Sunday Morning~Easter Bread


It’s Easter Sunday and the mass is early. The Easter bread is in the oven, a recipe I found in Bon Apetit twenty years ago, which takes two full days to prepare. It’s a special treat and I’m feeling a bit superior today getting it baked before mass. Once everyone is up, I have a harder and harder time coordinating all that has to be baked, roasted, and steamed for a timely meal. This bread is tricky. It’s very rich, and will burn if you turn your back. It’s delicious even if the top is charred, but after all this work, it’s heartbreaking to see that I should have checked it ten minutes ago. If I open the oven door when the aroma wafts through the house with a satisfied smile on my face and gaze upon the sweet creation to find the almond topping a shade of black, well, it’s not a good way to start this holiest of days. So I’ll be vigilant this morning.

When I found this recipe, I realized it was the bread my father bought every Easter at Massa’s bakery, located next to his office in our small town. It was a small Italian bakery and this bread was an annual specialty.  I’m not sure if you could  buy it any old day of the year, but our table sported it only on Easter. Their pecan rolls were only at Thanksgiving and the eclairs were for special treats, but this almond delicacy I only saw at Easter. He’d bring home this bread in one of those brown cardboard boxes tied with string. It was tied so one little pull on the knot would release it’s deliciousness. I remember watching my mother pull that string and the box splay open. I thought she had some special skill. I was proud of her for that.

The Easter meal in our house was predictable: ham, scalloped potatoes, salad, Italian Easter bread, pies, coffee, wine. We didn’t have guests, it was usually just our family. We’d go to 9 o’clock mass, all dressed up in our new spring outfits. The week before was spent shopping for those clothes, begging for the hat with as many fake flowers as it could hold, getting fitted for new shoes at Obergs shoe store. It was special. I loved having my foot placed in the metal foot ruler (did that tool have a name?) my big toe pressed firmly against the line and the very nice man knowing exactly which Mary Janes would fit my tender feet. I loved it. I loved my little ankle socks with a lace trim. I loved getting up and walking to see if they fit. I loved seeing my mother watch me, smiling. I felt special. I loved carrying the bag home. We walked, of course, my mother didn’t drive. It seemed like miles to get home but my mother was happy. I was happy. Recently, I  visited the hometown and was stunned by how short the distances were. It’s a very small town. The bakery is long gone. The shoe store is a coffee shop. The dress store disappeared long ago.

I can’t remember the last time I wore a hat for Easter. There is still snow on the ground here and it’s below freezing. There isn’t a forsythia near bloom anywhere. Those pastel linen coats are a thing of the past. I’m feeling nostalgic for those days even though I have romanticized the memories. It was a time when women had few rights and hard lives, I know that. But I’m longing for that feeling of having a new hat and new shoes fill me with joy.

It’s late now. The bread called, my grandchildren woke, we rushed off to mass. We had friends coming for dinner. I abandoned the office for the kitchen. The bread was a perfect golden brown. I thought many times today about how I long for simplicity. I want to pretend nothing exists but this home filled with family and friends. For today, I want to give up the fight for everything. I want to go back to the fire, hold the baby, listen to stories, and laugh. I know there are causes: hunger, injustice, suffering. But just for today, I’ll wear old clothes and  be happy that the bread turned out fine.


Sunday Morning~Family Weekend

I never knew that Paul Revere started his ride from Charlestown, and I didn’t know that he borrowed his horse. I never knew that the warning lanterns in the Old North Church were only hung for one minute. There is so much I don’t know. Was I not listening when this was taught or was it not taught? Was it my responsibility to fill in the details? How can a social studies teacher impart everything?  Who decides what’s important?

I grew up near Concord and Lexington. We often took visitors to the bridge where the “Shot Heard Around The World” was fired. I went to college in Boston and spent many an hour and mile walking, stopping at historical sites. I’ve spent a lot of time in this city.  And just yesterday I learned that Charlestown was the “opposite shore” where Paul Revere saw those lanterns. There is even a little plaque memorializing the site. I found it on a run along the harbor.

