Take Your Granddaughter on a Road Trip

When you drive out to the Midwest to see your eldest son and his small family, there is no one to rotate the beers for the nine hours. But on the way back, you will have your 8-year-old granddaughter with you, and she is a good girl.

Put the granddaughter and a big metal cooler full of Schlitz cans and ice in the back seat. Show the girl how to rotate the cans whenever she hands you a fresh beer as you drive. Each can has to be turned and buried deeper in the melting ice so the beer is icy and refreshing whenever you crack open a new one. Her hand reaches up to give you a wet, ice-chilled beer as you chuck the empty out the window. You don’t ask her to open them. Her fingers are too small.

The author and her Pappap

The author and her Pappap

Smoke three Camel non-filtered cigarettes while you drink each beer, flicking the ash out the window, which is left permanently cracked. Light the next Camel off of the last one. Your wife, in the passenger seat, and granddaughter, sing songs while you hum tunelessly along and crack jokes about the road signs.

“Hey, why do you have to watch out for Falling Rock? She was an Indian Princess who ran away from home and her old man is looking for her!”, and laugh your wheezy, boozy laugh when your granddaughter groans that she has heard that one a thousand times.

When she asks, tell the girl all of the stories about all of the tattoos that cover your arms and legs.

“I got ‘em in the Navy. This one is the Fightin’ Irish! This one is your Grandma’s name, because she’s my Irish Rose.” Let the girl rub her fingers up and down your right arm, feeling the ridges of the tattoos.

Ask her for another cold one.

 

- Beth Dugan's previous essays for Dead Housekeeping are Blue and Grey and Brown, Evergreen, and Everything Can be Used Again. Her website is www.bethdugan.com.

 

Abuela's Special Vegetable Soup

Chunky vegetable soup at your house was a treat.  The fun began when you started to prepare the vegetables. I was the happy recipient of your discarded strips of potato and carrot peel, celery ribs, fennel stalks. Butter knife in hand, I set to work industriously in the covered patio outside your kitchen.

We both chopped, sliced, and stirred in unison, you at the kitchen counter; me, at a picnic table, listening to your crystalline voice. You always loved to sing.

Abuela in her garden

Abuela in her garden

You brought your soup to the table with a radiant smile. My pretend soup ended up in the trash. 

You didn’t complain if your 11 grandchildren made a mess, but you never tolerated rude language. “¡Te voy a poner una papa caliente en la boca!” The threat of a hot potato in our mouths was an effective deterrent.

Years later, when it was time for me to make soup for real, I asked you what made your soup taste so special. Your green eyes twinkled and you settled down for a chat, matecup in hand. The secret ingredient included flavors from the land of your ancestors, Spain.  

“Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a heaped tablespoon of smoked paprika and heat over a low fire until the paprika dissolves,” you said. The paprika imparts a smoky yet subtle flavor. “Make sure you don’t burn it, or it’ll taste bitter. Then trickle this infused oil on the soup.” 

These orangey-red pools of oil carry flavor, family traditions and childhood memories. 

 

 

- Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a fully bilingual Spanish-English travel blogger and writer originally from Argentina. She now lives in Dallas, USA, with her husband. Besides writing on her travel blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes, Ana has published travel and food articles in a variety of outlets as well. She likes to eat good food, read good books and play tennis (she’s a beast at the net!)    

What to Do When it Snows

Action News is predicting snow, just a few flurries, but you never know. Could be a blizzard. When you go out for coffee, pick up a few ice scrapers and some salt. Truth is, no one else in the family will be prepared. Mention snow, but don’t harp. Find out who has to be where at what time. Place all of your gear on the porch and near the front door. Smoke your cigar.

The next morning, get up before everyone else. Go to Wawa and get some coffee. Come home. Scrape off all the cars. Your daughter has clinical and has to be at the hospital early, so do hers first and warm up her car so she isn’t cold on the way in. Better yet, decide to drive her and pick her up.

"Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.

"Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.


Shovel the driveway and sidewalk. Put down plenty of salt so no one slips. Keep going, up and down the street, until you run into other dads who are also shoveling snow and sprinkling salt so no one slips. Go to Wawa and get another coffee. Drink it there, while reading the paper for free. Help anyone who’s stuck. Wave goodbye to everyone at Wawa and say, “Thanks for talking to me.”

