Olallieberry Memory

Peanut butter sandwiches with Olallieberry jam and a little mac salad on the side. Daily lunch when staying with my grandparents during the hot summers in Santa Rosa.

My grandmother, Vivian, made her jam and pies during the first weeks of June, the only time Olallieberries are available.

Grown almost exclusively in the moderate climate of the northern and central California coast, they came from Corvallis, Oregon. Kissed by morning fog and cooled by the nearby Pacific Ocean, they flourish in California. But when warm weather comes, the berries are done. There’s less than a three week window in which to grab them. Then a long year before another chance arrives.

My dad used to say God must harvest them himself, so beautiful and delicious are they.

Years later when I lived on the coast in Montara with a child of my own, blackberries and raspberries grew wild in the empty lot behind our house. Long pants on to escape their stickery brambles, Mom and I would pick until our colanders were sufficiently full to fashion a pie. But they weren’t Olallieberries, that special cross of a Youngberry and Logan blackberry.

God’s hand for sure, Dad.

My grandmother was raised in an orphanage and I’ve wondered who taught her to cook and bake, and she was good at both. Questions we think of too late, when there’s no one to ask.

She left few recipes, mostly those that belonged to others. No recipe for her Olallieberry pie or jam, or macaroni salad, leaving me free to remember and create on my own.

Just like her. A free spirit and free-thinker in a generation unfamiliar with and unwelcoming to either quality in women, as if it weren’t difficult enough to be Jewish and raised in an orphanage. Or, maybe because of.

I’m sure her flaky crust came by way of lard or Crisco because that was the way of the day. When I first set out to re-create an Olallieberry pie I started with my mother’s recipe for pie dough. I didn’t succeed even with Mom by my side. There was something about that particular dough which wouldn’t come together for me, or even for her if I were around. The dough and I were not friends.

Then came the Silver Palate Cookbook and the one pastry dough recipe that loves me. A good start to my Olallieberry memory.

I combed recipes from here and there; I searched the internet and old cookbooks going back to Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School. Then I found a recipe in a McCall’s cookbook I’d been given in 1975 by my cousin, Eva. “Fresh Berry Pie”.

Can you taste things with your imagination? Read an ingredient list and with each addition have the mouth in your mind follow along, adding flavors until a taste takes shape?

I can.

The recipe read, “Dash ground cloves”.

I knew. I could taste it. Dimension, another layer of flavor, depth without sweetness. Unexpected. In a berry pie, or in the cookbook falling apart high up on the shelf in my kitchen cabinet.

I used Silver Palate dough for my crust, four pints of beautiful Olallieberries snagged during their way-too-compact-early-June season, and from deep in my cluttered baking drawer, Vivian’s  pastry cutter to pink the lattice ribbons for the top.

Did its baking fill the house with a scrumptious fragrance? Did it look to tempt the devil himself? Was it torture waiting for it to cool? Did I remember to slide a little a la mode next to it on the plate? Did I savor every bite?

You don’t really need me to answer, do you?

Right out of a 1950’s diner. Lava-like juices had bubbled through the lattice and cooled around the rim to a shiny, luscious deep purple. Flaky barely sweet pie crust, each bite filled with Olallieberry goodness.

As tasty as it was, delicious as the day was long, it was this memory that filled and warmed me, reminded me of who I am, the people and stories that came before me. The joy wasn’t as much in consuming pie as it had been in pursuit and capture of summers five decades ago. Summers filled with sunshine, and love, and berries “harvested by God’s hand”, then baked by my grandmother into an Olallieberry memory.

Vivian Doris Harris Reilly

 

 

 

It Works

This morning I began preparing Leah’s famous apple crisp. It’s actually not hers but the creation of her dear friend. We’re all sworn to secrecy.

Don’t ask.

Slight error with photo pressure. Good thing my brother wasn’t choosing.

