Cabbage Rolls On Vicodin

Mom and I come up to help you and Pap after you get your knees replaced. Pap’s old-school, a Greatest Generation guy who’s only comfortable cooking BLTs, maybe an egg or two. Mom and I trade off tasks, but we want to leave you with sustenance: your trademark cabbage rolls.

From your bed, you sleepily tell us the ingredients. The filling is half ground pork, half ground beef, a kind of rice they don’t make anymore (I parboil regular rice), chopped onion, eggs. The cabbage, you say, should be dense. Feel how much it weighs. For the sauce, get Campbell’s tomato soup, the big cans. We’ll also want to get a can of chopped tomatoes to put on the bottom on the pot along with the pieces of the cabbage we cut off so the bottom rolls don’t burn. The sauerkraut should be the kind with caraway seeds. Remember to squeeze it.

Gram, on the phone with the author

Gram, on the phone with the author

Pap helps you out of your room while Mom and I smoosh together the filling. We’re using your big pot to boil the cabbage—not the heavy one of my childhood that gave us your pot roasts, but a lighter one that one of your kids must have gotten you. You tell us to put the whole head in there; stick a fork in the core, and with a knife, cut off the leaves as they get tender and stack them off to the side. “Be careful. You’ll get …”—you search for words, even though you’re nothing if not precise—“… hot hands.” Mom and I look at each other and realize that you’re kind of high from your pain medication. But you’re also right. You remember all this, even behind the curtain of Vicodin, the lessons of your Polish mother.

You show us how to form the cabbage rolls, using a sharp knife to trim the edges. “Tuck in the ends. Not like that. Like this. You don’t want them to fall apart.” You do one before you need to rest. Mom and I are both amateurs at this—it’s a miracle of pharmacology and aging that we’re allowed to use your kitchen—but we do our best.

I’m assembling and layering the cabbage rolls in the pot, and I run out of tomato soup. I scrabble through the cupboards because I know I don’t have time to go to the store, not if you and Pap will eat at a decent hour. I come up with some Prego.

We wake you. We ask you if it’s okay that we use Prego in the cabbage rolls. “Some people do,” you say.

“Some people,” I realize too late, translates into “some poor fools who weren’t taught right.” (Later, you’ll tell Mom, “I don’t know why I said that!” and laugh.) We ruin the cabbage rolls and know it almost immediately—but you eat a little over the mashed potatoes that Mom made and say, “I love you, my angels.”

 

Jennifer Niesslein is the editor of Full Grown People and the author of Practically Perfect in Every Way. You can read more about her Gram, a bootlegger’s granddaughter, in Jennifer’s essay “Before We Were Good White.”

 

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)

How to Grow Onions

Wear navy blue coveralls when you plant onions. They will have the earthy, oaky smell of the distillery where you are a cooper. For your granddaughter that will become the smell of her childhood. In fact you will wear these for all manual activities. Most other times you will wear a shirt and tie. And my, you will be handsome.

Smile with your fuzzy, black curls billowing in the wind as you explain the process to your four-year-old apprentice. She will look up at you with wide eyes and marvel at your endless knowledge.

Make the holes for the onions by pressing into the fertile earth with your strong, hard-working fingers and instruct your eager assistant to drop a single bulb upright into each nest.

The Scottish rain will help them on their way. Spend as much time in the garden as you do in the house, tending to everything outdoors with equal care. Your garden will be perfect.

When the onions are ready share them with family and neighbours. In fact you will give and share for many years in many ways.

In the days before your passing be sure to take your now-grown granddaughter’s hand in yours and remind her of these rules. Tell her how her company pleased you as you planted those vegetables and remind her how well she listened. Tell her how perfectly she positioned each bulb. And tell her how much you love her. Because you didn’t just teach her how to grow onions. You also taught her to love.


In the last five years Donna Richardson has lived in seven homes in five countries with her two children and one husband - most recently in Dubai. She spends much of her time lost in the desert and drinking tea. 

When you don’t have enough, it’s okay to substitute.

Any chef will tell you substitutions are crucial to innovation. However, in grandma’s house, innovation often tasted bitter. Grandpa would point us to the refrigerator and nearly beg us to eat whatever was in there. “Get it out of the house,” he’d say.

One of grandma’s favorites was Rice Krispy treats, a delight in nearly any other kitchen. Here, they were always rock-hard. Yet the recipe is so simple I can easily recite it from memory.[1]

In grandma’s kitchen, lining up ingredients was not part of the recipe; she’d only check the pantry as the list demanded. And she wouldn’t have enough of something. Maybe Karo syrup. So she improvised. Just add more granulated sugar. Or peanut butter. When grandma asked me to taste a spoonful, I’d think of ways to not hurt her feelings. “You can really taste the peanut butter,” I’d say, or, “Wow, what are these? Raisins?”

