is a drafting table. There are four bookcases in here (granted two are small) plus a filing cabinet, All mail goes onto the other desk and my system is somewhat similar to Doreen’s – I go through the mail and junk gets shredded right away-magazines are separated from catalogs and a lot of the catalogs go into the trash.. I keep bills in a kind of holder that Keara made for me years ago with decoupage photos of Savannah on the outside–and try to remember to go through them about once a week. Letters that need answering (snail mail) are to the left of my computer and there is a stack of things I am working on (writing) also on the left. On the big folding table are box lids filled with my scrap-booking stuff and stickers.

Occasionally I will move to the dining room table to work on something but it’s already a catch-all (my purse, keys, outgoing mail and anything else that hasn’t made its way to the other end of the house (folded laundry) as well as bags of things I always have filled to give my sons when they drop by (cookies, magazines, coupons). We seldom EAT in the dining room unless there is company…most of the time Bob & I sit at the kitchen table or–when he’s in the mood–we carry things down to the den. When weather is good we can carry things out to the secret garden but it seems like a lot of toting to me…I’d just as soon sit at the kitchen table, an old yellow Formica table. When I want to file recipe cards or sort receipts, I often move to the dining room to work. Mine has 3 leaves–most of the time it has either 1 or 2 of the leaves in it but even with 3 leaves, it’s a tight squeeze to get ten of us around it (Bob & I, two sons, two daughters in law, four grandchildren) – anytime we have more than that it generally turns into a buffet.

I liked Doreen’s idea of a movable Christmas tree – we have a walk in closet in the dining room and it’s packed right up to the door with Christmas stuff. Lately I have been feeling…we have way too much ‘stuff’….maybe it’s that time of the year and I need to do some de-cluttering again.

Marge Nagy wrote:
Well, gals, I don’t have to worry about my dining room table. I don’t have one! Of course there is the table in the kitchen – that seems to be where my “stuff” ends up–at least the mail. I do go through it, and throw out a lot, and then I have a pile on my computer desk that is snail mail to be answered. But there are always things on the table – things I need to read more thoroughly before I throw it out, or bills that need to be taken care of in a day or two, etc. etc. Periodically (like every 10 days or so) I try to sort through it, and even though I clear a lot out, there is still stuff there! Ha! I never was “Miss Neat and Tidy”!

Sharon wrote:
I think we use the dining room table for doing things because it is so central to all that is going on in the household. If I was to set up a card-table in the basement or in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, I would no longer be within earshot of what is going on in the house. Think of everything I would miss!

Doreen wrote:
Well, it is true, the dining or kitchen table is the center of grand central station and we all do our best work where we can grab a coffee or answer the phone or the door and let the dog out or in. Just can’t shut us away with our important papers can they?
**

MY FRIEND CONNIE

I met Connie Egan in 1965 when I needed a babysitter. I had a woman named Doreen doing my weekly ironing (I had a full time job at Weber Aircraft) and we ‘fired’ a babysitter called Grandma when my 2 year old son Steve turned up with bruises on his body. We took him to the doctor who said it looked like he had been beaten, but he couldn’t be sure. This was long before we had any laws protecting children from situations like this. At the same time, Steve developed a fear of the bathtub and I had to sponge bathe him for a long time. All we could get out of his five year old brother was “Grandma drowned Stevie”. We think she had been punishing him for not being toilet trained.

At any rate, Doreen said her neighbor Connie sometimes babysat for people. I went downstairs and knocked on the door. I met Connie. She was a stay at home mom at the time and the most laid back person I had ever met. She agreed to become my babysitter and her youngest son, Sean, and my older son Michael started kindergarten together.

Connie and I quickly discovered we were kindred spirits. We both loved books and poetry. We loved American history. One time we bought – sight unseen – a box of American history biographies and autobiographies from a woman, probably someone I connected with on Women’s Circle. When the books, for which we paid about $100.00, arrived in the mail, we sat on the floor and divvied them up.