The recipe called for 12 ounces of butter – a cube and a half. Richard’s recipes are foolproof. And precise. Don’t mess with a thing and you get a product that draws raves for years.

But I was tired. I decided not to measure that last half cube. I scoffed. I EYEBALLED it.

When I measured what I thought was half against the other, they were exact.

You know why? When we were kids my mom always said, “If you cut, your brother chooses.”

Gadzooks. The pressure of a brother so empowered. He was allowed to choose first which side of whatever he wanted. A sandwich. Toast. A piece of pie…

I’m 66.

It was still a perfect half.

 

Children Are Always Good

My mother rarely cried. Unlike her daughter, a veritable fountain on the verge for any occasion, Mom wasn’t given to showing sadness. Anger yes, sadness no.

It might be an Italian thing.

I was 12 years old making yet another trip from my bedroom to the kitchen for a snack after school when I heard my mom in tears at the front door speaking to a neighbor lady who was her good friend. In hushed voices there was only their mumble but I could make out my mother’s distress. Laverne said, “I’m so sorry, Ann. I’m so sorry.”

At 12 what does a kid do? I was afraid. I was curious. I was upset. I was in distress for Mom. I retreated to my room until the front door closed and the voices fell silent. I emerged to find Mom wiping her tears. I stuttered. I asked what happened.

She hesitated and didn’t want to tell. She was unable to quickly create a cover story for the incident and I think that’s the only reason she told the truth.

My grandmother was dying. She was diagnosed with an advanced and untreatable form of leukemia. In disclosing to me, my mother sagged and melted into tears again.

That was over 50 years ago yet I can see every detail in the rear view mirror. Of that day and those after until Fanny died in early December of 1964.

At school the next day I couldn’t concentrate and when lunchtime came, I told my teacher, a sweet, 10891629_10205631889135505_2597179225136233629_nancient, tiny nun. I described all that had happened the day before. I had some fearsome faith back in the day. I probably thought she could pull up some Catholic mojo and make my grandmother better. I could barely get the words out to explain what I knew, what would be the undoing of my little family. Fanny was the light at the center of everything.

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She told me if I prayed hard enough and if I was good enough, God would save my grandmother. I pulled myself together to execute.

I was not only good. I was excellent. I spent hours praying. Days. Nights. I prayed to God. To Jesus. To Mary, His mother.

At school I made As on my lessons. At home I cared for my brothers and my dad so Mom could be with Grandma. I cooked (poorly) and cleaned the house (like a 12-year-old). My mama wept for her mama and I toiled and prayed some more.

Then, my grandmother died.

15591647_10211601282126599_749632490219273768_oThat first Christmas came three weeks after her death. I prayed even harder to the baby Jesus tucked in his tiny manger under the watchful eyes of His parents, nestled in the crisp white sheet at the bottom of our Christmas tree. With twinkling lights and shimmering tinsel, ornaments reflecting its surrounds, our tree stood tall and alone in the corner of our living room. Each evening in the quiet before bed I knelt before the tree. I prayed to atone for Fanny’s death. I hadn’t been good enough in God’s eyes to save her.

I didn’t realize until well into adulthood that I carried that memory deep within, that I operated believing I wasn’t good enough. The ultimate judgment had been rendered and a life was lost. I saw it all in the rear view mirror and was shocked by the depth of the belief, the decision made as young girl based on a teacher’s words.

I never told a soul. I was ashamed and guilty. To whom could I unburden myself and confess this murder? God already knew.21741184_10214368590067568_7115962655116691979_o

You know what I know now? Whether there is or isn’t a god doesn’t matter – children are always good enough. They’re born good. And if you tell them they’re good and lovable, even if sometimes they’re naughty, they will grow into good and loving adults.

Children are good. It’s immutable. Tell the children around you how lovable and good they are. Tell them every day.

I was good. I am good. And Fanny knew for sure.