Go home. Drive your daughter to clinical. Don’t listen when she tells you to use the defrost. Keep wiping the windshield clear with your gloved hand. Drop her off. Think about those you know who can’t shovel their sidewalks, and go to their houses to help them.

 

 

- Mary Finnegan is a nurse and writer living in Philadelphia. She misses her father in so many ways - for the snow removal, the cigars, the rides, and especially the love. Thanks for talking to me.

How to Stamp a Robin

Here in Michigan, where Marilyn always lived, not all robins migrate south for winter. But unlike a hardy cardinal who will brighten a snowy view, or a crow who gloriously doesn't give a shit when you see or hear it, robins are out of sight, out of mind here, until lots of them show up come spring.

Robin, Mrs. and worm.jpg

If you "stamp" the first robin you see once the snows melt, it will bring good luck.

When you see that first robin of springtime, you lick the pad of one thumb and grind it into the opened-flat palm of your other hand, as if securing a stamp on the "envelope" of your hand. That's it. The missive need not be addressed, apparently the stamp knows where it's going.

You can do this even if you are not very superstitious. For example, Marilyn had an aunt back in the U.P. who read the tea leaves from the bottom of a China cup. It was fun, but Marilyn didn’t put much stock in it. Annotations in her cookbooks all deal with measurements, never improvisation. If Ed hadn't insisted she stay home because his management job at General Motors "was enough," Marilyn said she would have liked to become a librarian because she liked putting things in order.

All this is to prove: Even the data-minded can celebrate spring by stamping a robin.

Marilyn and Meredith laugh and wait for the snow to melt in 1998 or 99.

Marilyn and Meredith laugh and wait for the snow to melt in 1998 or 99.

The only other thing that needs doing is to check in with a few loved ones you’ve taught to stamp robins. If you're the first to stamp one, it will alert them that it's time. If they already beat you to the stamping, you let them know anyway because spotting a robin is something good to talk about.

Don't worry about missing your chance. Once the habit is ingrained in you, you will always know, as soon as that first spring robin appears, to stamp it. It is satisfying to do so, like balancing your checkbook to the penny, but better because this makes you feel like a family and the forsythia will blossom any day now.

 

- Meredith Counts is one of the founding editors of Dead Housekeeping.

How to Transport a Thanksgiving Turkey

Start by buying a bigger bird than you think you need. It will be frozen solid so don’t wait until the last minute like last year. On Thanksgiving Day, get up at 4:00 a.m. In a dark house with a single kitchen light burning, make stuffing by tearing two loaves of Wonder Bread into little pieces. Add onions and a lot of sage. 

Wash the bird and study the skin for pinfeathers. Pull them out with a paring knife until you can run your hands over the bird’s skin and not feel a single feather. Pack the turkey with stuffing and put it in the oven. Turn off the kitchen light and go back to bed. At 9:00 a.m., when everyone is awake and dressed for Thanksgiving, take the midnight blue roasting pan with the nearly done turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Put the lid on the roasting pan. Wrap the lidded roasting pan in a dozen layers of the Detroit Free Press and tie with twine. Call one of your children to put their finger on the knots so they are tied nice and tight. Place the wrapped roasting pan on more layers of newspaper in the trunk of the car.

Ride three hours in the blue and white Chevrolet your husband is driving. Listen to your kids in the backseat counting telephone poles and reading Burma-Shave signs. Worry a little that you didn’t buy a big enough bird. Doze off with the smell of roasted turkey heating the car and wake up in your mother’s driveway. See that your brothers are already there and know they are having cocktails and joking in the kitchen. Put the turkey in your mother’s oven and then look for the yellow baster you left in the drawer last year.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

- Jan Wilberg grew up traveling two-lane roads in Michigan and would still rather be in a car than anywhere. She is a daily blogger at Red's Wrap and has had essays published in Newsweek, the New York Times Modern Love, and three anthologies. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year, selected for an essay called "Blindsided" about coping with severe hearing loss. Now a cochlear implant recipient, she is reacquainting herself with the hearing world but still likes the printed page better.

How to Clean Your Plate

It’s not how you make an omelette that’s important. It’s how you eat it.

You have to eat it all. Stay focused: there is one piece of toast, cut on the diagonal, because your son is too poor to buy extra bread. He is too poor to buy extra bread because you threw him out of your house when he was 18. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the toast.