It was not unusual for us to get hare-brained ideas, such as taking her children, mine, and half a dozen of the neighborhood children, to Disneyland for the day. One time when we were planning to celebrate my son Chris’ birthday at Travel Town in Griffith Park, we had a caravan of cars heading for the park and despite the fact that you drive right passed Travel Town getting into Griffith Park, we drove around in circles, taking turns leading the caravan, ending up near the observatory, while the ice cream melted. Somehow we ended up at Travel Town. I think that was the time I discovered I had a flat tire when we were preparing to leave. I wonder now what we did. There were no cell phones. None of us had Triple A. It’s quite possible we begged a stranger to change a tire for us.

Another time I came home from work to find Connie in the alley behind the apartment building, attempting to put back together half a dozen tricycles and bicycles. Michael and Sean had taken all the children’s riding toys apart (no doubt to see how they worked) but they thoughtfully kept everything in one big pile so they wouldn’t lose any pieces. Another time they painted polka dots all over everything.

If Steve was sick (and he was prone to bronchitis in those days) I might come home from work and find Connie sitting in a rocking chair, rocking the baby.

Sometime in 1965 I quit my job at Weber Aircraft, in a fit of pique because we had to take Jim’s mother to the airport and the manager in charge, not my regular boss, said I couldn’t go. So I quit and we bought a house in Simi Valley. I never thought about leaving Connie in the lurch at the time but that’s what we did – but perhaps it was prophetic and destined because before long she had gotten a job with the Screen Actors Guild and then soon was working for the SAG health plan, which had offices above the KBIG building on Sunset.

We lived in Simi Valley a couple of years; I hated it. We were so far from our friends and the neighbors weren’t friendly. So, we moved back to the valley, this time to a rented house in Arleta. I think about a dozen friends came to help us move. I was pregnant with Chris at the time and unable to do any heavy lifting. My friend Doreen – the one who had introduced me to Connie – had bought a house in Arleta and for weeks had come out to Simi Valley, packed boxes, and moved them to her garage. When it came to actually moving, Connie and Doreen and Connie’s brother Chris and a bunch of other friends were all there to lend a hand. And a year or so later, when the house we were renting was sold, we had the opportunity to move into the house next door- again all our friends came and moved us, lock, stock and barrel. (I had just begun collecting cookbooks and we didn’t have near the amount of stuff we have today—still. Girlfriends set up the kitchen; the men put beds together; girlfriends made the beds. We moved right in. I think I was pregnant with Kelly by this time.
The pregnancy with Kelly was unexpected – none were ever planned but Jim had said if I got pregnant again, he’d leave me. So there I was, pregnant (after a New Year’s Eve party) and moving furniture around trying to get my period to start. I began spotting. I called Connie. She rushed over. Jim said “What’s the matter with her?” and Connie told him “She’s pregnant, you dumb ox, and afraid to tell you”. I asked him if he wanted me to get an abortion. He replied “No, I don’t what you to do anything we might regret later on” (I often wondered if he thought of those remarks years later when Kelly went to live with his father, when we split up, because “you have so many people and he doesn’t have anyone”).
The day I went into labor I was laying on the sofa talking to Connie. “Oops” I said. “I think my water just broke”. I heard later that Connie was in a dither about what to do until someone said “Oh, Connie – she will call her husband and he will take her to the hospital”. Which is exactly what happened. Kelly was born less than a half hour after we reached West Hills hospital. When we were released from the hospital I came home to find Jim and three other children down with the flu. I called my doctor who asked if I could get out of the house. Not a chance, I told him.

So I called Connie. She came and took care of Jim and the three sick children while I stayed in our bedroom with the baby on the other side of the house.

Connie and our friend Roger became Kelly’s godparents. It was a good godmother match for my youngest, quietest left-handed son, and his left-handed godmother.

Connie and her brother, and their mother, along with her children, rented a house not far from us in Arleta. Connie’s brother Chris and my ex were working at the same place for a while. On Wednesdays they’d get paid so Mrs. Glass, Connie’s mother, and I would go pick up their checks and take them to the bank to be deposited. We drove out Sherman Way every week and were constantly getting tangled up in road closures and repair work. I think Sherman Way was always being worked on.

There were Christmas parties and my whimsical suggestions such as we make bread dough ornaments (with six children underfoot!) – whatever I suggested, Connie went along with it. We had bread dough in our hair, on our clothing, on the floor and the table and the kitchen counters and the children were covered with it. Oh, but we made those bread dough ornaments and some of them survived to this day. Whatever we did, we laughed about it.

