Stumbling Block Blues

Finding one bluesman was easy. Doing it again is a lot tougher.

All week, I’ve been thinking about this line from the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” which follows the paratroopers of Easy Company in World War II. It’s a moment at the end of episode 4. Operation Market Garden, a massive attempt to invade Germany through Holland, has gone spectacularly badly. The troopers that managed to survive are in a weary retreat, defeated and beaten down. As they leave, Lewis Nixon tells his friend, Capt. Dick Winters, ruefully: “I think we’re gonna have to find another way into Germany.”

Some weeks ago, I had a really meaningful research success. Following it up has brought almost no reward and almost entirely frustration. Nothing is working as I’d hoped. My expectations and anticipations aren’t being met. My standard research techniques are no use.

I don’t like trying to find another way into Germany. Having to spend my time devising alternative research strategies offends my desire for efficiency. Why can’t it all work the way it did before?

It’s not working because… well, for a lot of reasons.

Continue reading “Stumbling Block Blues”

Recipe Boxes

This morning began with printing out some recipes. Which led to tidying up my cookbook area and baking pans. Which led to pulling out the recipe boxes I’ve had forever, but mostly have treated like bookends.

I love old recipes, but I’m a modern person, right? I never think to pull out a card when I could pull up something on a screen. So the three boxes have sat, rarely touched, until today.

I first started collecting recipes when I was 10 or 11. My Aunt Ginger sent me a little recipe box, with a few of her own included, as a gift. Her choices, like her, were pragmatic and sensible. Her handwriting is clear. It all makes sense.

With that, I was off and running. I tried to emulate her direct style. It didn’t exactly translate. You may well need a translator for my handwriting.

You can also see I had already isolated the first element of a good recipe box: Overwhelming ambition you will never actually carry out. I don’t know how much cream of broccoli soup or tabouli salad 11-year-old me thought I was going to make. I had never eaten either of those things. No matter!

I gave up on writing out cards pretty quickly, opting instead for taping clipped recipes to them. At some point, I dispensed even with the taping, just cutting whatever looked good from the food section of the paper. Emphasis on WHATEVER.

Clearly, I was not going for a theme. Please note: I have still made none of these things, but I’ve held on to the recipes for 40 years. You never know when you’ll need to make a batch of Polish mushroom soup on short notice. I have always been prepared for such an emergency.

Recognizing that 50-year-old me doesn’t want to cook or even order an anisette souffle, I was able to clean out this whole stack today. I kept my aunt’s recipes, and a few of my childhood ones, but that’s all. Begone, obligations of the past. Out, old clippings. That alone allowed me to pare down from three recipe boxes to two.

With the other recipe box—my mom’s–I kept every single thing. Time capsules take all forms.

In these, I can see her early cards, written as an ambitious young bride. And later ones, where she was less striving and more…herself.

This “macedoine of fruit” has to be one of the early ones. I’m 100% sure she never attempted it, but she clearly gave it a lot of thought.

My favorite part is the notation about “flaming cubes.” For the love of all that is edible, flaming cubes of…WHAT? WHY?

I have to add: The idea that she would consider subbing in cherry pie filling is 100%, center of the target, on-brand for my mother. She once combined orange-flavored coffee beans and coconut-flavored coffee beans to make tropical coffee. She also liked to put mayonnaise in guacamole “to make it creamy.” So of course canned pie filling in her macedoine. Of course.

It’s cousin in the box is “frozen Caribbean salad,” which requests a cup of mayonnaise and a cup of whipped cream. Presumably to make it creamy.

In rereading, I see that she forgot to indicate when you add the pineapple, so that the recipe (as written) is one banana in two cups of white goo. I guess you could put it in any time, really.

Laughs aside, the notes are my favorite part. Who is Fitz? Why does she need to be there by 1:30? Another recipe card notes someone’s flight time from Houston. This was also very her. Wherever she was, my mom’s orbit always included a legal pad or a list jotted on a torn envelope. Underlining and cross-outs were a given.

Just seeing that makes me feel like this box is still hers. But it’s mine now. I patched up its cracked lid and added a recipe card of my own.

Let’s hope that some future finder opts for my scones, and not my grandmother’s corned beef loaf. ☗


© 2021 Tori Brovet/All rights reserved. GraveyardSnoop — at — gmail.com.

Gertrude’s Window

I often reference the burden that carrying your family history entails. I usually dwell on the mental load, how it requires — and can drain — your time and energy and spirit. But other times, I’m talking about an actual, physical burden.

I’m talking about Gertrude’s window.

This stained-glass window currently lives in my dining room. I haven’t found a better place for it. I have somewhere in mind, but first, a little history.

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Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 3)

Nancy Chamberlain died an unremarkable death. But what happened after – her daughter Ruth and granddaughter Marian kept Nancy’s body above ground for weeks; they buried her in their backyard; and they never told the authorities – meant that a serious investigation was required.

Previously: Mother Love: The Townsends Pt 2

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Feb. 17, 1921; Chicago

Nancy Luther Chamberlain died in her 90s, at home, after a perfectly ordinary life. It was the kind of unremarkable death that doesn’t raise an undertaker’s eyebrow. But what happened after – her daughter Ruth and granddaughter Marian kept Nancy’s body above ground for weeks; they buried her in their backyard; and they never told the authorities – meant that a serious investigation was required.

Chicago Tribune; Feb. 16, 1921
Continue reading “Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 3)”

Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 1)

February 1921; Chicago

One chill February afternoon in 1921, a call rang into the Englewood police station from a Greek restaurant on 63rd Street. Could they please come remove some patrons who wouldn’t leave? 

Police arrived to find two reluctant customers: Ruth Townsend (61) and her daughter, Marian (26). The pair had just been evicted from their home a few blocks away, at 57th and Stony Island. It was cold outside. They came to this restaurant, where they’d eaten before, because they had nowhere to go and nothing to go with.

Accustomed to handling sympathetic hard-luck cases, the police took the now-homeless women to the Hackett Stevenson Memorial Lodging House, a women’s shelter on South Prairie Ave. They probably thought that was the end of it.

But a week later, on Valentine’s night, the police had reason to return — and they weren’t bringing valentines. The Townsends’ neighbors had watched their eviction take place, and had seen the furniture piled up in the backyard. They also noticed something that was missing from the scene. Rumors began to spread. Eventually one of the neighbors had approached the police to say: Ruth’s elderly mother was living with them. We haven’t seen her since last summer.

The cops wanted answers. Where was Ruth’s 93-year-old mother, Nancy Chamberlain? 

Continue reading “Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 1)”

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