Under the Influence of a kitchen window


View from my kitchen window

My husband took the spray bottle of vinegar and water from under the kitchen sink. Then he retrieved a rag from the basement. What’s he up to? I wondered.

     After three rainy days, sunlight seized him to wash away the remains of our granddog’s slobber from the outside kitchen door-wall. A month since Lily’s last visit, I’d wiped her drool from the inside glass three days ago while on a cleaning spree.

     What else is a gardener to do when confined to a dusty, neglected house? So I set my favorite albums on the turntable and got down to business.

     At the conclusion of a congenial reunion with my household belongings, I returned the spray bottle and Howard’s Restore-a-Finish to the cabinet under the kitchen sink.  

     Very thankful for my home, I paused before the window above the sink. I’ve spent a good portion of the past thirty two years cooking, dreaming, planning, praying, and repenting there. And washing thousands of teacups and saucers.

     Tree branches thrashed in the wind and rain. “I know the feeling,” I whispered. “Trust me, this storm shall pass.”

     I thanked God for the mind and strength to vacuum and polish what my husband and I have accumulated in fifty two years of marriage—many small treasures now stowed away in plastic bins in the basement. Four thousand square feet wouldn’t be enough space to display the love and life lived in this little house and on these three acres.

     I observed the rainstorm long enough to notice splatters of dishwater between the window panes, yet resisted the urge to grab the spray bottle.

     Rather, I watched the last blossoms of phlox and rose stand their ground against autumn’s tantrum. I remembered our house in Detroit, the view of our neighbor’s lush and lovely backyard while I cooked and washed dishes as a young mother.

     Our three girls learned to wash and dry dishes in that sink and before the side window, although not tall enough to appreciate the view. Perhaps that’s why they negotiated opting out of the chore.

     Nonetheless, the landscape of passing and emerging seasons nourished my soul, mind, and spirit. And enhanced what I fed my family. A culinary prompt of sorts.

     I’d like to say my fondness for the Detroit kitchen window consciously influenced my choice for the generous window I stand before several times throughout a day. Truth is, in my hours studying our house plans, I cannot remember focusing on the kitchen window’s location.

     But God is good. He knew my needs. My family’s needs.

     Because when the cook is happy, the house is happy, especially after the cook dusts the furniture and floors and wipes windows clean.

     Dear Reader, when my husband retired, he assumed the biannual wrestling match with washing our windows. This makes the cook of the house happy.

      At the conclusion of his reunion with the spray bottle and rag, he consumes beef tenderloin and baked potato with sour cream. And perhaps apple pie a la mode.      


A constant memorial to Albert Newman


Driving north on US23, my husband passed a sign between Ossineke and Alpena. You are now crossing the 45th Parallel, Halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

            “Dad would point to that sign when he drove us to Gram and Gramp’s on Grand Lake,” Mel said. “Perhaps that planted the seed of my love for geography.”

            I imagined us crossing the 45th Parallel line, our car a speck amongst millions of vehicles on America’s highways—one reason we chose the road less traveled to Cheboygan.

We also preferred the old route with stately homes in small towns with attractions that provoked Mel’s childhood memories. Pinconning’s vacant Deer Acres Fun Park, for instance.

“Yeah, Dad stopped there. And the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox Park. But someone’s taken them down.”

“And your dad probably stopped for ice cream.”

Mel grinned at another seed his father planted.

We dined on enchilada and chili relleno in Alpena—checked in to our hotel in charming Cheboygan before nightfall.

“Thanks for taking this trip with me,” I said. “The last time Al and I talked, he said, ‘I love Mel.’ And I said, ‘Al, you love everybody.’”

My husband first met Al Newman four summers ago during my fiftieth high school reunion for my graduating class of 1967. There, we met Al’s wife Denise. Sitting under a pavilion within Stony Creek Metropark, we talked for hours with fellow classmates and their spouses.

Two Octobers later, Mel and I met Al and Denise in Mackinac City before we toured Mackinac Island with other friends. Again, we recalled our past and present families as time permitted.

From Vietnam’s jungles to his prison ministry, occupation as an upholsterer, and the joys and trials of parenthood, Al and Denise kept us in fits of laughter and tears.

As we promised, we phoned or emailed one another until a good friend notified me of Al’s passing last month. I called Denise and made travel arrangements.

On the beautiful Saturday morning of September 18, Cheboygan’s Northshore Community Church filled with folk honoring the life and times of Albert Newman. Of all blessings, Mel and I met his son Albert, and Denise found a moment alone with us.

After a fellow Vietnam vet presented Denise with the American flag, their Pastor spoke the concluding words. “Al loved the language of Scripture, and he loved to eat. He anticipated the Supper of the Lamb together with fellow Christians.”

When we stood to leave the sanctuary, the woman to my left turned to me. “Pardon me. Are you related to Al?”

Iris O'Brien and Albert Newman, senior prom 1967

“No. We dated our senior year in high school. He stood by my side through my parents’ divorce, and broke up with me before I left for college. We met again at our 50th class reunion.”

Dear Reader, I imagine Al ascending above the equator, poles, and parallels of Earth into infinite realms of our Heavenly Father. And I’m watching the signs.

I, too, anticipate the Supper of the Lamb.                                                                

The apple didn't fall far from the tree


(L-R) Hunter, the Pie Lady's right hand, and Ruth, the Pie Lady

The other senses may be enjoyed in all their beauty when one is alone. but taste is largely social. Diane Ackerman

“You were the pickiest eater,” my father once said when I served him spaghetti at my family table. He spoke in reference to his five daughters. I’m number two.