I’ve forgotten some of the many things we did with the kids but as they grew older and we grew older, we kind of went our separate ways for a while—until Connie called one day in 1977 and asked me to come to work, part time, for about 5 or 6 weeks until they could get caught up in Claims. (What I didn’t know at the time – we never got caught up in Claims, in all the years I worked there). I started working from 5 to 10 pm at night with Connie and was the phantom claims adjuster. We wrote claims payments out in longhand at that time. Right away Mr. Cline and Patty Lowe began badgering me to come to work full time. (Jim didn’t want me to work – he liked having me on hand to wait on him 24/7). But life was particularly difficult at that time with my oldest son Michael, and I really needed that break. And I loved, loved, loved my job.
Claims Department that year consisted of one manager (Connie) and a few claims adjusters – Mary Jo, Barri, Yvonne (known as Bonnie), Liza – and myself. We all became great friends. My friend Rosalia soon joined our department and sat behind Connie, learning how to pay claims. That office was unlike any place I’d ever worked at – more like a mom and pop grocery store atmosphere than a health plan office. We’d take off to celebrate someone’s birthday and make the time up later. There were no time clocks. Patti kept track of everybody’s accrued vacation and/or sick time and gave you little slips of paper once a month to let you know what you had coming. One time I broke my denture and Patty had the office mail lady drive me to my dentist in Burbank. Where else but this office? Members would come in off the street and want to see their claims adjuster; they might pour a pile of unpaid medical bills on her desk and sit back waiting for her to figure everything out. And she would. The cardinal rule back in those days was “The member comes first” and we all obeyed it.
Connie was an ideal manager; she never raised her voice and I never knew her to lose her temper. I don’t think she walked; she sort of floated.

In all of our years of friendship, we only had one falling out that lasted three months. It was over her daughter, Dawn, and it wasn’t until years later (when I became a grandmother, actually) that I realized – she was right and I was wrong. I never had the opportunity to tell her so. But I remember the two of us sitting in a restaurant, one day – when Dawn was pregnant with Sean – and talking about Connie’s problems with her relationship with Dawn.
“When she goes to have that baby” I promised, “She won’t want me, she will want her mother”.
“I hope you are right” she said. I was. I had just been a stand in, for a few months, helping Dawn get to and from the doctor’s office. And make no mistake, Connie loved being a grandmother.

When we moved to Florida, Connie arranged for me to be able to fly back to California in the summer months, to work – and keep my medical insurance and pension – intact. When we moved BACK to California in 1983, our camper was parked in her driveway for about 6 weeks while we found a house to buy. The best months between 1980 and 1983, though, were the summer months I worked and visited different friends from work, a few weeks with one and a few weeks with another. We did so many great things together, as a group! We went to the Hollywood Bowl, we went to see A.T. when it opened downtown. We went to Lawry’s for dinners; we went to Ernie’s or Acapulco, a Mexican restaurant, several nights a week. (it was walking distance. No one had to worry about driving after having a couple of Margaritas). I went to a play, for the first time in my life, with Connie and Mary Jo and saw “On a Clear Day”. It was the best times. When I was staying at Connie’s, the girls and I would make salsa and impossible pies. There was a lot of laughter. I remember Connie running all over Burbank one day trying to find cilantro and finally finding some at a nursery (it was unknown back then). If you told Connie to go find something, she wasn’t going to give up until she found it! I think a couple of times we substituted parsley in the salsa recipe.

In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking at the same time. I never went back to cigarettes; a year later, she did. “Why?” I asked her, “Why would you take up smoking again after an entire year of getting RID of the habit?”
She said she didn’t know. She was at a party and someone handed her a cigarette. She smoked it.
Connie died from lung cancer in 1999.

