Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lady's Gardener

I was her gardener, she in turn would make me breakfast; I’d happily say that she was far more adept at her trade than I.

My grandmother’s kitchen was small. On some days that made it an annoyance, as when trying to bully through the space carrying some box bound for the basement from the attic. But on other days, the days I spent alone with her while taking care of her “manly” chores, it was cozy and warm, like a private cafe.

My mother was a pretty good basic cook. Her mother was an amazing cook, and would trade my trimming hedges and mowing laws with engaging conversation over 6 course morning meals.

By the time I was cleaned up and ready for my dividend, her little steel and Formica table would be already set; good china, cloth nappys, real silver. If I were lucky the orange juice, a commodity I’d never experienced at home, would have been pre-poured into one of my two favorite glasses. The first was a very tall, thin, white frosted glass, embellished with red, green and blue polka dots. The dots were embossed and smooth, in contrast to the scratchiness of the frost surrounding them. Something was very cool about the difference in textures, the indent of the dots. I’d slip my fingers into them slowly, as if they were keys on a saxophone. I could feel the bumps of dried watercolor as the glass seemed hand painted, the color spread by a twist of camelhair. The other was a cobalt blue glass goblet. The color fascinated me, and it too had dot like indents that were more reminiscent of the flesh left after a melon baller had been let loose on a ripe cantaloupe.

I was enamored by finery and craft, and not because it resembled wealth. Her silver was of a classic colonial design for instance, the edges of each handle roped, the emblems convex and intricate, the weight, perfectly balanced. Upon holding a knife before me I could envision a craftsman working the metals, polishing and primping, tacking and clipping. I envied those who had talent in their hands as I had next to none.

In order to get the full experience of each visit I needed to pay close attention to each tidbit of sensory input, from the light “calack”ing of the steel kitchen cabinets opening and closing, to the smell of bakery bread slowly toasting, to the riveting red color of homemade strawberry jam that centered the table in its crystal decanter complete with its crystal, doll house spoon.

Her bacon was bought at a butcher shop, a hickory smoked slab from which she’d order the number of slices she’d enjoy. Many of her staples were purchased from a local farmer’s market, her breads, when not self made, were the neighborhood baker’s pride; often a crisp loaf, tender and starkly white inside as if newly fallen snow had been lightly packed into a flaky crust, baked until just tan and sliced by the highest pitched strings of a grand piano.

Her eggs were softly scrambled, yellow as the dawn, sometimes flecked with a tiny bit of an exotic cheese or a pinch of fresh herbs; or they were baked in ramekins, topped with bread crumbs or dabbed with pungent sauces.

There we’d sit while coffee percolated on the stove in a clear glass carafe. Between bites we’d discuss events of the day, shows we’d seen, people we’d found fascinating. There it was made clear to me that at least one person in my life was sincerely interested in what I had to say, what I considered right and wrong, what I thought was funny. There it was forever safe, and comforting, powerfully charismatic and so easy to remember I can smell the chives frying in a small pat of butter, hear the snap of crisp bacon, see the polka dots well enough to slip my fingers into their indents and hear the woman that taught me kindness and the art of listening, giggling and goading me to continue my story.

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