She Says It All Without Stopping

I am sitting in the kitchen of my grandparent’s house, after school. It is 1969. Corny old fashioned things—like home remedies and mountain music—are all the rage. My grandmother tells my hippy cousin in Pennsylvania on the phone how to make her own stomach ache medicine. She says it all without stopping washing the dishes as she talks. The phone is cradled on her neck, the long green cord hanging down from the wall to where she is standing. Take your cast iron frying pan, she says, you have a cast iron one, right? I know your mother had one. Good. Get it hot, then throw in a handful of pearl barley. Yeah, just a handful.  It’s got to be pearl I don’t know why. Add a little water. Just a little. Stir it. It smokes and it stinks. Keep on adding water as the barley cooks, until the barley fries black, then you add a little more water, you know, maybe a shot glass full, stir it and pour it back into the shot glass through a clean white handkerchief. Or whatever you got over there you can use. Let it cool. Drink it. It tastes like poison, but it works good. My grandmother stops talking, turns the tap to put more hot water in the sink, then: Do you see your brother a lot? Tell him hello for me. So when are you coming down? 

Juleigh Howard-Hobson lives on a permaculture farm in the Pacific Northwest, where the home remedies she picked up from her grandmother in Greenpoint Brooklyn are still the rage. (Although, that burnt barley recipe will never be a favorite.) Her work has appeared in The First Line, Prime Number, KeyHole, The Liar’s League, Going Down Swinging, Danse Macabre, Pemmican, Sugar Mule and plenty of other places in print and in pixel. Not bad for a person who spends entire mornings moving straw bales around.

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.