I was not Connie’s only girlfriend nor was she the only girlfriend I had; I have been blessed all my entire life with girlfriends….but I have to say, when it came to having a best friend, someone who was always there for you, someone who would go the extra mile and help you in any way possible – Connie was that friend. She bought a home in Burbank – I don’t remember what year that was – and her daughter Dawn lives there today. Of all the places I have ever visited, whenever I needed a place to stay or to spend a night – this is my favorite place of all. Connie’s presence is still there, inside the house. No doubt her spirit is still looking out for her children and grandchildren.
***

HELEN’S COOKBOOK – THE SEQUEL

A serendipitous event can take place when you write a story about an experience in your life, telling the story as you know it–never knowing, when it appears in print, how it may ultimately affect someone else, far away.

I wrote about Helen’s Cookbook for Inky Trail News in 2007 (but had originally written an article about it for another newsletter back in 1993) –and again, on my blog, in June, 2009. obviously, Helen’s cookbook has continued to fascinate me, more than 40 years after I acquired it. Its pages are fragile, now, and I handle the book with extreme care. I couldn’t treasure it more if my own mother had compiled it.

To bring you up to date, In the 1960s, when I was just beginning to collect cookbooks, I found a bookstore in Hollywood where many cookbooks were $1.00 each. While I grabbed books off the shelves, thrilled by my find –the store owner said “I have a cookbook you may be interested in seeing” and he brought it out–it wasn’t ONE dollar, however, it was $7.00 (a lot of money for me at the time)–but I was captivated. The collection is in an old leather 3-ring binder but not your 8 1/2x 11” size binder. This one measures 5 ½ x 8 ½”.

I learned a lot about its creator by carefully reading through all the handwritten recipes and examining cards, newspaper clippings and other scraps of paper kept in a pocket on the inside of the cover. I knew that her name was Helen.

I didn’t think that Helen had any children–consequently, her handwritten collection of recipes ended up in a dusty little used book store–and has been a prize gem in my cookbook collection for over 40 years.

The book is packed with handwritten (in real ink) recipes, interspersed with pages of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers and pasted onto the pages. Helen apparently began her collection in the early 1920s, shortly after she married. One of the earliest entries is a recipe she obtained while on her honeymoon–Helen always gave credit where credit was due; most recipes are dutifully named after the person who gave it to her. There are dozens of recipes with titles such as “Aunt Maude’s doughnuts” or “Florence’s pound cake”.

Helen liked to have dinner parties; she and her husband usually hosted Christmas dinners for eight or twelve; guests were assigned duties (everything from serving up celery stalks to putting up the card chairs). Helen kept her menus and guest lists from the mid-1930s until after WW2. And she kept copies of her guest lists, assignments, and menus.

Helen was thrifty and often copied recipes onto the backs of envelopes or old greeting cards–sources that provided clues to who she was and how she lived. Gradually, it appears that Helen’s vision began to fail her. Her handwriting became scrawled and almost illegible. Judging from a message inside an old card, I believed her husband died first.

What happened to Helen? My guess was that she died, and when she did, her belongings were sold in an estate sale or perhaps by a distant relative. That part of Helen’s life was–until recently–a blank page; her manuscript cookbook offered no clues.

A few years ago, a package arrived in the mail one day, from England -Inside I found a recipe journal, very old–possibly 1920s and a letter from an ITN subscriber offering the book to me since she had read about Helen’s cookbook and thought I would appreciate this one as well. Would I! I wrote to the sender, Anna, and in answer to her questions, provided what little other information I knew about Helen–her name and address had been printed on a sheet of stationery that ended up in the cookbook with a recipe written on it. And Anna – with the assistance of a genealogy-minded friend – soon sent me several pages of information about my Helen–where she had been born and grown up, when she had married, – and most amazing of all (to my mind) that Helen had been a psychologist and the daughter of a surgeon in Chicago. And, as I had surmised, Helen and her husband Mart never had any children. They had lived most of their married life here in Southern California (strongly reflected in the pages of her cookbook). It would have never crossed my mind to try and discover the history of the author.

As I had surmised, Helen’s husband did die before she; he passed away November 14, 1956.

Helen died January 20, 1971, in Los Angeles.

It is the most amazing discovery –to think that this handmade cookbook I have treasured all the years – has more than just a name. It has a history. But even more amazing – that my story reached a woman in England – who provided all the details about another southern Californian whose passion, like mine, was cooking. And as Paul Harvey would have said, now you know the rest of the story.
**

Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!
Sandy