About Me

My photo
Five years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dead Frogs and a Side Order of Crow

Inspired, at least in part, by this post.

When the girls were young and ravenous, they would ask me, “What's for dinner?” And I, to hush them and because I rarely knew what I’d be fixing until I walked into the pantry and started grabbing cans, would give them my patented do not ask again smile and tell them “Dead frogs.”

I hated cooking. Loved *them*, wanted them to be healthy and happy and strong, wished that I could be June Cleaver sitting at my end of the table with pearls and unruffled demeanor, passing round bowls heaped full of nourishment and love. But I was raising five kids in a thousand square feet, and some months my food budget was $125. We were not only squeezed in terms of square footage, we were trapped between the interest rate feeding frenzy of 1981, when we bought our house [the cheap mortgage was 14.25%, and the second mortgage was 20.36%] and their father’s episodes of unemployment, which were growing longer and more frequent.

So, mealtime was a challenge. We planted a garden almost every year, and that helped. We raised chickens, ate the eggs, buried the hens that died because we were both too squeamish to slaughter them when they were past their prime. And for a couple of years we had a small herd of dairy goats. The rabbits, which were bought as a source of cheap protein, failed to be fruitful and multiply [unlike me], in part because for the first year we had two does, and then when we succeeded in buying a buck, one doe keeled over from shock after being bred, and the other one backed her derriere into a corner of the cage and dared him to try anything.

I will note parenthetically that our favorite British comedy on Sunday nights was The Good Neighbors, about a family who farmed in suburbia.

We had a Magic Mill [a wheat grinder with two stone buhrs for turning our stored wheat into something useful], and my parents gave us an Atlas Marcato pasta maker one year. The best meal I ever made when we lived in that house, was a pan of lasagna. The tomato sauce was from our garden. The pasta was from ultra-fine whole wheat flour still warm from the grinding. The cheese was primarily from our goats ~ I can make a fresh ricotta that will Knock. Your. Socks. Off.

But mostly, meals were generic this and canned that, and the goal was to feed everybody as cheaply and quickly as possible so I could move on to something that left me feeling less of a failure as a wife and a mother.

One night as I was assuming the position in the kitchen, the girls came in so full of laughter that they couldn’t speak. Now, we had the garden out in the back. We also had raised boxes in the front yard, where we tried to grow potatoes and failed miserably. These boxes were made of scrounged pallets from a shipping company, and the bases stood three or four inches aboveground. I think we were hoping to outwit potato predators, or maybe that’s when we were experimenting with square foot gardening. What I do remember is one of them saying, “You know how we always ask you what’s for dinner, and you always say ‘dead frogs’? Well, we brought you dinner!” And one of them held out to me a very large, very flat, very dead garden toad.

Good times.

And on to another topic. One of the things I do at work is to scan and clean discovery. We’ve gone paperless, so most of it we get in PDF format, but there are some plaintiff attorneys out there who are just sufficiently comfortable with technology that they can send us blurry faxes of much-copied boilerplate legalese. And I get to run it through an OCR scanner and turn it into something the paralegals can work with.

Which means that the computer makes guesses as to what those black dots might mean. And sometimes it guesses wrong. The other day it translated “traffic citation” as “truffle citation”.

Yeah, we have a solution for those unruly truffles. We roll them in cocoa powder and bite their heads off, unless they’re the kind that grows underground, in which case we turn them into truffle oil and drizzle them on anything that might need a little jazzing up: pizza, pasta, or crow that we need to eat.

Speaking of which... How to give you background without embarrassing children who have repented of past errors? At the risk of being too cryptic, I will just say that two of my girls made choices about cars and financial responsibility that caused hard feelings and financial chaos on all sides, which resulted in my declaration that others would not have the opportunity to do likewise. No drivers ed, no car on my nickel, no short people carried on my insurance. Which means that one still doesn't drive, though another has a learners permit. And which means that LittleBit, who has wanted a summer job since she was ten [and has known how to drive for about that long, thanks to one sister who shall be nameless], has grown increasingly more frustrated with the situation.

We live in the largest suburb in the US-of-A without rapid transit. LittleBit and I get along wonderfully, but neither of us wants to feel *stuck* with the other. How on earth is she going to be able to work and continue her education and have a place of her own, without wheels? She will want to move out after she graduates, and I will be ready for an empty nest after being a single parent for a decade.

I have stuck to my guns for almost ten years.

And we have been given a solution that seems to cover all the bases with eye-for-an-eye simplicity. One of the older girls has given me a car that will get LittleBit around town and prevent road trips. [It has 235,000 miles on it.] I am out only the gift tax from when I transferred the title yesterday, which LittleBit will reimburse me should she wish to put the car in her own name after she graduates. If she doesn’t, I’ll sell the car for whatever I can get. And we will use the parent-taught drivers ed, which she will reimburse me from her first paycheck; it’s $20, as opposed to several hundred. She’ll also cover the increased insurance.

Because it’s a car for a car, so to speak, the bad car-ma [couldn’t resist] is now cancelled. And I don’t have to feel like a twit, or a hypocrite, for eating my words. I just have to order the packet so I can officially and legally begin teaching LittleBit. It will take a couple of weeks to get here, and the training cannot be completed in less than 20 days. So ask me about the end of September if we’re still speaking, OK?


Tola said...

quoth the mother: "nevermore"

Barb said...

Gosh, I loved this post so much. I could really "see" you cooking and gardening and I'm guessing your kids were not the spoiled picky eaters I am raising. Thank you for giving me some credit for inspiration, too. I usually feel pretty clueless, so I appreciate it if even one word makes somebody do something besides scratch her head and murmur, "huh."

I think you'll be glad that you waited with your kids when it comes to cars and driving, etc. This past weekend, the 17-year-old son of my next door neighbor was killed in a car accident. I may never let my kids learn to drive now, seriously, but certainly not at some arbitrary age the Texas Legislature deems appropriate.

Loved this --so well written,

Sue J said...

Good luck with those lessons!!!!!
I lost my religion trying to teach my son to drive........but I'm sure you are much more spiritually grounded then I am!

Just remember.......she's a good kid! No tattoos or wild piercings....right? No punk boyfriends.......no disappearing all night.

When we have a good child, they need rewards. And as a single mom, I know the rewards were far and few for my two. On the up side to that, they really appreciated them.

Just remember (when she scares you half to death during a driving lesson) how much you do love her!!!