When I was in Junior High my Mother went back to working full-time. She arranged her schedule (and also the schedule of the doctor she worked for) to allow her to commute with my Dad and his odd hours. She also recognized she needed some time in the week for herself, and so she had Fridays off.
One of the things my Mom chose to do with those Fridays was get together with other Moms interested in the school district. Mom was very involved, not just with PTA but with the school board, policy making, busing. Politics in my house included campaigning for school board candidates. This was how Friday Club was born.
This group of women would get together for lunch (while the kids were in school) and theoretically hang out until we right before we got home. They were going to solve the problems of the day over coffee. “Ban the Can”, “Computers in the Schools”, “Arts Funding vs Sports Funding” and eventually even school closings were all on the table at one point or another.
The longer Friday Club lasted the more likely it was that they were still sitting around the table sipping coffee when I walked in the door a little after 3pm. I loved these women (we all did). They were all Moms. Some of them worked at least part-time. They all had kids in the school district. They were a range of ages and backgrounds.
They were solid friends. They talked about the problems they were having with their kids, their husbands, aging, working. They had high tea for Princess Di’s wedding and mourned Pope John Paul (the first one). They were there for each other when they turned 40, when they faced cancer, when they got divorced.
Because I was both quiet and well spoken I could be “unobtrusive” enough to listen in on the ends of those conversations. I’d putter in the kitchen, or grab a book and sit in the corner. Every once in a while the topic was something where my opinion was solicited. What an honor to have these women listening to what I thought!
Over time the group disappeared. People moved, got jobs, their kids grew up. Many of those friendships persisted. One of those women has been my Mom’s best long distance friend forever. She died this year. She was in the state last summer, but got sick enough that they couldn’t manage to connect. Mom knew she’d never see her friend again.
I’ve mentioned my women’s group once or twice in this blog (Here’s one). This weekend I had the opportunity to take some of them up to the “North Woods” and then stop in for dinner with my parents. Did I have sense enough to take a photo of my Mom with my GOM Girls? No. But it was a brilliant day.
We all had fun. It was a good road trip, perfect weather. We went to Deep Portage Nature Center and had the place pretty much to ourselves. Mom and Dad went all out for dinner. We had a fancy pasta with brie and cherry tomatoes. Salad with two kinds of homemade dressing. Dad made his bread and also made popovers. There was a clamor for leftovers to take home and sent bars as a treat in the car.
My Mom was exhausted (not a surprise) but also really thrilled. She said, “It’s Friday Club! They’re all so different, but it’s clear they all are supportive.” She got to sit in on the edges of the conversation, and was honored when her opinion was asked for. She got to host the ladies, and she got a little help with clean up as well.
It’s a memory I’ll cherish. It was a fun day for me. For her it was priceless. For me to be able to bring this gift full circle was truly an honor and a privilege.
This was not my family’s Thanksgiving. I don’t know that this has ever been my family at Thanksgiving. But it’s the picture many of us hold in our minds of what family gatherings “should” look like.
As my parents age, and particularly my Mom, she becomes more vocal about how much she would like to see us be her vision of family when we get together. I suspect it’s one of her personal “measures of success”, perhaps as a parent or maybe just as a person. I know I catch myself occasionally looking for that ideal to affirm my own sense of accomplishment.
I’m pretty sure my Mom never had a Thanksgiving that picture perfect growing up. But I think she remembers it that way. Rose colored glasses and simpler times often shade our memories, especially where our loved ones are concerned. We would love to be able to paint that picture for my Mom, to enact the “perfect” family united.
There are no scripts for that kind of drama. And even if there are, they are often impossible to recreate. For instance I believe my Mother’s scene truly requires a bird she cooked, her stuffing, her wild rice. Except no one else can make it “just right” and it’s really too much for her to do it herself without creating an enormous amount of stress that isn’t part of the picture. I think all that pretty china, silver, and tablecloth get swept up and disappear without anyone washing (or breaking) dishes, or doing laundry or getting crumbs on the floor.
The reality of this Thanksgiving was no more “perfect” than any other. The smoke alarms went off when the dressing spilled in the oven. The turkey took an extra hour to cook. Dad made the “wrong” bread (delicious, just not the kind we expected). In the end, though, everything was tasty, everyone had plenty to eat, and there wasn’t a major fight.
We’ll all remember this Thanksgiving as Norman Rockwell perfect. I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.
Housekeeping has never been my strong suit. I was almost 30 before someone showed me that the stovetop lifts up so you can clean UNDER the burners. Who knew?
I’m not horrible, but I was. My freshman year of college I was still living at home, going to the local University. I had years of junk accumulated in my room – most of it on the floor. I could pretty much put my hands on anything I might want. Maybe it was a subconscious tactic to keep my sisters out of my room. No one but me could walk through without fear of stepping on something with disastrous result. Even I would occasionally pull an embroidery needle out of a bare foot.
One afternoon we had a fire. It was pretty dramatic. My mother caught it in time to call the fire department and save the structure. But everything was badly smoke damaged and the kitchen was gutted. The men who cleaned out the house and packed it all up were either sent by the insurance company or the fire marshall. I’m told they took one look at my room and took out the shovels. Literally shoveled my “stuff” into boxes for storage. How embarassing! Never again! The blog post on Clutter is a pale comparison.
What I can do is cook. I don’t even remember when I started cooking on my own. I know I had kids cookbooks pretty much from the time I was in grade school. I’ve always been interested in food and experimenting. Both of my parents cook, read recipes for fun and are adventurous about food from other cultures. Our “standard Christmas dinner” wasn’t standard at all. We would pick a country around Thanksgiving and then my folks would do some research and come up with a menu that reflected that cuisine.
At 7 years old, cheese stuffed peaches with horseradish weren’t at all appealing. They still don’t sound nearly as good as they taste. The year they did Beef Wellington my sister brought McDonalds carry out to the table because she wouldn’t have anything to do with Pate. We almost burned the house down again the year my Dad and the sons-in-law did a dinner of Chinese appetizers. 3 men and 3 hot woks in a small alley kitchen, with me in and out coordinating. Can you picture it? My mother sat white knuckled in the easy chair. It was not the break for her that we had intended.
I’ve done camp cooking, event cooking, rituals that centered on the food. I’ve learned a lot about diets, nutrition, allergies and accommodation. You’ve seen the pie in the Lammas blog and the wild rice soup in Leftovers. I didn’t actually use a recipe for either of them. I tend to do a lot of my cooking “off the cuff.” Sometimes I blow it, but mostly it’s good and occasionally I can be brilliant.
So 500 words in and I finally get to the topic of this week’s post: Barter. My dear friend Bonita has some serious food restrictions. She’s really trying to get healthy and improve her diet. She can follow a recipe, but she doesn’t love to cook. What she does love is cleaning, especially bathrooms. She says it’s like a meditation. Do you see where this is going?
My dear friend Bonita comes by once a month just to work her way through my list of household chores I haven’t managed to “get around to.” Sometimes they are actually chores that I don’t even have a clue about how to approach! In return I fill her bag with single serving frozen dinners. Homemade and entirely appropriate for her current diet, which is currently gluten, nightshade, and dairy free.
We both seem to be enjoying the challenge. I know I’m enjoying a much cleaner house!
Have you ever used barter to get something you need?