It’s our family reunion weekend and we are doing it differently this year. There is no snow and many of the younger generation had to work and couldn’t get away to ski. We also have a new baby, a new illness, and it just wasn’t working out to ski this year. So big brother got us great rooms in a great hotel in Boston and we are having a new experience. We’ve carefully avoided talking politics (such a relief, though the weekend isn’t over yet), caught-up on adventures, kids, house projects, future plans. We’ve met new boyfriends and girlfriends. Tasted new spirits. We share enthusiasm for our offspring who create lives we couldn’t imagine. We marvel at their success. We help out where we can. We are the older generation now. We take direction from them.

It is interesting to have new relationships be part of this annual weekend. We tell stories about our eventful childhoods and watch the faces of the newcomers. It’s reassuring to me to hear my siblings remembering things the way I do. I’m glad to confirm I haven’t made all this up. We reflect on what a rich history we have. We tell painful stories with humor and they seem less serious. I think we spent a good part of our lives protecting each other. It’s very clear the love runs deep.  Our stories have gaps where details are sketchy. Those get filled in little by little. We relay a new pieces of evidence.  It sheds light on the family dynamic and some things start to make more sense. I ask about some tidbit I learned in the family archives. Something that mystified me. I hear information that alters the assumptions I’d formed. The emotions mellow. The skies clear. The world makes more sense.

I realize I have never seen the Boston skyline from this direction. I see the familiar landmarks in a new way. I think about how dangerous the crossing to Charlestown must have been; how brave and resolute the patriots were. I think about what was at stake.

A dangerous crossing looks different once we’ve made it safely ashore. I make note to remember this and resolve to look from every angle. How different the stories might turn out if I’d done that all along.

Sunday Morning~ Free Time

Free time is wasted on the childless. Someone said that to me once, and I believe truer words have never been spoken. When I was in graduate school, with five children under six years old, I would have exactly two hours to write a paper (the average nap time in our house), and I’d get it done! My childless classmates would take weeks to finish the same paper. Many other things were accomplished in two hours in those days: cleaning the entire house, writing Christmas cards, sewing a new skirt, making dinners for the week, with an occasional shower and shampoo thrown in. It felt like those scenes in Bewitched when she’d wiggle her nose and everything went into fast-forward. My goal was to have everything cleared away without a trace before they woke up and I heard the four most dreaded words, “I want to help!” When I hear those words now from my darling grand daughter they evoke a totally different emotion. Now, it’s pride and wonder at her skills and enthusiasm for learning! But I must admit, when my kids were that age, it was pure dread. The worst sound in my life was that kitchen chair being dragged over to the counter to “help!”

I had visions of accomplishing monumental things when the kids were grown and gone. I thought if I kept up that pace there would be no end to the volumes I’d write, the masterpieces I’d create, and the books I’d read. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. My vision of the productive winter, tucked in a warm cozy home, with a lovely man equally as productive, have been less, shall we say, impressive than I imagined.  Very nice, mind you, but no where near the productivity I envisioned. I don’t think I work well without time constraints. Give me the whole day to write the blog, and I’ll take most of it. Is it any better than the ones I feel pressured to crank out in an hour? Not necessarily.  Most of the day gets spent worrying that I’ve offended someone. Well, part of the day is spent worrying, the other part is talking myself into posting it anyway.

So here I am, early morning, in my daughter’s house, having gotten the three-week old settled down, anxiously awaiting the two year old’s morning call, thinking, “I wonder if I can get this written in a half hour?” My daughter needs some sleep. She has a new baby, a toddler, and a husband urgently and unexpectedly in the hospital. It’s a lot for being postpartum. And I think back to my early days of motherhood before microfibers and decent strollers! How did we do it? Those mornings of just getting the baby settled after a long night, sinking back into the pillow with relief, closing your eyes hoping against hope to get maybe an hour of sleep, when you hear “mommy!” from the next room, and your eyes snap open and your heart sinks and you wonder why you ever thought having children would be a good idea. It’s those tired, exhausted moments when I wonder how women on the prairie did this? With the nearest neighbor a mile away and husband out hunting bear for weeks at a time? How did our species ever survive?

It’s really a gift to be able to spend time with these little ones. I think about how different it is as grandmother, how easy it is to let things slide. I wish I had done more of that as a mother. There were so many stupid power struggles I got into thinking it would be for their own good to eat every meal sitting at the table. Most of the world doesn’t even have a table so why did I make such a big deal about stupid shit like that? There are a million more examples I could give, but it’s too painful to recall them. I just want to wallow in the fuzzy love I get from these little beings and pretend everything is alright. It’s all been forgiven.

As I contemplate going away again for a year, I look at these little darlings and wonder how I could leave them for that long? Then think, there are little darlings like this all over the world who don’t have half of this. Not a fraction. Aren’t they just as precious?  I try not to think too hard about what kind of world we will leave for them as they grow into adulthood. The bitterness and hatefulness I see now deeply saddens me. I wanted to believe those days were gone; that we’d evolved somehow. But it’s not true. We have not evolved. It’s the same old cycle repeating over and over again. For women and minorities it’s always open season.

I am working hard not to get pulled into the hatefulness, but it’s hard to hear educated people promoting it. It’s shocking, actually. It makes me want to pull in my own anger and be a better person.

Yikes. Nap time is over.

Sunday Morning~Truth, Hens, and Caucuses

Friday night was the annual Hen Party. This party started several years ago when a friend was going through a hard time after her husband left her for another woman. The usual. We wanted to take her out and have a girls evening to buck her up, but it was winter on the island and nothing was open. I had a great girl’s pad and we decided we could open it up to lots of friends and make our own cosmos. It’d be cheaper and there’d be no last call.

I heard the term “Hen Party” from my British friends. This is what they call a bachelorette party but I just loved the term so I stole it. But since none of my friends are getting married, I didn’t want to waste it on that.  Instead, it’s a mid-winter, cabin-fever, losing-perspective, need-some-girl-time fun. The crowd changes every year, but there is usually one or more of us needing bucking up and we’ve created a safe, supportive nest where we can regroup and watch each other fly. I never know who is coming. We keep it the first Friday of March, and the theme martinis, tapas, and chocolate. It started out just martinis, but we learned the first year (still a classic), we needed some food.

I will admit I was a little concerned this year. The back and forth about the democratic primary has generated some strong feelings and I was wondering what the evening would turn into. It seemed to be all anyone was talking about around here, and since the caucus is today, I thought some martini-fueled controversy might be in store. But I needn’t have worried. Though there were certainly those of us on both sides of the debate, it was discussion filled with mutual respect and questions about how to achieve our common goals. We listened to each other. With respect.

We talked a lot about truths. Some of us spent years believing our life partner was honest and true, and experienced the glass ball come shattering down. As we shared stories, I thought about the ways we each handle this. Some look at future options with a new and more discerning eye, some are unable to truly trust again, some get caught in self-blame and stay there, and some grieve and move on to a better, happier place.

Truth. Why do we believe what we believe? What kind of decisions do we make based on those lurking doubts, or clear truths that turn out to be mirages? What kind of trickle-down effect does it have on our children? What do we do when speaking our truth hurts someone, as it surely will? As women, this social taboo––hurting others, keeps us silent and repressed. It feels crappy to think people don’t like you, or are mad at you for your beliefs, or misinterpret you. We don’t like to feel crappy, so we stay silent. How do we overcome that and blossom in a world where opportunity is often a false front? And how do we know which is which? In college I had a leadership teacher who said, “You have to have people hate you. Otherwise, you are doing nothing.” I understand the tendency to surround ourselves with like-mindedness. It’s safe and comfortable. Our world makes sense that way.  I find myself wanting to turn off the news about those who think differently; those who are willing to accept someone who preaches intolerance and greed. It’s scary and my mind tries to make sense of it in order to find peace in my universe. But turning away is what happened in the holocaust. It’s too much to bear that this could exist, so we deny it. And in denying it, we promote it.

Why is it we can believe liars and doubt truth tellers? Maybe it’s all about what we want to believe.

There are evil geniuses in this world.