Ruby Regina Witcraft
Not the most conventional topic but for some reason it interests me. Just so the right person gets the praise or, in my case, the dubious honor, a German fellow by the name of Albert Gremit, or something similar developed this palpable liquor. Probably while in a drunken stupor from gin.
Please refrain from suggesting that I need to get a life as this cute little word has also captured the affection of seven of my single lady friends. The same seven of us have been very tight and meet about once a month for some vague reason or another. There is usually wine and so on, but Schnapps has become the choice beverage for toasting. Don’t ask why. It just is, and probably has more to do with the name than the disgusting taste but the peach makes it swallowable.
Most importantly, you need to know how to pronounce the word. It isn’t just Schnapps, and by the way, it isn’t any old, plain Schnapps but peach flavored. We wouldn’t be so crass as not to elevate it to a more elegant level. Besides, saying it properly clears the throat and expels remnants from your teeth.
In order to pronounce Schnapps most effectively, you must be sure that your false teeth are firmly in place. Most possibly, they could fly across the room with the correct emphasis. Also, as a precautionary favor for your nearest friend. Put a very large napkin up to your mouth as the spittle would certainly fog up her glasses and cause her to retaliate for dampening her new suede jacket.
After swallowing the unusual nectar and holding your nose and your shot glass up for a toast (yes, only a shot glass full because we couldn’t stand more). You then wish the honoree a happy whatever as you grab a glass of water for a chaser.
After the grimaces subside, we gag, giggle, wipe our chins, cough and repeat the name several times to get the taste out of our mouths. We refuse seconds.
Through the lips and over the gums, look out stomach here it comes. “SCCCCCHNAPSSSSSE!” Happy New Year, Friends!
Aunt Fran’s Chili
There is a favorite dish and recipe of mine that I’d like to share with you. I’m sure most of you have made it before and are familiar with it. It’s very easy to make, only a few ingredients, but we can each make it our own, depending on the light or heavy touch with spices and personal tastes.
At family get togethers, this dish would be anticipated with mouths watering and eager appetites. Anticipated because of who made it. To me, even though the dish was familiar, it was special.
The first ingredient was one can of Goya pink beans, 15 oz.
Now most of us wonder why pink beans and why only the Goya brand? To the cook this brand had the special spices already in the beans, with texture and flavor necessary to add to the dish. This ingredient reminded me of the cook, the attention to detail, experiencing other brands of beans and using only this favorite.
She always looked beautiful, this aunt of my husband’s. Her hair perfectly combed, with her weekly beauty appointment not to be missed. A crown of white, immovable. Like her beans, chosen specifically for her recipe, her hair was the perfect accompaniment to her coloring.
The next ingredient is one pound of chopped meat.
Coming from New York, the butcher always called it chopped meat, or hamburger meat to a lot of the country. When I moved to California and asked for chopped meat, immediately the butcher knew I was from New York. Amazed, I asked how he know that. Well, here in the West Coast we call it ground meat. The machine used in New York is called the Chopper and we call it the Grinder.
Now this meat could be any cut of beef, sirloin, round, tri tip or any cheaper cut. This ground beef, or pork or turkey goes through the grinder. Much as this aunt’s life. The ups and downs of childhood, living in the tenements of New York City with immigrant parents working hard to support their six children. World War II taking her fiancé away, but thankfully coming home unharmed, having her own sadness with the loss of an infant and losing her husband to cancer in later years.
The third ingredient is one 8-oz. can of Del Monte tomato sauce.
Del Monte, this Italian family’s favorite brand of tomato sauce. Adding this brand of sauce to her recipe brought the past to the present. The heritage of relatives in Italy, farming and growing tomatoes for their family’s dinner table. Family dinners, children surrounding her, laughing and teasing and a jug of homemade wine at the head of the table near her husband’s chair, ready to be poured into waiting tumblers. Memories and traditions handed down. I wanted to have these same traditions for my family.
The fourth ingredient is one-half package of McCormick chili seasoning.
Now this ingredient adds the smoothness and flavoring to her dish, binding it together with the meat and the sauce and the beans, thickening it to the desired texture. I thought about this, what does bind us to each other, to our family and the traditions we want to pass down? Is it the unconditional love a parent has for their children? The commitment to and love of our spouses, weathering the trials and joys of marriage and life? I want to show my children that I have the character and fortitude to be positive, to not run when life gets hard. I want us to bind together, showing our children’s children what tradition and family means.
Now we add the spices; garlic powder, chili powder and crushed red pepper.
Here is where it gets fun for me. A little of this and a little of that make the dish perfect to my taste buds. This aunt measured the spices to perfection. A little spicy, delicious and wanting more, just like her personality. The New York wit and sarcasm was always at her lips. Misunderstood by some, acerbic to others, even her children, sometimes the recipients of her words. I saw a heart that was hurt, hidden beneath a laugh or a joke. Pushing away, gathering close. Fear and loneliness bubbling. A spoonful of her chili, heaven to the taste buds, with smoothness, and a bite of spices after the first taste.
