Monday, October 24, 2016

On Becoming My Grandmother


 This morning when I woke up and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, for a second I looked just like my grandmother. Not Gram when she was 20, in that pretty photo everyone always says I looked just like, but Gram from when I was a kid, when she was old.

 This isn't terribly terrible. She never had a ton of wrinkles that showed, even when she was in her high 80s. And her skin then was so soft, still fine-textured and beautiful. I don't know if she ever used moisturizer, as I have since the age of 12, but her skin was lovely, pinkish pale & fairly clear of spots, unlike her next door friend Mrs. Walters (Betty), who had age spots all over her arms and face in her early sixties.

 Gram's shape was barrel-like from having children well after her 40th birthday, but she was otherwise slim and what you could see of her legs below the hemline of her perpetual housedress was good, with well-turned ankles. And I don't have the barrel-- instead there's a small mail pouch of a lower abdomen, from having a hysterectomy at 49 when my organs and muscles were already loose/ damaged from my Dermatomyositis. I don't look exactly like her from the neck down. And on closer inspection, my face isn't really there yet, I just look tired.

 No, what shocked me when I saw this sudden preview of 15-years-forward, I suppose, was the resemblance of expression as much as the physical manifestation of age. While I don't go around thinking of myself as 20, imagining I have the social power and pull I had as a 20-something girl, I discovered as perhaps most 50 year olds do that that is still the age of the self inside of me, the self that dreams & plans and wants. When we're younger we expect that to change, and the trick on us is that it doesn't; we're left with young longings in a body and a society that prevent us from reasonably acting on our most youthful desires. I can handle that part since I've never felt the right age anyway, and have only just begun to have some friends that aren't either 10 years older or equally younger.

 But my memory says that Gram spent the last twenty some odd years of her life just waiting to die, and I don't want to show that, I don't care to feel that. I'd rather take after my mother, who is active, who has a ministry at each of her churches, who still picks up new hobbies and learns new skills. She still reads, she plays online Scrabble with me over her own netbook everyday, she knows how to post a picture on FB and she has been known to Skype with family in other states. She still experiments with makeup colors at 85 and has recently begun using Josie Maran Argan Oil moisturizer. That is an elder life I can understand. I've never seen myself as the old lady that spends all of her time sitting around worrying over nothing, or just sitting in a chair in the bedroom, as Gram did all too often.

 To be fair, when I was very little, and my uncle dumped my poor Gram on us because his wife was a stone cold bitch (She was; sorry Uncle Dex! Sorry, cousins!), Gram was more active. She went to church with us on Sundays and sang in the choir, which was a feat in itself, as the choir loft there was only accessible by a long, steep and winding stair such as you generally only see in a gothic horror movie, with the first victim lying at the bottom with a broken neck and a head turned all the way around, staring up in an expression of permanent terror.

 She also had friends, and cousins, that she'd visit from time to time, along with her hair salon. But gradually, as these folks died off, the invitations stopped and her world became smaller. Her cataracts got worse, and she stopped reading, then sewing, then doing her embroidery. She left our flat less and less. Her twice a year perms became once a year, and she needed more help getting up and down the front steps.

 To get her perm & haircut, I remember how she would always powder her nose and wear lipstick, dolling up to for the hairdresser and wearing her nicest dress. When she came back, we all told her how pretty it looked, but secretly I always felt she looked harsh and less like herself when she first came home from getting beautified. Only after she'd set her own hair again a few times did she become my familiar Gram, washer of dishes and maker of cookies. At the end of her life, that yearly salon visit was her one & only non-family-oriented social occasion. Most of the daytime, she just hung out with our cats.

 I don't remember when she stopped coming to midnight mass with us on Christmas Eve, but I know it happened. I know she was stuck with us, a growling large family of frustrated creatives still recovering from the influence and effect of an alcoholic father, and living on welfare for some of those years. She was put there by the son that had been the light of her life, too. Then she lost her ability to enjoy her hobbies through the simple accretion of bodily time.

 What I wonder is, was that why her approach to life, at the end, was just to wait-- was it because she was beaten down? Or was there a fundamental difference between her outlook and my mother's, whose attitude I hope to emulate; my mother who has had as hard a life as anyone and still works to savor her days by whatever means.

