Monday, March 26, 2012

Creeklane Way

     I was forbidden to play with the retarded girl who lived next door in the dilapidated home with the empty underground pool, so I made a point of visiting Brandy every day my parents were out. Mom and Dad hired Wanda, an older-than-middle- aged, obese, laid back woman to watch me during the days mom spent time with brother Eric, and Dad was at work or traveling. The childcare consisted of Wanda sitting on the lime green sofa in front of the floor model TV while I walked around the neighborhood or played at Brandy’s. Brandy had three older brothers and a dad named Rex, who substitute taught in the elementary school. Their house was full of cob webs, dusty chess sets, and board games. We were a great team, and quick to activate the neighborhood scene with our walk-abouts…up and down the street.
     One afternoon we created a backyard circus, and sold tickets to the neighborhood kids. We took the ladder down from my above ground pool so kids could swim, and collected all the pillows and blankets we could find. We scattered the pillows and blankets around the yard, and brought out as many of our board games, balls, stereos, tapes, puzzles we could manage. I closed the fence to my yard, and Brandy and I went on a canvass door to door.  “The twenty five cent circus…was happening right now,” we said. Kids came, the event was a hit, but rumors spread, unfortunately making their way back to my parents, who once again forbade me to play with Brandy.
     The second major neighborhood event may have been the cause of mom and dad deciding to move away from Creeklane Way, take me to see Dr. Clark, or both. Mission two: we walked the neighborhood circuit, I convinced Brandy to steal all the mail. I carried the bag of stolen mail. Our plan was to search for money. After taking all the mail, we sat in an enclave on the side of my house and tore open every piece. We found a bunch of papers that looked like trash, lots and lots of trash; we crumpled them up, and then, I found something good. A birthday card… with a five dollar bill, I ripped up the card and took the money. We stashed all the trash and mail behind cinder blocks. We had no intentions of covering our tracks any further.
     I wonder what dad felt the moment he saw the entire neighborhood’s mail in a pile on the side of our house, I think I have a good sense. Later that evening, dad led me around the neighborhood, door to door with all the crumbled mail in my arms to apologize to every person on the street. He stood back on the road watching me, while I made the solo march up to every adult’s home. Knocking on doors,

“Here’s your mail, I’m the one who stole it.”

By Allison - Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nigella and Me

Imagine.  Lovely cubes of pancetta bronzing in a skillet.  A splosh of vermouth, a drizzle of double cream.  Imagine tumbling the golden pasta strands into the pan, the whisked egg , the salty cheese and if, like me…like her comely British self, you go uncharacteristically mute—rapt with wonder and greed for what you’re about to taste, you find yourself in that pausing pleasure place, suspended agony and delight mingled and, helpless now, you watch Nigella Lawson alone “going in” for a taste of her Spaghetti Carbonara.

True confessions…. I’ve recently become a Cooking Channel junkie.  I’m a nut for watching other people cook and I realized not so long ago, it’s become just one of many quirky ways for me to take in sustenance without literally eating.  It’s a way to get nourished by foodie ideas, then take or leave them.  TV Food shows serve up choice and celebration over tyranny; a vast spectrum of savory and sweet offerings and approaches.  The cumulative result (for me) has been more consciousness about what I choose to eat, and more joy in the process of choosing and making it. Additionally, my food voyeurism ignites an attitude of pleasure I’d lost over the years as I labored to serve sustenance to my family and others with the voices of apologetic and martyred Grandmothers and Mothers in my head.

Nigella, among a few other Cooking Network Goddesses and Gods, offers personality and inadvertent life coaching for free, if you’re in the market for it.  While I’ve never been given to midnight refrigerator raids, I do love a good lick of a cookie mixing bowl and a new voice in my head to say, “Oh, please, just enjoy it!" Given my proclivities, comfort eating has played a role in my journey, with mostly negative results.  The permissive, celebratory voice has a way of making me less hungry.

On the road to healthier eating and attitudes, surprisingly, Nigella has become a great stand-in for my hedonistic, orally fixated persona, since she, curvaceous, flirty, confident, careless and ever-creative, demonstrates how to throw caution to the wind and celebrate greed over vanity with a wink. She looks gorgeous with a chocolaty spoon in her mouth.  She offers up ideas for feeding ourselves and our loved ones simply, richly and well after we’ve turned off the television.  And she convinces us that curves are beautiful and pleasure is…, well, something we need to remember we’re entitled to!  

But Nigella, my queen, wouldn’t be Nigella without her WORDS!  In a recent survey of one show, I noted just a few that seduced me into a swoon.  How about the velvety swirl of potted chocolate, another knob of butter, idiotically vibrant pureed peas, a tumble, a whisk, a dribble, a dollop.  And seriously, when was the last time you experienced the resinous aroma of fresh rosemary? Makes you want to dive in after whatever’s being “done to” doesn’t it?  Those fabulously eggy, cheesy, bacony post-pub, one-skillet snacks.  Ummmmm.   While I won’t indulge in most of these offerings, sometimes I can FEEL like I’ve indulged, just by summoning them up.  Turns out,  just listening and watching and writing this can be quite satisfying.  Thank you Nigella.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, March 5, 2012

And Then There Was One... Redux

And Then There Was One…Redux

Since April 2011 I have lost my brother, my father and now my mother.

Thea Wentz Riebsomer passed away on February 26, 2012 at 12:35 a.m., just shy of her ninety-second birthday. She died as she lived, chaotically, until the very end. I had not seen her for almost eight years. She had disowned me, having told me I ruined her life for reasons that I won’t go into here, except to say that Mother tried so hard to be loved her whole life, but the love she sought had to be on her terms and it was never quite good enough. I had made my own personal peace with our estrangement long ago.

All I ever wanted was for her to find some peace and I felt in my heart that she would never find it here on this earth. I returned to Connersville just six weeks after my dad’s death because my niece, Aimee, needed me and to help ease my mother in her passing. She had said that she was ready to go, but she was afraid. Mother had what is called terminal restlessness the last two days of her life and only calmed down with the help of morphine and, strangely, my presence. Aimee told her I was on my way and she nodded.  Mother had been staying with my niece for two weeks, since she was diagnosed as terminal, due to congestive heart failure.

I wish that she had had a happier life, that she had made better choices for herself. She was smart, funny and beautiful. I don’t think she believed those things about herself. In the end she was surrounded by people who cared about her. The great fear she had of dying alone did not come to pass. Her youngest granddaughter Beth, who lives in Michigan, was on her shoulder via cell phone until the very end, her nurse, her oldest granddaughter Aimee, her former daughter-in-law, Pam, her estranged daughter, and her pastor and his wife surrounded Mother with love and light. This odd mix of people took such good care of her and in that she was very fortunate.

 I talked to my mother for nine straight hours as I tried to get her to let go. It’s hard work to convince someone who has never been known as cooperative into floating away. She was unable to respond, but I know she heard me. I told her I knew that she loved me and she squeezed my hand. When I started talking to her about her beloved Panama City Beach, Florida, where she wintered for twenty years, and the beautiful sunsets she had taken thousands of pictures of, we could see her relaxing. I told her she would never be alone again, she would never be in pain again, and she would never have to reveal her age again. Her breathing slowed, her jaw relaxed and at long last she let go.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse