DECAMERON TALES #15 August 2, 2020
I’m in contemplation about the various short-lived phenomena spawned by the pandemic. I’ve mentioned several in passing: the rush for everyone to take up gardening which was a great annoyance for me, the mania for baking resulting in shortages of flour, yeast and … lard of all things. Popular perception is that we are to be lauded for relearning these homey skills which our predecessors handled with such apparent aplomb. I understand the satisfaction of the doing and being in control of something, however minor in these times of uncertainty.
In our selective memories, the results of these household skills were uniformly wonderful. The produce was excellent, the pies were “Bon Appetite” lovely, the biscuits towering and flakey, the soups impossibly savory. The obvious subtext is that our predecessors were exceptionally gifted in all these pursuits. Nostalgia edits away the more unpleasant facts, leaving us with a warm, pleasant glow.
To wit: the reality of my very own mother’s poultry soups. Soup was miscellaneous assemblage of odds and ends, wilted unappetizing vegetables and a turkey carcass. The various fragments of the bird were fished out, at least the big ones. The results were surprisingly tasty. However, alongside each soup plate was white paper napkin piled high with the inedible detritus of bones, cartilage, tendons and the like. There were, of course, variations. Picky eaters had a large pile while Dad, inexplicably, seemed to have eaten nearly everything. After all these years, my niece still cringes when I bring up the subject, which I’ve been known to do from time to time.
Mom’s true Martha Stewart moment was her Chicken Neck Soup. Deep in her soul was a wanderlust, an itch that was only relieved by periodic getaways. The financing for these trips was drawn from the food budget and we always knew an escape was planned by the alarming decline in the bill of fare. Pounds of chicken necks were dumped into a pot with the usual accompaniments and after a few hours we had dinner. The broth was not amber but a murky grey/green. Even the oil slick was green. The necks fell apart in the cooking. The vertebrae collected in shoals in the bottom while the flabby tubes of skin, shorn of weight, tended to float to the surface. With every spoonful, they loomed into view. It was akin to watching a school of strange creatures swarming in an ancient Permian sea.
My last clear memory of these repasts was sitting across form sister Linda. She was viewing her bowl with a deadpan expression. Her face was a complete mask – I don’t think she even blinked. We were both evaluating how hungry we really were. Finally she summed up the situation in five words: “Mother’s going on a trip.”
They just don’t make soup like they used to.
Tuesday, I had another haircut. (My stylist/barber/eyebrow trimmer has taken to using a straight razor rather than scissors. Watching Miss Emily flourish her razor with such gusto while chatting with her neighbor does give me pause at times.) Emily recounted her sadness that there were so many things she couldn’t do anymore. Wistfully, she shared the wish that she could have been born in a different time. I was born in a different time. I have vivid memories of huddling the school hallway on my knees with my head tucked under arms, row upon row of us, practicing in an air raid drill called “Duck and Cover” in the ludicrous hope that we might survive a nuclear attack.
Listening to parents discuss the pros and cons of digging a fallout shelter did little to soothe the angst. My different time provided memories of long lines of children waiting to enter the gym/cafeteria of the old high school to get a shot of gamma globulin in the hope that it might lesson the damage of the coming summer’s polio season. The dosage was weight based. While stretched out on the cafeteria tables, we were asked our weight. One shot if you were under 70 lbs. A shot in each cheek if you were over. With the perceptive cunningness of childhood, I lied.
Finally coming out of my reverie, I realized that Emily had been staring at me in the mirror, expecting some comment or agreement to her statement.
I simply observed that each time has its own problems.
The film “Midnight in Paris” sums it up perfectly. The here and now will someday be viewed as the good old days. The good old days are now. Seize them!