 I thought that I was naturally headed down the Mom path of continuing change and growth, but what if my nostalgia, and my own sadness and beaten down-ness, (for which this has been a banner year), has turned my feet onto the other trail, the one that ends with me sitting in a chair not thinking or doing, not learning new things, trying new recipes or enjoying any creative outlets anymore?

It's a chilly morning in more ways than one. Keep warm--

                                                                              Aging Ophelia


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The LipGloss Made me Do It.


 Did you ever find yourself searching out blatantly nostalgic items from your childhood, for no apparent reason? Of course there's a reason, but it's not obvious at first. Or not obvious enough.

 An hour ago, I finished binge-watching The Dick Van Dyke show on Netflix. I've always liked it, and I maintain that it's still one of the funniest shows ever written. Not why I watched it, though, or not totally. I sense that it is part of a bigger nostalgia trip, one that has been coming on for a while.

 A few months back, I began looking up old Avon products I used to own, on Etsy & eBay--- I think that started with an old lipgloss compact showing up in my Pinterest feed; it was a plastic compact shaped like a fried egg, with two pale frosty glosses such as I wore in my teen years, nestled inside the yolk. Cheap cute junk for kids/teens, early 80's style.

 There's backstory here: that compact, along with another one, some other makeup items and whatever else I had with me, were stolen one night when I was 17. I'd put my favorite little clutch, a pale leather one that had flowers painted on it, onto the bar at Shadrack's* on Broadway, when I went to dance. There were at least a dozen other purses piled there, but mine was the one that got stolen. I thought then that maybe some guy took it, thinking there was money in it, but now I realize it was probably some girl that saw how much makeup I had with me, when I was touching up in the horrid bathroom, and decided to help herself when she got the chance. That would be why it wasn't thrown away outside the bar after the wallet was found empty.

 I loved that purse, and I had lots of my favorite makeup with me that night, so I was pissed. Also, I'd borrowed some of my Mom's cards, store credit and such, to use in case I got asked for ID-- you could do that then, in bars here. Sometimes I got in easy, sometimes I got in with an ID my boyfriend had borrowed from a female coworker (yeah, I realized later that there were details about that situation I'd never questioned enough), but I usually got into the bar one way or another. This time they hadn't even asked. I still got in trouble for losing Mom's cards and her having to put a stop on all charges and all of the other inconveniences. And I didn't have my keys and it was 2:30am by the time it was clear I wasn't getting my purse back, so my boyfriend took me to his family's house all the way on Grand Island for the night. More trouble, since I couldn't reasonably call home to let them know why I wasn't there until morning.

See, this whole episode came to my mind, clear and full, when the Pin of that fried egg lip compact flashed onto my computer screen. I saw that someone was selling one on eBay for some large amount, and I almost bought it, just to have it back.

 Next up, I began looking for the colognes I wore back then, like Love's Fresh Lemon. I watched commercials for it on youtube, and found some for sale that was just too expensive for me to bother with. I did get an old decanter shaped like a dogwood blossom, filled with the authentic apple blossom cologne I had worn for years, off an eBay auction. Then I looked for paper dolls and kid's books I remembered vaguely-- no luck. I searched out more commercials, and children's shows, and albums, from my teen & young adult years. I successfully tracked down a heart pendant necklace I'd once owned, but remembered that back then they used lots of nickel in cheap jewelry, which I cannot put near my skin without getting a rash.

There are so many ways to wallow in memory today, thanks to the 'net; so many magic pools as in The Wood between the Worlds, tempting you like Digory and Polly to jump in and drown in the trends of the past; but for me it all started with that plastic fried egg, with the pale pink and paler peach lipgloss inside.

 I don't wear colors like that anymore. There are items from the present that I need, for real, like a pair of boots that aren't falling apart-- yet the wave of pure desire that filled me when I saw the thing for sale-- whole and untouched, in the box-- almost overrode all good sense. I can still feel the edge of that want, and it seems obvious now that it's my own young self I really want back; the person that still has so many options, only now, I'd know what to do with them.

 Or maybe not, because every second you spend in longing for some past opportunity you missed, is a second you don't spend doing something better in the now, like setting up the website for your band so you can sell the music you've been recording, or drawing patterns you can color in, for fun. Or playing with your cat, who is bored and needs you to be attentive.