Pictured: T  he author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. T  he fact that we have no pictures of   her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not   immortalized there.

Pictured: The author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. The fact that we have no pictures of her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not immortalized there.

Now that I’ve learned to cook, I want to take her into my kitchen, to resurrect her from memory and make her real again. We’ll spend an afternoon skipping work, playing in the kitchen. She’ll ask where the rolling pin has gone, and I’ll tell her it’s in a box back in Spokane, along with her china and matching silverware. She’ll pet the cat and ask if I’ll ever move back home. And while we make our batches of gooey, peanutty treats, I’ll tell her that I would if she would be there, too.


I would, even for her home-cooked meals.


[1] See author bio.



- Jenne Knight’s Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats are made with 1c granulated sugar, 1c Karo syrup, 1c creamy peanut butter, and 6c Rice Krispies cereal. On the stove, slowly melt the sugars and peanut butter in a large soup pan. Remove from heat. Stir in the cereal. Once coated, immediately pack the mixture into an 8 by 8 pan. Let cool. Eat. Find more at www.jenneknight.com.




Let Her Think it's Terrible

When a grandchild pesters you for a sip of your coffee, because you have a known sweet tooth and she figures whatever you're having must be good, make a strong pot and give her a steaming mug of her own.

Telling her coffee will stunt her growth won’t work. She is contrary and will say she prefers to be small. She still isn’t brushing her teeth because someone tried to turn Merritt Morrison’s dentures into a cautionary tale. That backfired and now she wants false teeth just like he has.

Give it to her straight, so full she can hardly lift it.

After her first burning taste she will leave you alone. Don’t say you haven't had your coffee black since the war. Add milk and sugar when she wanders off to pet the poodle. Stir idly, enjoy.

In the afternoon the child will grab her customary can of Coke from the fruit cellar. She’ll find you first, sweeping sweet-smelling sawdust in your little basement woodshop or enjoying the sun on a patio lawn chair, planning tomorrow’s puttering. Maybe you will trim the apple tree, or hose off the cement Virgin who presides by the shed.

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

Do you want a pop, too? She’ll drink hers in front of the TV with M&Ms from the cut glass candy jar by your seat on the couch.

This same method works for your evening 7&7s. Let her have a harsh taste of Seagram’s before you sweeten it. She won’t bother you for another sip and her mother will come take her home as you turn the dial to Wheel of Fortune.

 

- Meredith Counts is a Founding Editor of Dead Housekeeping. This piece appears on the three month anniversary of starting this site. 

Everything Can Be Used Again

There is a place for everything. Being caught in need of an item that you once had in your possession, but let slip away, is shameful.

Gumbands, cracked, mismatched Tupperware lids, and pantyhose with runs. There is a place for all of it. Store it neatly in dusty shoe boxes along the back basement wall, or under the bed. Shove it in corners, under the bureau, in the backs of closets, where the records used to go in the stereo cabinet and under the couch.

When the grandkids and grandnieces are little, they will love to play with the unmatched Tupperware in opaque blues, greens and pinks. They will sit happily on the floor and smack them together or stack them in untidy towers and laugh when they topple over. You laugh, too. When the kids get older, they use them as frisbees. Send them outside. Outside! Get out of my kitchen!

Plastic shopping bags crackle out of every nook and cranny, making a soft static sound in the breeze. Hide the bags when your daughter comes to visit. She will only throw them away. When she is gone, you forget where you hid them and start again. You never know when you will need a plastic shopping bag. With them, you can send the nieces home with squishy, over-ripe fruit (There was a sale!), or pop one over your perm in the rain, if you don’t have your plastic babushka with you. But you always have the plastic babushka with you.

photo by the author

photo by the author

- Beth Dugan is one of our favorite multiple-contributors to Dead Housekeeping and can be found at bethdugan.com

How to Have Nice Things

To protect yourself, have Nice Things. With Nice Things you can build a wall of cobalt glass, pink carpet, tiny souvenir spoons. Raise this wall between yourself and Poverty, the Dust Bowl, the Capital-N-Nothing of your childhood.

When your daughter (who does not need Nice Things to protect her; you have protected her) comes for stories with her secondhand recorder, you need not speak of the Nothing. It is walled out.

You eat dust and Nothing, but someday you will have a pink carpet. Vacuum it each time you have visitors, in two-foot strokes against the grain and then across. Repeat this before and after your visitors come; the carpet is a Nice Thing.

illustration by the author

illustration by the author

Nice Things must be displayed at all times. If a Nice Thing breaks it becomes Nothing. You must never patch up a broken Nice Thing; always replace it with a new Nice Thing.

When you are angry you must not damage your Nice Things. When you need a weapon, use your hands, your fingernails, the family dachshund but not the cobalt glass. Go mad in the uncarpeted bathroom with the white glass case that holds your dusting-powder. The scent is called Chantilly Lace.