Eat one forkful of omelette at a time. Make sure each forkful has the same amount of eggs, cheese and chives on it. Don’t say grace. Wonder if your son ever says grace. Wonder if he goes to Mass. Don’t ask. Eat your eggs.

His wife made the omelette. His wife made the new baby, and the girl sitting beside you. You have never met his wife before. Your son is thirty-two.

When the eggs are half-gone, mop your plate with one half of the toast. Eat it one bite at a time. Wonder if the little girl knows that “chleb” means “bread” in your language.

For the second half of the omelette, cut the eggs with your fork and place them on the toast. Eat the toast with the eggs. Do not help the little girl when the eggs fall off her toast; everyone has to learn sometime.

Turn your plate over. Turn her plate over and hold it above her head. Tell her “This is good. This is clean. This is how you know you are a good girl.”

illustration by the author

illustration by the author

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader and is a regular contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist.

 

How to Show the Fight at Your House

Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear while my cousin Tony, the host of that night’s pay-per-view event in his apartment overflowing with friends and family, placed coasters beneath stray tumblers and handed napkins to those eating pizza on his carpet. I don’t know if he witnessed the bite firsthand, he was so busy keeping his place perfectly in place with 20 people taking advantage of his free premium cable. He wiped his kitchen table. Guests would drop, he would pick up. He checked and rechecked his spotless bathroom. I’d been in there moments before just looking around as I tinkled, in complete awe of how it could be so...so clean. Were those baby wipes in place of toilet paper? Is that a cherrywood wipes holder? The wipes were to me the single reminder of Tony’s severe diabetic condition that would eventually kill him at 29: tall, thin, graceful, his mother’s best friend. To anyone else that night, they were simply a sign of a man who took great care in his toilet time.

I missed the ear bite myself. It took about 20 seconds and it stopped the fight. I was in Tony’s bedroom checking on my baby sleeping in his bed, and I lingered at his bookshelf filled with framed photos of family, my daughter included. You notice dust when things are dusty, but with Tony, you noticed how nothing was ever dusty, nothing was ever without care. By the time I could pull myself in complete admiration from this curiosity, the fight was over.

illustration by  Maia Butler

illustration by Maia Butler

- Erica Hoskins Mullenix is a freelance writer and editor, and a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping. Besides personal essays detailing her life as an introverted middle kid, bewildered but kickass mother and special needs parent, she also writes short fiction. Proudly an alum of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Erica created the online writer’s community known as yeah write in April 2011. She has had essays published in Salon, The Houston Chronicle, PANK, and other print and online publications. Her fiction and other writing can be found on her personal blog at freefringes.yeahwrite.me. Follow Erica on Twitter @freefringes

Nine Kinds of Ice Cream

In the basement, you keep a spare freezer for extra necessities – a turkey on sale in October that will do for Thanksgiving; the fruits of a 10-for-$10 sale. When your son calls to say he will be bringing your granddaughters to visit, you want to have something to offer them. Children love ice cream, you know, but you have not met these children. What flavors would they like? Your son says anything will do. But you want to be sure. You buy ice cream and keep it in the basement freezer. You present a different flavor on every visit.

Neapolitan

You chose this one because it is bound to have something everyone will like. The granddaughters are shy, but smiling. They eat all the strawberry and vanilla, but leave the chocolate.

Orange sherbet

When your children were young, they loved orange sherbet. Your granddaughters are clearly children of a different time.

Rainbow sherbet

Apparently sherbets of all flavors have fallen out of favor with modern children.

 

Maple walnut

Your son’s wife mentions that this is her favorite flavor. The granddaughters seem to like it too, though they pick out the nuts.

Coffee

The ice cream is the same shade as your granddaughters’ skin, and just as smooth. You realize their visits bring you joy. You did not expect joy.

Vanilla

Your son proudly tells you that when he buys this flavor, he still pours on chocolate syrup from a can. Your oldest granddaughter loves it too, he says. You smile.

Mint chocolate chip

You buy this flavor in the summer, to ease the ever-present heat. Your granddaughters finish quickly so they can play with the Tinkertoy set you brought down from the attic. You offer your daughter-in-law a cup of coffee. Her people come from the south, after all.

Cherry vanilla

Your granddaughters poke at the cherries. The older one eats some, slowly, saying they are too cold and hurt her teeth; the younger one leaves them all in the bowl. You move that box to the back of the basement freezer and tell your son that maybe they’ll like that flavor when they’re older. You wonder if it will be true.