Fanny & her adoring daughter, my mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Alike Than Different

I don’t think of myself as someone who has anything in common with the Bush family. Not 41 and not 43.

My politics tend to be left of center and I didn’t vote for either of them. Their patrician upbringing couldn’t differ much more from mine. I have grandparents who were Italian immigrants and one who was raised in a Jewish orphanage. There were no second homes or sail boats.

2007-12-26-bush60minutesdecisionThe ever-present smirk on W’s face always bothered the heck out of me, though now I don’t think it’s so much a smirk as just his face. (Kinda like RBF* but different.) George Herbert Walker Bush seemed to me, at the time of his race against Bill Clinton for a second term as president, out of touch with the common man. Not mean spirited but lacking a generous spirit and desire to understand the day-to-day struggles of the working class.

Elite prep schools, ivy league colleges and law schools didn’t speak to me and didn’t represent anything in my family’s world. Not to mention the land and oil baron part of their stories, more like a fairy tale to me.

I pretty much wrote them off and out of consciousness.

Over the last ten years the Bush family has come back to mind. Of course there has been the annual news report of elder Bush jumping from an airplane on his birthday, but I’ve begun to appreciate W when he shows up on the late night talk show circuit bantering with Jimmy Kimmel. I’ve read with interest articles about his paintings and the charities he supports with them.

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Dalai Lama, by George W. Bush

I haven’t suffered Clinton-like Bush-fatigue, or been tortured with family fashion, style, and vacations the way we have been with post-Obama administration non-news. Stories about W generally have more substance and are far less frequent. I enjoy them.

All this I noted checking the rear view mirror as I witnessed the sad week leading up to President George H. W. Bush’s recent burial at his presidential library in College Station, TX.

Thirty years after he occupied the Oval Office.

George & BarbaraThrough the lens of the loss of my parents I absorbed the deaths of Barbara and George H.W. within a half year of each other. Watching and listening to W speak about his father brought my own dad to memory along with my tremendous sorrow at having lost him. I could empathize deeply with the Bush children and grandchildren as they said difficult good-byes to their matriarch and patriarch within such a short period. It was the same for my brothers and me.

I watched the president’s flag draped casket carried by military service personnel. Dad didn’t want his similarly covered. He reckoned he hadn’t done enough during WWII to warrant that respect. In his mind he was one sailor doing the least he could to help in a war effort drawing to a close by the time he reached the age of service. He was embarrassed he hadn’t done more though it wasn’t he but the calendar that bore the fault. He was turned away when he tried to enlist. Too young. He hesitated to call himself a veteran. He was a radar man. He spent much of his time in uniform helping to clean up the Marshall Islands post WWII. In his eyes, hardly a vet. When other dads told their stories, he would allow his to go unspoken.

George H. W. Bush was precisely the kind of man Dad believed should have a flag draped coffin, be saluted and acknowledged. A real vet who flew dozens of bombing missions.

3052_1168849180368_5698866_nI bet the 41st president believed Dad was just the sort of guy who should have been honored. An every man who did his duty without fanfare then quietly returned home to work and care for family, never to mention it again.

We ignored my dad’s wishes. His funeral mass was said with his casket present, a flag covering it.

In the rear view mirror the grand Bush family I once thought so little resembled mine now seems kin. Both parents gone in less than a year after a long and loving marriage. In a society where women are expected to live longer than men, my dad and W’s outlived their wives to keep their decades old promises to care for them for life, then faded away. As I heard the president wanted etched on his grave marker the words, “He loved Barbara very much,” I remembered my dad saying upon his fatal diagnosis, “My only sadness after this good life is that I will break my promise to your mother to love her til the end of her days.”

Against all odds, he kept that promise.

During the days after 41’s death, stories tumbled from the lips of friends and family, 600px-George_W._Bush_and_familysome funny and others so touching they barely rose from the tellers’ throats without first causing them to choke on a sob.

I have times like that.

