Archive for November 2011

Thankful Day

November 25th, 2011 — 2:27am

Thursday, November 24th

We spent all of today at home, for which I’m very thankful.  It was blustery and mild, and the sun shone a lot.  In the morning I straightened up the house and then worked on the new book for a while, then took a walk.  I still have the sinus infection and am low on energy, so it wasn’t the long ramble I’d envisioned, but it still made me feel happy.  When I got back I was ready to make a lemon meringue pie for  supper.

Sallie climbed up on her couch near the pie-making enterprise.  She seemed completely relaxed, lounging in classic Thanksgiving-day style.

Rick had lit a fire in the woodstove and each cat instantly claimed a nearby chair and became completely comatose, so they also seemed to be having a perfect Thanksgiving.

As for me, I puttered around getting out my pie-making tools, feeling  cheerful.  Our kitchen at home isn’t as complete or organized as at the diner, so I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed before I started.  Having to go searching for something in the midst of thickening the filling is not a good idea, as I’ve learned from scorching more than one lemon pie.

Pretty soon I had everything:  pie dish, eggs, lemons, bowls, butter, corn starch, sugar, measuring cup, grater, mixer, juicer. I was very excited about the juicer.  I’ve had it for years, but have never used it because I do almost all of my baking in life at work, where there’s an industrial-sized electric juicer.  This home-sized juicer was a gift from a friend.  It’s old, red, and manual, and  I’ve always loved it.  Yesterday as I put things in a crate to haul home with me, I thought of it:  the perfect solution to the problem of how to squeeze a lemon at home (a problem I didn’t think about until I was at the grocery buying corn starch and Margaret said, “You’re using real lemons–good for you!” and I suddenly realized I would’ve gotten home with my lemons but no easy way of getting the juice out of them.)

The juicer worked beautifully.  I stopped stirring the sugar-corn starch-water mixture on the stove long enough to take a picture (and didn’t scorch the filling, a little miracle).

Everything was perfect:  the red juicer, the yellow lemons, my happiness.

Eventually the gelatin thickened and I scooped half of it into a bowl of three slightly beaten egg yolks, then scraped all of that back into the original saucepan of gelatin, and brought it to a boil again.  I felt very content, worrying only that the phone would ring and I’d be torn between answering it and probably ruining the pie, or ignoring it and feeling disappointed to have missed a holiday call from family or friends.  The phone didn’t ring.  The gelatin boiled again and I scooped it all into the pie shell I’d baked (and not burned in my picture-taking distraction, another small miracle).

Next I whipped the meringue and spread it over the pie and put it in the oven to brown.  I took it out ten minutes later and felt a rush of satisfaction at how pretty it was.

When the pie came out, Rick put our dinner in the oven:  a duck nestled in a roasting pa with carrots, potatoes, and foil-wrapped onions.  When he took it out hours later, it looked beautiful and I exclaimed over it.  “Take a picture,” he said, looking pleased, and I did.

We sat down with mason jars full of iced-down milk, ate too much, and talked about what we were thankful for this year.  Lots of things, small and large.   Our home, the novel, and good health (mostly) were high on the list.  Also this day.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

9 comments » | At Home

More From The Blacksmith’s Daughter

November 20th, 2011 — 7:57pm

I enjoy a blog called You Think Too Much, and recently the author did a post called Your Life as a Witty Memoir that I loved.  It made me think about memoir in general and my own memoir specifically, which made me decide to post another piece of it here.

My father was slight-built and tough, all muscle and guts.  He did close-to-impossible things, all on his own:  pulled the sagging-down barn back upright with steel cables and winches; dragged a 25 foot long, eight by eight inch timber into the tiny crawl space under the house and lifted it onto concrete pads he’d  poured in order to shore up the sagging floors; muscled a half ton wood stove off the truck’s back end, into the house, and up on its brick pedestal with no help from anyone.  He rode horses that couldn’t be ridden, birthed calves and colts and puppies, kept a wild coon he’d caught in a wire pen in order to train the hound dogs to hunt for him.  Whatever he wanted to accomplish he lit into with a vengeance, unsatisfied until the thing was either finished or ruined.  He ran our tumbling-down farm with old, rigged-up equipment and he devoted most of his time to it, when he wasn’t teaching or reading.  He devoted his heart to it.

A surgeon performed open heart surgery on my father when he was fifty eight and was amazed that my father was alive with the bad shape his heart was in.  He said my dad was the toughest physical specimen he’d ever seen.  “You ought to be dead,” he told my dad, and I imagine Dad flashing him a delighted, proud grin.

Dad lived another sixteen years after the surgery and although he retired from teaching school, he continued to work like a force of nature, putting half the acres-big lawn into perennial gardens, lugging rocks from God knows where and digging craters to settle them into, dredging any terrain he didn’t approve of into what he did want with the tractor, plowing the drive with the tractor after a blizzard.  I imagine my mother waiting inside through all of this, reading a book or washing the dishes or paying bills with resignation and a teaspoon of annoyance:  either he’ll get these jobs done or kill himself trying and there’s no point trying to stop him.

You can’t get people to be just one thing.  They’re difficult, impossible to pin down; they contain multitudes.  My father was wonderful and terrible, full of joy and rage, infuriating and hilarious, complicated and simple.  His boundaries on matters of the spirit were terrible–he had none–and he could not take no for an answer. And yet, a goofy grin would light up his face for the price of a bad joke or a bouquet of weeds.  The best way I can put it is that he was always himself, the genuine article, for better and worse.  Now that I’m an adult, I wouldn’t mind being a lot like him.

And maybe I am.  On a day almost twenty years ago, my father is frail, walking with a cane, getting out of breath easily, losing weight, always in some kind of pain.  I’ve got first, second, and third degree burns down the back of my leg from knocking a kettle of boiling water onto myself.  It’s been weeks and the pain is still incredible, but I’m sick to death of being immobilized on the couch.  I’ll go crazy if I lie there any longer.  I can’t walk but I can crawl, and that’s what I do.

My parents have come to visit and we’re planting tomatoes.  Dad sits in a ladder-back chair out in the middle of the garden, boring holes in the ground with a spade, leaning forward on the chair’s front legs and in danger of tipping face-first every minute.  I crawl around the edges of the plot, my leg throbbing and wrapped up in white bandages that are swiftly getting grimy but I don’t care, I want to plant tomatoes.

I dump the plants out of their little containers and watch my father’s progress, frowning.  He’s putting the holes too close together; his perspective is off since the strokes.  My mother orbits back and forth between the us, handing my plants to him, bringing him pans of water to dump on them once planted.

“You’re putting them too close together,” I tell him.

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“I have planted a thousand gardens,” he tells me, instantly aggravated.  “I think I know what I’m doing.”

“They’re way too close together,” I repeat.  I am intensely dissatisfied.  “They’ll never grow.”

“Oh, just let me do this!” he cries, and spades another hole.

“Way too close together,” I mutter to my mom who smiles politely as if in sympathetic agreement but–I have a sudden revelation–she’d like to strangle us both.

I look back at Dad on his kitchen chair tipping so stubborn and precarious over the plants.  Those tomatoes are Way.  Too.  Close.  Together.  My leg throbs and throbs; the wounds ooze.  I realize I have only two choices.  I can crawl into the garden and yank every other plant out of the ground.  Or, I can crawl around the corner of the house and flop back on the cool new grass and dissolve into tears and laughter, thinking My God, we’re both as mad as hatters, which is what I do.

14 comments » | Life

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