Chocolate marshmallow swirl

Your oldest granddaughter tells you this is her favorite flavor. You glance at your son’s pale skin, his blond hair under the kitchen light, and then at the dark skin of your daughter-in-law, her jet-black curls. You clear the empty bowls without comment.

 

- Laura Lucas is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and an Artist Trust EDGE graduate.  Her writing has appeared in Beat the Dust, Falling Star Magazine, Line Zero, Imaginaire, The Poetic Pinup Revue, Vapid Kitten, and It Starts With Hope, the blog for The Center for Victims of Torture. 

Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. (@artgrafiken on Twitter, website here)

Christmas Day

Wake up early, but don't get up until your children do.  Your father-in-law would have woken everyone, but you'll wait. They will be up soon.

When you hear them, turn on the Christmas lights and the music; Christmas morning is incomplete without Donny Hathaway. Go to the kitchen to get some coffee. If your grown daughter has already made it, thank her. She doesn't drink coffee, and this looks like tar, but try to drink it anyway. Don't let your elderly father near this stuff. Make him a fresh pot.

image by Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

Ooh and ahh over the presents. You are an excellent shopper and it pleases you when you get the gifts right. Take lots of pictures. Play with the toys.

After breakfast, get started on the meat for dinner. Your wife and daughter will be working on the side dishes. Trade one-liners with your daughter until the two of you are laughing like fools and your wife puts you both out of the kitchen. It's temporary; that standing rib won't season itself.

When you sit down at the beautifully decorated table for dinner, take a moment to give thanks. There is an abundance of food, your family is healthy and joyful. Soon there will be in-laws and grandchildren, cancer and funerals, but today it is just the five of you, eating by candlelight. Today all is calm, and all is bright. 


- This is the finale of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree

“Let's get the Christmas tree tonight!” You and your wife have discussed this, but it should sound spontaneous to your three children. The right time to go is about two weeks before Christmas. If you go much earlier, the tree will dry out before Christmas; much later and what would be the point?

Visit several lots. Ask for the Douglas or Fraser firs; you’re not interested in the white pines. Walk around each tree, checking to be sure the trunk is straight. All trees look straight in the lot. Was that tree at the first lot fuller? Have your family run their hands over the needles to see if they are soft and springy. Shake it a little to see how many fall off. No one wants a repeat of The Tree That Was So Dead The Ornaments Fell Off and You Had To Take It Down The Day After Christmas And There Were Needles In the Carpet For Months.

Bring home the freshest, fullest, straightest tree, and leave it in the garage overnight so it can thaw. This was necessary during your Ohio childhood, perhaps not so much in Alabama. It's the principle though. Let the limbs fall out an additional day once you bring it inside.

image by  Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

Prepare something warm for the family to drink while decorating the tree. Play Christmas music -- The Temptations, Nat King Cole, Smokey Robinson. Set the spire on the top after all the ornaments have been placed. Admire the decorated tree. It's a little crooked.  It's the prettiest tree you've ever had. 


- This is second in a series of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Christmas is Coming

Get the house decorations out of the storage area. You will put up the lights outside and your wife will handle most of the inside, but there is one indoor thing you should do yourself. That large box holds the illuminated Santa head that you painted brown because there were very few African-American Santas in the stores in the 70s. Hang that in the den. 

image by the author

image by the author

Consult with your wife about the menu. Pull out menus from previous Christmas dinners and look through some of those new cookbooks. You'll be responsible for the meat, maybe capon this year? Standing rib? Absolutely not turkey; seems like we just finished the Thanksgiving turkey. You'll also fix at least one dessert, something different, like a 24-hour plum pudding with hard sauce because Christmas deserves something special. Ask your daughter what breakfast she will prepare.

image by Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

On Christmas Eve, pull out the fondue cookbook that is falling apart and the two fondue pots. There will be one cheese fondue, one hot oil, and a warm potato salad for dinner. Buy lots of sterno. You have done this every year and no one has burned down the house yet. There will be lots of laughter as food falls off of forks and is fished out, crispy. 

Hug your kids extra hard when they go bed, especially once they are grown. It's good to have them all here, under the Santa head and eating cheese fondue. 


- This is first in a series of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Liz's Cornbread

Measurements will be given by gestures.

A slight wheeling of the hands. Pinches of air. Cupped palms.

