A very close friend named Beatrice - she insisted upon being addressed as Bay-ah-tree-chay (she wasn’t even Italian) - began her sex education on the lap of a young man in the back seat of a car packed with prom kids. She’d been invited by a senior attending Chicago’s St. Ignatius High School. Beatrice hadn’t wanted to have a date with anyone, but her mother - with an eye to protecting her only child from a disastrous marriage - insisted she accommodate the young man. After all, he was the scion of an illustrious law firm.
A child of sixteen, Beatrice attended a Roman Catholic school for girls. She insisted upon calling it “Mother Mary Bathtub.” Had one of the sisters heard that . . . you can imagine. As well, Beatrice had never been caught pouring ink into the holy water font in the chapel’s narthex. When the nuns dipped their fingers in the water and blessed themselves, their scapulars were stained with streaks of dark water.
Returning to Beatrice and the young man, he had been bold to kiss her on the lips - her first kiss. Startled, she pulled back. Perhaps believing his wooing pleased her - however odd that seems - he kissed her more firmly, then slipped his tongue into her mouth. Beatrice’s response was to bite his tongue so severely it bled enough that he had to be taken to a hospital. There were no emergency rooms in 1933 so the patient was delivered into an exam room where his painfully damaged tongue was repaired. Whether it healed well or not Beatrice never knew, but there was a law suit. (Remember the prestigious law firm.)
Mother and daughter had been at odds for some time; after the tongue incident, mother reminded daughter much too often about the problem she’d created. She strongly suggested that Beatrice marry soon (at sixteen?). Seven years passed before she was at last married to a six-day bike racer. Six-day bike racing was so popular in the early 20th Century - the Jazz Age - that a movie was made: 6 Day Bike Rider. As for Beatrice’s choice in a husband, once again, her mother was not pleased. However, the groom was at least a Roman Catholic, the marriage celebrated in Holy Name Cathedral.
Years later, Beatrice would grin, declaring: “All my husbands had big noses, ugly feet and small kitchens.” And she meant kitchens, so don’t bother. As for the husbands, there were five.
After the biker, there was the son of a Greek restaurant owner, his establishment serving haute cuisine. Alas, it’s not what it once was with subsequent owners. After the Greek there followed a really-truly working clarinetist, a second baseman for the White Sox (much her junior and a virgin) and at last, an undertaker. At the very least, her funeral arrangements would be free. Those haven’t been necessary yet, but their divorce included in the property settlement that Beatrice’s send-off would be free-of-charge. Some things are important.
As for small kitchens, I’ve had a number of those and several fairly large. The best one I designed for myself. I enjoyed its marvels for two years until my husband wanted to move - again. Now alone, I continue to bake, always grateful for the freezer. My husbands - there were only two and each served twenty-nine years - were a pleasure to “do for.” They were generous with their love and appreciation.
My last husband called my food preparations, “The kitchen dance.” He never failed to enjoy watching me create meals, bake cookies, cakes and pies, knead bread dough, pound noodle dough, roll it thinly and slice strands.
Yeast dough is one of my favorite canvases. It can’t really be hurt, while pie crust may easily turn to disaster. Have you smelled rising bread dough? And sweet dough smells even better. When Beatrice and I lived across the street from one another, she’d stroll across, enter my kitchen, pull up a chair and watch me cook and bake, particularly on bread baking days. Before I had a freezer, I baked on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For many years, I’ve missed having Beatrice in my kitchen.
I’ve had a bit of a journey connected by memories of my old friend. And here’s a poem to read it aloud, so give it tongue.
Without a tongue we can neither talk nor taste. Without a tongue, swallowing what food we manage to masticate is very difficult. We caution children, “Watch your tongue!” We advise adults, “Bite your tongue,” usually accompanied by laughter or a censorious glance. Those who play brass instruments rely on the tongue all the time. Make a list of everything you can think of that requires a tongue (we’re not talking shoes here).When sky and street merge in sullen grayness
and black trees stir in sleep,
my stove becomes a hearth.
I am many women who have looked at rain
through a flap of hide, from a hand hewn door,
and felt secure against a threatening world,
blessed within warm walls and sheltering roof.
Hands deep in flour,
powdered grain from a million fields
garnered in sweating sunlight,
I am many women who have kneaded resilient dough
with strong hands . . .
brown, red, yellow and white hands.
Folding and stretching, shaping
smoothly contoured loaves
rich with the smell of yeast.
(Bread is like nothing so much as bread,
sacred in its own identity.)
The sky trades snow for night,
and the scent of baking loaves
is calm benediction for my home.
I am many women who have taken bread from an oven,
and breaking it . . .
(Note: Dover Publications gave me permission to use this poem as I wish. It’s from Ada Lou Roberts’ book, FAVORITE BREADS FROM ROSE LANE FARM. It was written by Patti Linn and first appeared in Gourmet Magazine.)