Two men who were family first, followed by loyalty and integrity, and country.

UnknownBut for broccoli love, very much the same. My dad ate his veggies.

Just like the Bush family saying good-bye then marching into Christmas with sadness and celebration, so did our little family. A cremation and Christmas a week later.

What I’ve come to believe in my later years to be nearly always true, was proven to me again – our similarities are greater than our differences. In the heat of debate as we arm-wrestle ideas, it’s hard for me to remember. When watching television and listening to pundits translate our heads of state, their vision and values, I rely on third parties to tell a story which may or may not be complete and accurate as they encourage me to line up ‘fir or agin’ our leaders.

That we are flesh and blood, trying our damnedest to live lives of honesty and contribution while caring for families and communities, is where I find commonalities that need no interpretation.

We are all one I see clearly in the rear view mirror. Not only in retrospect do I want to remember this but in moments when I stand in opposition, lost in my judgment of another rather than my compassion and curiosity for who they really are. That’s when I want to remember we are one.

And that’s how I’ll remember George Herbert Walker Bush and my dad. Seemingly different and at the heart of things, so very alike. As his grieving son and me.

*RBF – Resting Bitch Face

Apology

A draft copy of my last post, “Arrivederci, Roma”, escaped my fingers and was published (because I’m still learning how to do things here) before edits and clean-up. For those of you with subscriptions, that means an immediate draft, links not working, typos and all, arrived in your mail boxes. Lucky you.

Many apologies. I ask, save me more embarrassment and delete the draft you received. You have my thanks! If you’re still interested in the story, please go directly to the WordPress website.

I’m going back to check for more typos now…

Arrivederci, Roma

shoppingHard leather soles make an unmistakable sound scuffling across an old wood floor.  There’s a sharp clunk if the back slides off the heel and a little shuffling sound, because slippers are often extra roomy. My grandfather’s were.images

In the morning he’d wrap himself in a red wool plaid Pendleton bathrobe, his long johns peeking from below the hem and ending to expose his ankles. Then the slippers. Always brown. He would drowsily make his way to the kitchen where my grandmother, cloaked in her housecoat, prepped the aluminum stove top percolator with morning coffee. Black coffee.

Medalgia D'oroMedaligia D’Oro.

Tar.

We didn’t get in Grandpa’s way in the morning. He plodded to the breakfast nook to read the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, drink his café, and smoke a morning, unfiltered Camel. Grandma would bring his breakfast. If we crossed his path we’d hear, “Scappa! camelScappa via!” and we scurried away.

So familiar were those words, frequently the first of Grandpa’s day when my brothers and I spent the night, that over 60 years later the sound of slippers dragging across a floor, scraping and clomping to the kitchen, will elicit from my brother or me, “Scappa! Scappa!”

There was however, on occasion, a different kind of morning. One that began similarly with the robe and the long johns, the slippers and the sleepy trip to the kitchen.  Then Grandpa bypassed the coffee and headed for the refrigerator. He removed the textured gray, molded cardboard egg carton from a shelf, grabbed a glass from the nearby cabinet, and proceeded to mix a concoction that was largely raw eggs swished around and slammed down in a single gulp.

Not until much later did a glance in the rear view mirror reveal what we didn’t know then – these mornings followed a late night of stubby, vile smelling Toscano cigars, shots of whiskey and espresso, and too many hands of Pinochle with the paisanos at the Italian toscano-extravecchioAmerican Social Club.

There might also have been flirting with the young women who served them. There were rumors…

Grandma Fanny wasn’t happy. When Fanny wasn’t happy there was no talking. No laughing. No smiling.

There was a stern, fixed expression. The silent treatment raised to an art form.

Grandpa had other plans.

After the raw egg fortification he’d walk up behind her as she stood at the white enamel, three-raw-eggs-in-glassgas stove that still had a cubby for burning wood, and twirl her to him. He’d grab her in dance stance, and lead her around the kitchen floor while singing, Arrivederci, Roma. She resisted every step.