Justifiably, my father expected his children’s gratitude for the forty-five hours he stood on his feet barbering each week to feed, clothe, and shelter us. Even when Mom cooked beef tongue and liver with onions.

“Eewww,” chimed my sisters and me in agreement to the “gross” thing on the platter, or the “stinky” meat in Mom’s frying pan. We would rather devour her hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes.

A former farm girl who cooked for her family of seven from age eleven until World War II, my mother mastered every dish her palate approved.

Chop Suey and Italian spaghetti, for starters. From allspice to turmeric, my mother’s spice rack sparkled like a queen’s jewels. She knew how to perfectly use them.

My sisters and I loved “spaghetti night” because it meant entertainment by our baby sister who sucked the noodles into her mouth. Even Dad laughed.

An Irishman who preferred meat and potatoes, my father barely tolerated spaghetti. And he vowed in Guam’s trenches to never eat a mouthful of rice again.

Furthermore, Dad could not countenance a casserole of any kind. His meat and potatoes must be served in separate bowls.

Such restrictions tested my mother’s culinary creative streak. Employing an alternative, she cooked Italian spaghetti or Chop Suey on Dad’s bowling night. My older sister’s raving reviews spread to her boy-friends who just happened to drop in on Dad’s bowling night. For Mom usually concluded dinner with dessert. Apple pie her specialty.

                Incidentally, Dad “never met a pie he didn’t like,” particularly Mom’s pies in season.

“I could fill this kitchen with fried pies I packed in your father’s lunch bucket,” Mom once said with her hands wrapped around her coffee cup.

I suspect that’s one reason why my father latched onto Sadie McCoy when she met him at the Williamson, West Virginia train station upon his return from World War II.

Since our apple trees didn’t produce this year, I drove north on our backroads through farmland and orchards to Hilltop Farm with pie on my mind.

                “I have one caramel apple pie left,” Ruth, the Pie Lady said.

                “Oh my goodness! Caramel apple?” I cried.

                Ruth smiled. “Yes, and we also have caramel apples for sale.”

                “Thank you, but I’m on a mission for pie to celebrate autumn and my heritage. Caramel apple is perfect. I think my husband will like it, too.”

                Dear Reader, my father was right. I am a picky eater. What I don’t grow and preserve myself, I try to buy organically and locally grown, prepared by folk like the Pie Lady.

               If my father were here today, I’d say, “You know Dad, apple number two didn’t fall far from the tree.”





The communion of congenial conversation and coffee


Loppy, so named for his lopsided ear

The Daubenmeyers across the road came to mind yesterday while I picked raspberries. 

The family with three boys and one married daughter.

The dad who transferred thousands of files from my old Mac to new PC.

The mom who homeschools and works part time.

Why hadn’t I heard the boys in their swimming pool this summer, pitch breaks in howls of laughter? Had they outgrown such fun in the four years since I carried raspberries to their back door?

So I gave Amanda, the mom, a call. “Sure!” she said, “We’d love raspberries. And you can meet my sister-in-law, Laura. 7:30 is good.”

                With my husband visiting his Presque Isle relatives, I prepared a stir fry dinner—leftover lamb kabobs, homegrown bell pepper, onion, and golden crookneck squash sautéed in olive oil.

                In the pleasant atmosphere of low humidity and anticipation of good company, I walked the short distance to the Daubenmeyer’s backoor. “Anybody home?”

                Amanda appeared. “Thanks for the raspberries! Would you like some cherry tomatoes? Our one plant went crazy!” Amanda said.

                I set the bag of raspberries on the kitchen counter and followed Amanda outside. There I met their cat, Loppy, lounging under the patio table.

Loppy in his favorite place and pose

“He was in bad shape when we found him,” Jason, the dad, said.

Loppy lifted his beautiful eyes to us. I fell in love with my thousandth cat. “He looks healthy to me,” I said.

Then Loppy stood on his lean legs. The poor kitty had obviously suffered some rough times.

Amanda led me to the main attraction in their vegetable garden. Indeed, a plant on steroids. We filled a “to go” container in minutes.

“There’s Laura!” Amanda said, looking toward the only house visible.

“I’m glad to meet you at last!” Laura said.

I nodded. “Likewise! I hear you’re one of Amanda’s favorite sisters-in-law.”

In the chill of September’s first nightfall, we three mothers sat around a table Jason had made large enough to seat their extended family.

Several times in the communion of our congenial conversation, I almost excused myself for my final farm chore of the day: closing the henhouse chute. Yet, I decided to linger and listen to Amanda’s wedding and Laura’s grandmother stories.

Amanda shivered. “Would you like some coffee to warm up?”

“Yes!” Laura replied.

“Half a cup should do it,” I said.

Inside, Jason emptied their raspberries into a glass container while Amanda brewed coffee. I understood the meaning of Laura’s expectant smile as Amanda placed coffee toppings on the table.

 A shaker of cinnamon, can of sweet whipping cream, and half and half.

Later, I stepped off the Daubenmeyer’s lighted driveway onto our dark, dirt road. Arms outstretched, I blindly wandered into the tree line and fought my way through the brush to my driveway.

Dear Reader, the black sky alight with constellations, I walked downhill, secured the henhouse, and said, “Good-night, girls.”

If I visit the Daubenmeyers after dinner again, I’ll take a flashlight. And a shaker of Ghirardelli cocoa to taste-test with Amanda’s coffee.