I’ve been doing this column for over 13 years without a break: I need to take some time off. But I offer some reader favorites that I’ve especially noted over the years, and will submit them every Sunday, as usual. Hope you enjoy them again.
Here’s an eight-year old reminiscence from 2010, when I began the long renovation of my family’s flooded out cottage in England’s lovely countryside. I’m sitting on the carpet-stripped, unlovely floor of their beloved home, sifting through intriguing parental mementos. Here are limp old London Times Sunday magazines that she kept because of their wonderful commentaries, or for the alphabetical listing of the 1000 most influential people of the twentieth century, or for anything that caught my mother’s eye.
Here’s a clipping that had captivated her- about tail-less cats…
She loved to read about the universe’s origins; biographies; and on why tigers have stripes. Dubbed ‘the great experimenter’ by David, she loved to read cookbooks cover-to-cover and then improve recipes that caught her eye. A few meals wanted a decent burial; most were wonderful.
Occasionally I rediscover treasures.
Here’s one. A clammy page, pried apart, reveals a cherished poem about a tree at the end of its life. Mother loved trees; one photograph shows David, her English husband, and her standing next to an immense 700-year-old oak, giving shade during England’s Great Plague, and still living happily outside our favorite nearby country pub, called Loughpool.
Memories surface; I recall sitting inside an even bigger, older, thriving tree in a Gloucester churchyard. Now its massive lower branches rest quietly on the ground, too incredibly long and heavy to remain suspended. The earth, over the centuries, has gently risen to meet them; surely it appreciated the support. In spite of that hollow heart, Tree was fully dressed in green that day, soaking up the sun. The churchyard’s ancient, teetering tombstones kept it company.
And what’s this? A flat, tissue-wrapped stone bears the fossil of a finger-polished, hundred-million-year-old tubeworm she’d carried for 25 years in her jeans, after spotting it one day on a cold Scottish beach on the Isle of Skye, where they’d made their home for five years.
My mother died amazed that it was happening: she had so much to do, to see, to taste, to learn, and suddenly, she blinked out. A poem she loved- with just 6 lines- reads:
In a sense-
In NO sense.
Was that IT?
Was THAT it?
That was it.
Oh! Here’s a vivid magazine picture of a gorgeous, fully dressed, delectably thick hamburger. In a margin she’d written, “Frame this!”
Heavens-- I know why!
One summer lunchtime, at a craft show in the little Welsh town of Abergavenny where she and David sold their beautiful, handcrafted, hand-painted clocks, mother shaped a three-quarter-pound hamburger paddy from butcher-bought ground beef (the British say ‘minced beef’) and cooked it on a nearby communal grill.
On a plate, she laid out slices of onion, Double Gloucester cheese, and a respectable hunk of crisp lettuce next to a generous bun. Ketchup and English mustard stood guard. A small gathering watched, fascinated. One amused Welshman couldn’t resist a comment: “M’love, tha’ overweight meat pile canno’ stick together withou’ cereal and additives…” (The British decided long ago that ground beef can stay ‘formed’ only with the help of ‘binders’ like these.)
Mom looked up, astonished, then grinned. “Why ever not?”
The vendors and browsers stared at her, then settled back to watch hamburger ruin happen. This silly, deluded American didn’t have a clue.
She popped the naked burger on the grill, adding seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper. It sizzled happily. A quick flip, for a minute or so, to cook the other side to medium before she slid it onto the toasted bun, added the condiments, and downed it triumphantly, chasing the burger with a chilled, local beer.
Suddenly, late-comers edged forward, proffering bills, saying, “Eh, I’ll have one o’ those…” The bewildered grillmaster stood, open-mouthed, amid the clamor of futile shouted orders. Licking her fingers, Mom reclaimed her spatula, thanked him, and strode off, replete.
“Americans may be brash,” she gloated, “and wet-behind-the-ears, but, by golly, they understand how to make proper hamburgers!”
The cottage's ringing phone jars me out of my reverie: I’m laughing!