 There are things I haven't attended to, during my several months' long nostalgia bath, but a part of me wants to know if there's more substance or enlightenment here-- where is this leading me? Can I get something out of it besides regret and $6 worth of 35 year old cologne?

At least I enjoyed Dick Van Dyke, one of the best physical comedians ever to walk the earth. Give me him, Flip Wilson & I'm set.

 Have a good night, dreaming dreams of your own misspent youth--

                                                                                                Aging Ophelia

*Shadrack's was a working class Buffalo bar for locals, 20-somethings and barely legals, with well drink specials & a decent DJ on Wednesday nights, where my 22-year-old boyfriend liked to take me for a cheap date where he didn't have to be all that attentive. It was kind of a hole, and the lav was always awful, always short of paper too-- I would stuff my purse full of tissues before we went there, to make sure I was covered. I wouldn't go there now if you paid me, but back then, on Wednesday nights, I was the damned Dancing Queen, and I loved the place.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Well into Oktober... A Belated Month of Writing Begins

I have decided I will do NaNoWriMo after all this year, so this prep month of writing is necessary. I shall simply take my notebook writing practice, ala Natalie Goldberg's system from Wild Mind, and begin it fresh here. You've been warned!


Dough and Do Nots.

 The babka dough is rising. It's a chocolate babka, unlike the dried fruit version I grew up eating on special Sunday or holiday mornings. This is from the pages of Food&Wine magazine, more or less. I've tweaked the filling by adding orange peel & ginger, and using clabbered plant milk for whole cow's milk; and I've decided to shape the loaves differently.

 Tweaking recipes is my usual thing, but I didn't start out cooking that way on purpose. It's just that when I first moved out of mother's home into an apt., I didn't have the greatest set of cookware or a budget for exotic ingredients (and back then, fresh ginger was exotic, fresh cilantro was unheard of). So I learned to substitute flavorings or skip steps, as when I first made a flourless chocolate cake by Alice Medrich of Cocolat fame, and decided not to waste cash on blanched almonds that were just going to be ground into almond flour anyway. The cake was delicious, perfect, gorgeous and dramatic, with it's subtle topping of sifted dark cocoa, ringed with caramelized dried apricots.

 Years later, she now makes the same cake with whole raw almonds, as I did way back when. Validation!!! Of course, I've also read that during that time, she had so many mags and such asking her for recipes (while she was running a full-time food biz), that she didn't actually test all of the spinoff versions (like the one I made) of certain of her most famous recipes; like me now, she could come up with changes that she KNEW would work, and send them off. I do that all of the time in the kitchen-- if you have a good grounding in the type of recipe you're making, you don't have to measure or test to tweak successfully. You just have to understand how flavors work together, how the physics & chemistry of baking works.

 Hell, I never even follow a recipe or use measurements for some things, like shortbread crusts. I know the components, I know what it should look, feel and taste like, and I know when I want it sweeter or more buttery or more floury. Only if I was making a grand production type of dessert from some specific Patisserie recipe, say a special torte from Kaffeehaus, would I follow the measurements for that kind of crust or bottom layer, because then it's a matter of having the right balance for the whole.

 And then sometimes, you make a bread or pastry exactly as the recipe says, and the balance doesn't suit your own taste. In these cases, I'll tweak like a mother**er  the next time I make it, if it is worth making again otherwise.

 Once I tweaked a crumb topping beforehand, just from misreading the amount of butter, and when I realized my mistake later, I had to wonder what the hell the woman that gave out the recipe originally was thinking-- because my topping was perfect (and that topping, I DO use again and again, for various baked goods). Hers would have been way too gooey to be properly called "crumb."

 The whole recipe was for a crumb-topped apple pie, one made with chunked rather than sliced apples-- it's become my go-to apple pie recipe, and several other people have said it's their favorite ever. What's great about it is that dicing six cups of peeled apples is much quicker and easier than slicing them, and you don't have to worry so much about the arrangement either, just pile them up and pat them in. I think I might have to make one next week, to celebrate October.

And right now, I have to go check that babka dough; it's probably ready for shaping now.

                                                                                                                     --Aging Ophelia