Take your grandchildren antiquing. Try to explain the difference between things and Nice Things; their mother will not. Her carpet is brown and threadbare. She fears nothing- not Nothing.

Your youngest granddaughter is fearless. She breaks Nice Things without caring that the Nothing comes in. Her elder sister tries to repair broken Nice Things. You need not explain that it is too late. She will discover this on her own. The last time you see her, tell her you are proud of her. That her life, her accomplishments, are a Nice Thing. It will be the only time you understand each other.

Before you die, make sure your granddaughters have tiny spoons.

 

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is outnumbered in Oregon by a menagerie and spouse. She tells truths at crossknit.wordpress.com and lies at textwall.wordpress.com and has been known to have opinions on the internet.

Abuelo: How to Houseguest

To his credit, he didn’t do it often, but when he did houseguest Abuelo did it his way. As he did all things.

You knew he was there by the pile of newspapers tossed on the couch. Or by the TV blaring Univision or wrestling. How he ever found these stations with my dad’s inability to rig our cable without the use of less than three remotes was a minor miracle and a testament a general competence that sprung into action only when he was alone and unable to demand service.

Photo by  Sade Murphy

Photo by Sade Murphy

He would sometimes spend a good hour in the bathroom. And while the fan inside blared and the rustle of even more newspapers came from under the door, he would always know if you’d change the channel or turn off the TV. God forbid. The yelling.

Abuelo came from a place of IDGAF and it’s only a place I can now find charming. When you are 14 and there is an old man spread on your couch, wearing black knee socks and sandals, a crisp white tank top and shorts (even in winter) it only gives you further cause to hide in your bedroom you’ve designed to look like the studio apartment you wish you lived in.

The world was his. And so was everyone’s house.

- Diana Saez

How Does Your Garden Grow

How to nurture blowsy summer roses:

You will need your retirement years to do this right.

            This is because you will have a garden only after toiling at your school administration job for thirty five years, after paying your mortgage in hiccupping installments.

            By then you have mornings and late afternoons free to prudently crack open the soil and knead the earth, letting in just enough air for the roots. Not so much that the top crust washes off with the first summer rains. The scent of earth and rainwater shouldn’t be a warning.

            Your granddaughter has her uses. Get her a watering can right for her size; a real one would be as tall as she is. Sternly direct her to drizzle lightly over the slippery dark green leaves before breakfast.  Order her to stay out of the midday sun. Be resigned when she doesn’t.

the author's sister

the author's sister

            The secret is the timely application of fresh manure. Press some onto the dead heads in neat small handfuls. Spread the rest in the flower beds. Wave the plastic bag of compact cowpats at your granddaughter, and let the smell leak into her nostrils. Smirk when telling her what it is. Inform her that there are people who drink urine for good health.

            The birth of new buds is slow. The blooming, slow, slow, slow. Then in two days a sudden burst: your extravagant roses spill over with fragrance, their velvety petals flutter in tender flirtation with the breeze.

            Then, the flippant petals fall away; the roses, in threes and twos, sag.

            It will then be time for your granddaughter to leave the garden. It will soon be time for you.

 

Sanam Amin is a writer and journalist currently based in Thailand. She is also secretly the fifth ninja turtle, and has probably saved your life at least twice. When not fighting crime, she uses her spare time to write stories.

Stand up, stand up

I yell at my husband for doing it.

Nag at him in the same way she nagged so many people about so many things that it is now the genetic marker against which many of us are measured.

“You are your grandmother’s grandson,” I am told.

 “Sit down when you’re eating,” I reprimand. “A Canadian study showed that people who ate while standing consumed 30 percent more calories than people who were sitting.”1

But then he’ll come into the kitchen, and there I will be. Standing over the sink and eating my lunch, looking out the window as she did. My mind a million miles from where I am, remembering her standing in her housecoat at the sink, looking out the window, smoking a cigarette, her Black Russian sweating large beads on the kitchen table, her mind a million miles from where she stood.

  photo supplied by the author

  photo supplied by the author

“Eat that over the sink,” she would say, returning to her chair as General Hospital returned from commercial.

Yes. If you stand while you eat, studies have shown that you are likely to consume 30 percent more calories than the sitters. 

But, if you stand and eat over the sink, there are no dishes to do. You’ll drop no crumbs on your clean kitchen floor. You will not need to wipe down the table when you are finished.

 

1 Please note: Included for dramatic effect. I don’t always quote obscure Canadian scientific studies.

 

-T. (Tom) Cashman Avila-Beck is a writer who lives in Bangor, Maine and works in Washington, DC. Well, technically, he works in an attic in Bangor, surrounded by stacks of hardcover books and comic books, where he tries to keep the dog quiet enough to get through remote conference calls with a minimum of embarrassment. His work has been published in magazines that oddly all have the word "Metro" in the title, and has been rejected by a number of magazines that do not.