She’s gone now, just this year. She taught me how to mix these ingredients to make a dish both comforting and nutritious. How to blend together family and traditions. Her spiciness will always be remembered, just like her chili.
A bromide is a statement intended to make a person feel happier or calmer but is not original nor necessarily effective. My path to retirement was marked by bromides from well-intentioned family, friends and employees. Although cliched, some were surprisingly relevant. My 83-year-old neighbor in Myrtle Beach said, “Have at least one thing to do every day and mark it as accomplished.” Another familiar refrain was in essence the necessity of having “things to look forward to doing.” Both of these have brought me satisfaction in retirement.
There is a newspaper here in Chandler called the Sun Lakes Splash. It is bulky and brimming with the activities to be found in our community. One might chance upon the meeting of the rock club, or a political group but for me the best was the Sun Lakes Writers Group.
These fellow writers have provided me that thing to look forward to doing. My narratives have all been first-person accounts of my life. They range from the adventures of a young lieutenant in Vietnam to the workplace experiences of a senior CEO. These weekly meetings and my autobiographical musings have been a catalyst to speed my action in writing a personal history. The authors in the group have shared their intimate moments and more recently several have shared the books that they are in the process of writing.
The New Adventures in Learning that is administered by Gilbert Community College offers many enriching and challenging courses. I have enrolled in two. The first is titled Tracing Your Path, Sharing Your Life Stories and the second is Yes, You Have a Book in You. The former has six sessions and the latter two. It is an exhilarating adventure for me to look forward to and I want each of you to know that your poems, stories and personal narratives have been the impetus. I look forward to sharing my progress and literary work.
The Writing Room
“Damn it!” exploded Sam Feldman as he stared at the blank screen of his computer. “I haven’t been able to write a word since we moved here. My God, it’s three whole weeks already!”
He was sitting in his new writing room. All his old furniture had been placed in exactly the same position as in his old writing room in New York City. He had followed his exact routine he had in New York. He always popped one piece of gum in his mouth, chewed it until the flavor was gone, tucked it in the pocket above his molars on the left side of his mouth for future use. As he was chewing, his computer was warming up and he would begin to type. Only now his mind was a vacuum, nothing, nada, kaput.
Sam had grown up in the heart of Manhattan and had lived there his entire life. He decided to be a writer in his teens and had been able to start selling his stories in his early 20s. Throughout his 43 years, he had not only made a living writing, but a very GOOD living, particularly in the last five years. He married Julie when he was 30, and they lived in a three-bedroom flat in the middle of the city. Julie gradually became fed up with her city life and began to yearn for green countryside and open skies. There were many talks about her feelings and desires with Sam. She usually concluded the conversations by saying, “That’s the advantage of being a writer. You can live anywhere.” Sam finally said, “What the hell. I might surprise myself and like it.” And so Julie flew to Maine to look for a property. The place she found was beautiful. It used to be a small inn, the Greenbrier, right on a lake with two acres of trees, blueberry bushes and lovely lawn from the house down to the lake.
To her, this was paradise. To Sam, it was too quiet, and he couldn’t seem to generate his usual creative energy here.
When another week went by, Sam was really worrying that they might have to move back to the city if his brain didn’t start functioning. And Julie was really worrying because she loved their new home and wanted it to be as perfect for Sam as it was for her.
As she was fixing the morning coffee and thinking about the problem, an idea came to her. As she carried Sam’s coffee into him, she told him she was going to fly to New York City on business and would be back that night. She left before Same had a chance to ask her, “What business?”
He puttered around all day, sat at his desk, wandered down to the lake, visited with an old retired neighbor and wondered what Julie was up to.
Julie walked through the door at 10:30 that night, cheerful, but extremely tired. The worst part for Sam was that she gave no explanation of why she had gone to the city. She got ready for bed and fell asleep immediately.
The next morning, Sam ambled into the kitchen to have his usual cereal and coffee, then he shuffled into his writing room feeling discouraged and cheerless. Julie was still asleep when he went in.
A short time went by when smiling Julie came into his room, placed earphones from a Sony Walkman over his ears and turned on the cassette she had made in the city. Sam grinned when he heard the wonderful city sounds of horns honking, people yelling, street drills, cab drivers shouting insults and wheels screeching.
“I thought this might help you to concentrate. I spent the whole day in the busiest streets to catch all your beloved city noises,” she laughed.
The strange part is that Sam from that day forward began to write again. And he always kept his earphones on and his gum tucked in the pocket above his molars.
And they both lived happily ever after in their Maine hideaway.