You will need to explain this again and again.

 

Equipment:

Yellow Pyrex Bowl.

Hands.

Blackened, burned out aluminum pan.

 

Ingredients:

This

That

Buttermilk

 

Mix.

                                                                      illustration by Meredith Counts

                                                                      illustration by Meredith Counts

 

Previous to this - and over 50 years -

You should have made a mark on the temperature knob of the oven.

That mark should be between 425 degrees and 450.

The reason is that’s just where it should be.

 

When oven is hot, wait half an hour because your sister called and she’s your sister and you love her, but that woman is an asshole.

 

Put several spoons of shortening in pan.

Place pan in hot oven while reminding everyone the oven is hot.

 

At the right moment, remove the pan. Pour batter in.

It will smell like summer time.

Incidentally, it is always summertime and you can’t wait, Jennifer, until it snows up to your asshole.

 

Make a salad plate:

Iceberg.

Tomato.

Pickle.

No one will touch this.

 

Remove cornbread.

Swear.

 

Spoons.

Butter knives.

Margarine.

 

Rap on the kitchen wall to those in the den - shave and a haircut.

 

Cut cornbread into large squares.

Overfeed everyone because that is love.

Butter it while it’s hot because you have to and because you have been told.

 

- Jennifer Cumby

How to Clean Crabs: Or the Finer Points of First Aid with Seafood

I watch crawfish skitter around my kitchen sink, clamorous and clawing.  The spectre of my father hovers, whispering the steps to crustacean preparation.

Step 1:  Purchase the freshest live crabs from your seafood market or fishmonger.  Freshness is directly proportional to nippiness.

Step 2:  Empty crabs into the deep trough of your kitchen sink.  Maintain a wary distance as crabs scramble atop each other, clawing at eye stalks, snapping at pincers.

Step 3:  Grip a large cleaver in your right hand, steel your courage, and grab a crab firmly to summarily do away with it.

Step 4:  Call your youngest daughter to attend the resultant wounds on every finger of your left hand from an irritated crab, not yet ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Step 5:  Do not be deterred!  Grasp the cleaver now firmly in your bandaged left hand, and boldly grab another crab.  The first crab was an aberration, the second will be easier.

                                                                                the author's parents

                                                                                the author's parents

Step 6:  Call your youngest daughter again to attend the wounds, now on your right hand, from the second irritated crab, unwilling to volunteer as tribute.

Step 7:  Stare forlornly at victorious crabs dancing their glee in the kitchen sink.

Step 8:  Ring oldest daughter, with bandaged phalanges and a rotary dial phone.  Plead plaintively for daughter to clean crabs.

Step 9:  Cook cleaned crabs, savouring the rising bouquets of aromatics and tomato.  When the crabs metamorphose from uncooked blueness to the ripe vibrant red that mirrors the sauce, remove them from the heat.  Note with satisfaction that your foe has been deliciously defeated. 

Step 10:  Serve with plain rice, and sprinkle with abashed humility.  Bandaged fingers are optional, but do reflect the determination required for success.

- Asha Rajan

Dulce de Leche

My father’s culinary repertoire included four dishes: Fideo, a tomatoey soup of angel hair pasta and garlic, hamburgers, spaghetti topped with a jar of Ragu, and Dulce de Leche. I grew up in restaurants, and my beloved aunts could cook from scratch for armies of guests. His menu was a family joke, but secretly I loved it. 

            He and my much older brother lived in a garden apartment in Ravenswood, and entering their always-humid lair was heaven. I’d throw my things down and set myself in my brother’s room with a stack of Playboy or Penthouse magazines and paperback books and listen to them as they did their manly, Saturday things. Soon my brother would be gone, and it was just me and dad making food in a velvet cocoon of quiet and calm, so different than my frenzied life with the aunts and hordes of cousins.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 7.25.56 PM.png

            Each week the big question was: Would he make the Dulce de Leche? His method--questionable and arcane and to me a form of magic--was to slowly simmer a can of condensed milk for hours, until the time came to cool it and eat it. Was anything more sublime? A deep mahogany if left a little too long, a rich hue like that of damp sand if not, either way, it was the sweetest, creamiest, best thing on earth. When we opened the can and spilled out the gooey innards the kitchen was always dark (never) and the apartment silent (hardly ever) and there was just me and him, sampling the sweetness.

- Deborah Pintonelli