“Stop it, Pe-tah” with her Italian accent, and words in a language we didn’t understand. He did not stop.

“Basta!” she’d call out.

For him it was not enough. Around and around the kitchen floor he waltzed her, his robe flaps flying, scappa shoes scraping against the linoleum floor to the sound of his singing and the smell of perking coffee until she could resist no longer.

To the backdrop of his song came her laughter. The prize. The forgiveness. The real break of day.

Sunrise.

Her steely silence ruptured, she’d smile and laugh with a knowing resignation that married life doesn’t always present exactly the way one might like. She lacked the will to carry on angrily.

16195939_10211991329517540_5100011490949474683_nThough Peter lived into his mid-80s, Fanny did not. By 70 she was gone. Four years older than I am now. Did she know what was to come and  committed to using her time wisely, with love? I don’t know.

Around and around they go in her fragrant kitchen, to the sound of his slippers and her sweet laughter, his plea for forgiveness in the notes of Arrivederci, Roma, Fanny and “Pe-tah” dance forever in my memory. In my rear view mirror.

 

Like No Ethics At All

When I was 18 I dated a quiet, partly-nerdy, ever thoughtful, really bright guy. He read a lot.

15.Red-Haired-GuyHe had a shock of red hair.

Later I found out he had red pubic hair, too, natch, when he visited our family home from out-of-state. My brother followed his shower in the white shower/tub combo and immediately reported, as only a 15-year-old little brother can, “His pubes are orange!”

It was a moment. But I digress.

Anyway, there was a time when within the context of a conversation long forgotten, the holdinghands521red-headed wonder uttered the words, “Situation ethics are like no ethics at all,’ with stony faced seriousness.

An 18-year-old boy-man said those words. Who says that? At that age?  At any age.

In the rear view mirror it seems as impossibly outlandish now as it did at the time. Only for different reasons.

D145_233_622_1200Because I was not nearly mature enough to hear that kind of wisdom and probably never had pondered the word ‘ethics’, I immediately reported his statement to my best friend with the closest impersonation of his oh-so-serious voice I could muster. We laughed uproariously restating the phrase often especially before embarking on any kind of shenanigan.

Close to 40 years later I reconnected with my barely-red and mostly-gray high school love. (Facebook, you’re a wonder. But I digress. Again.) I asked if he remembered.

Of course he didn’t, those days long left behind and buried under adult responsibilities. He said, “It sounds pompous enough to have been me.”

He was 18. Pompous? Quite remarkable.

Now I measure nearly every important decision I make, political stand I take, essay I write, lesson I teach my grandson and will teach his infant brother, vote I cast, and weary self-evaluation at the end of a day, by those words.

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks during a news conference in KabulAnd I think a country fractured by identity politics and hypocrisy mourns Senator John McCain precisely because he practiced ethical congruency with a rigour most don’t know exists let alone understand.

In the rear view mirror, ‘situation ethics is like no ethics at all’ comes into keen focus.

Filed under “Words to Live By.”

Thanks, Andy. (I made you a red-headed hair model, okay? Sorry, I digress.)

Just Me

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Our grandson, Grady, spent time with us recently. Sitting on the living room floor next to windows overlooking a lush canyon below, he was engrossed in his toy cars. They talked, he talked back, jet planes landed in their midst and the Elmo phone babbled. As I padded silently barefoot behind him I said. “It’s just me, Grady,” so I wouldn’t startle him.

It was then I remembered a similar interaction with my dad toward the end of his life. I saw the episode play out in the rear view mirror.

After brain radiation there were numerous undesirable side effects. One was evident in Dad’s startle reflex; it became very sensitive. I could startle him even if he were looking right at me as I walked in a room. The knob turning, the sound of the door opening, the whoosh of air as one walked through might cause him to jump. Lost in his own world, emerging was sometimes a fright.

So I would say, “It’s just me, Dad,” in my most reassuring voice and settle my hands on his shoulders, trying to soften his landing into our world.

On this day, his voice strong and emphatic, he replied, “It’s never just you. Just as though it’s not someone special walking in. It’s you!” His crooked grin wide and satisfied. He’d made his point.

I knew as it happened I’d been given a gift. One that would last long after I lost him. An invaluable treasure I carefully wrapped and tucked in my heart.

From time to time I take it out and admire and touch it again, melt into my dad’s memory, and secret it back in its resting place, remembering it’s never just me. I’m special and so was he. Mostly we were special together.

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Dedicated to my dad, and Meghan McCain’s dad, too.

Sawbuck in My Pocket

I didn’t date very much in high school. Too nerdy. Spent more time with my best friend, working, shopping, listening to music, going to school. Day dreaming.

But there were occasions.

And on one such my mother stuffed a sawbuck in my pocket.

shopping

She said, “Never go on a date without money. Money means you don’t have to stay where you don’t want to be. Don’t have to rely on someone else. Don’t have to do what you don’t want. Leave.”

All these years later I always have a hidden Ben. And a credit card.

Because. It means I can leave.

Checking the rear view mirror I see Mom so serious about this. Where and how did she come to hold this so dearly? Given her generation and her Italian home with a mama who spoke broken English. Did Grandma Fanny do the same with her?

Gotta wonder.

Did Mom know about #metoo.

Meyer Lemon Pie, and My Mom

This morning’s baking adventure took me to a recipe, a flavor and texture, I haven’t experienced for years. Five for sure, because that’s how long Mom’s been gone, three before that because my folks were in assisted living, and probably three or four before that. When Mom declared she’d cook no more.

IMG_6650Her Meyer Lemon Mousse pie. Tangy to make your eyes water, smooth as my new grandson’s bum. Add a flaky crust and little dollop of sweetened whipped cream, a blackberry or blueberry garnish. Heaven. Silky heaven on a plate, served with a tart blink while taking in its beautiful, pale yellow hue.

I loved this pie and Mom would make it for my birthday and sometimes, just because.

It’s not hard to make but it’s a bit of a pain. A dozen juiced lemons. Meyers, of course, a cross between lemon and Mandarin orange. Two kinds of zests. The easy kind for the mousse and long curled threads for garnish.

A double boiler’s involved, constant stirring, an ice plunge and more stirring beforeIMG_6652 folding in whipped cream. Then the pie hits the fridge for a nice little rest.

Not difficult. Not many ingredients. Time consuming. Plenty of clean-up. Doesn’t even include the pie dough flour and fuss.

As I was making it I was also noticing the mess in my wake — which I was okay with.  Not normal for one with obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Messes not welcome.

Because it’s for my kids. Coming to dinner tonight. My kids. And after this mess will be the bigger one, fried chicken, followed by the chaos the kids bring. The noisy, loving chaos of diaper bags and baby bottles, crayons and toys, cell phones and keys, sweaters and shoes piled at the front door.

Mom must have felt that way, too. In the rear view mirror I see her standing at the stove stirring, wanting nary a lump to disrupt the velvety perfection of her lemon custard. Because it was for her daughter. She would want it just so. She would want to best her own record pie-baking prowess.

with thanks to therubygrapefruit.com – my pie is still cooling

She would have made the pie not for pie prestige or baking kudos, or even a thank you but for my smile and the gleeful words, “Mom, my favorite pie!”

In truth all of her pies were my favorite pies.

A smile and a twinkle would have been her thanks.

In the rear view mirror I see I missed that. I smiled and I thanked but I missed her key ingredients. Love, joy, and the fun of creating a delicious, little surprise. All these she added. I missed appreciating those. Many times over.

I hope you knew, Mom, when we traveled our road together.

I hope you knew it was all my favorite.

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