Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Best Neighborhood Ever

I grew up in the best neighborhood in America, back in the sixties and seventies. It was a great time to be a kid. It was back in the days of, more or less, hands-off parenting. We lived in a small neighborhood called Colonial Acres, off of Route 28 in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. It was a neighborhood with a pilgrim theme. All the roads were named after pilgrims except for Mayflower Road which was, well, named after their ship. And Tanglewood Drive, which was tacked onto the development as an afterthought. We lived on the corner of Standish Way and Alden Road in a small red three-quarter Cape until I was eight or nine and we outgrew it. Then we moved over to Tanglewood Drive where my parents stayed until two weeks ago. They sold their family home and are moving to Florida. It’s the New England senior citizen thing to do. Old bones get cold, they say, in that damp air in winter.

What made Colonial Acres such a great place? It had everything a kid could want. First of all, we were uniquely situated. Our neighborhood sat right on Lewis Bay, an inlet of Nantucket Sound, so we had a beach at the end of the street. We also had a back bay that flowed along one side of our neighborhood, called Mill Creek. You could reach it from every little side street off of Standish Way, including Alden Road. The opposite side of the neighborhood was bordered by a marsh. So there was only one way into the neighborhood, and the same way out. By car, anyway. You could always take a boat. Or venture through the woods. Or muck through the marsh. And we did. But nobody else did. It was all ours.

There was a tiny stream that started in the woods and trickled along through the marsh and down to the bay. When I was about six or seven and my sister was seven or eight and our neighbor friend, Sarah Carpenter, was about eight or nine, we each had a little light blue, hard plastic shell of a boat with one wooden paddle. Each boat was just big enough for a little girl to sit in. We’d take these to the place where the stream from the marsh almost reached the bay, and paddle ourselves up and down for hours. We probably could have drowned. (When we were a little older, we had real boats, and sailed them on the bay.)

There was a little foot bridge at this same spot that we’d play on, too. And on the opposite side there was a private beach with huge rocks piled on top of each other, forming a great wall. We totally ignored the “Danger: Keep Off Rocks” sign. We climbed all over them. We’d find little “rooms” down between them and play house. We probably could have been crushed to death.

We used to do a little impromptu fishing at this same location. We’d pull a long piece of beach grass to use as a pole. Then we’d pry a slipper shell away from a rock and crack it open. We’d take the clam out of it, carefully rip a hole in it, thread the beach grass through and tie it on as bait. Then we’d lie down on our stomachs on the bank of the stream, holding our makeshift poles with the bait in the water, and patiently wait for a school of chubs to swim by. As soon as we had a nibble, we’d yank the whole thing out onto the bank.

There was a fresh water pond in the neighborhood, too, behind the Mendozas’ house. It was full of all the usual pond life: frogs at all their stages of development, strange kinds of fish, and turtles. Including huge black snapping turtles. Sometimes these would climb out of the pond and up the bank into the Mendozas’ backyard. During the coldest part of winter, the pond would freeze over, and we could skate on it. Everybody ice skated. We traded around sizes every year until every kid in the neighborhood had a pair of skates that somewhat fit. We also had a cranberry bog right across Route 28. In the fall they’d flood it in order to harvest, and then in about January it would freeze. Instant skating rink.

We had woods in our neighborhood, with an intricate network of trails. We knew them all well. This is where we learned to identify all kinds of growing things, from skunk cabbage to poison ivy to lady slippers. It was supposedly against the law to pick a lady slipper. Teenagers who had come before us had dug an incredible system of tunnels in the woods, the tops covered over with old sheets of plywood. As small kids, we were always a little afraid we’d find actual teenagers in the tunnels, but we never did. They were long gone by the time we discovered their handiwork.

Back in one corner of the woods was an old abandoned fort built high in a tall, straight oak tree. There were wooden rungs nailed up the trunk. We never knew who had built it or how long it had been there. We probably could have fallen through rotting boards to our little deaths.

We had a haunted house, too. It was right through the woods from our Tanglewood Drive house. When we took a certain trail through a part of the woods known as the Dark Forest, we came to a spot where we could stand shielded behind some trees and look up across a lawn of dead crab grass at the back of Miss Mackey’s house. Miss Mackey was an ancient woman who lived in this two story wood frame house without electricity. Rumor had it that her crazy brother lived there with her, and that whenever she had to go out, she’d tie him to his bed, put honey on his fingers, and give him a feather to play with. One evening, we walked through the woods to the library with our babysitter, Candy Blanchard. (Another great feature of our neighborhood---the library within walking distance in one direction and a little family-owned store called Fruitland in the other.) On our way home, we had to pass by the front of Miss Mackey’s house, which faced Route 28. Of course we were talking about Miss Mackey and her crazy brother, and how they lived without electricity. She had to be a witch, right? Because we had to walk through the woods to get home, we had a flashlight. We shone it into one of Miss Mackey’s first floor windows. She shone a candle back at us. We screamed and ran as fast as we ever had the rest of the way home. All through the woods I was sure she was following us. I had nightmares for weeks.

We had an assortment of excellent climbing trees spread throughout the neighborhood. Maryellen Clark was the very best climber. She could make her way up any tree. Sometimes we’d each make a lunch and meet in a tree to eat.

One of the most convenient features of our neighborhood was that a good many of the houses were summer homes. We had the run of their yards for three quarters of every year. This was really great in winter when we had snow.

Wildlife was everywhere. Our yards were inhabited by rabbits, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, turtles, and toads. And all kinds of birds. A salamander under every rock.

And every house had an outdoor shower so you could rinse the sand off when you came up from the beach.

Each town’s fire station blew a lunch whistle at noon every day. From our neighborhood, we could hear the Hyannis whistle as well as the West Yarmouth whistle. They were always a few seconds apart. Every kid in the neighborhood had to drop everything and go home when the lunch whistle went off. Unless it was summer. In the summer, we spent most days on the beach, and our mothers would pack lunch. We all had swimming lessons, too, every summer. We could all swim. Down by the beach there was a house that had this little outbuilding that played chimes on the hour. It had a repertoire of songs it played for years. Whenever I hear “Winter Wonderland” at Christmastime, I think of warm sunny days on the beach. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who does, either.

It was a great place to grow up. I’m sad that my parents have left it, but it’s not quite the same anymore anyway. Someone bought up most of the woods and built a motel. Miss Mackey and her brother are long gone, and so is their house. A gift shop stands in its place. I can’t climb trees like I used to. And I don’t think there’s a lunch whistle anymore, either, so if I were there, I’d never know when it was time to go home.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cold Lemon Souffle

My mother used to make this dessert in the summertime when I was young. We loved it. It's so refreshing, and tastes and feels so cool and light. Cool, yes. Light, no. Heavy cream and eggs? Just don't tell anyone.

Cold Lemon Souffle
(Souffle Au Citron)

5 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
zest of three large lemons (reserve lemon slices for garnish)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
½ cup water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups heavy cream, partially whipped
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
pinch salt

Separate eggs. Beat yolks with sugar. Gradually add lemon juice. Beat until thick. Set aside. Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup water. Add 1 tsp. sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved. Cool. Add to lemon mixture, combining thoroughly. Fold in partially whipped cream. Set aside. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold into lemon mixture. Put in prepared soufflé dish and chill.

To prepare dish: Butter the inside of a 1 ½ quart soufflé dish (or any glass bowl). Put some granulated sugar into the dish and toss it around as you would to flour a pan. Tie a “collar” of oiled and sugared waxed paper around dish to extend the sides. This creates the effect of a soufflé that has risen above the rim of the dish. Or, use a larger dish and skip the collar.

Garnish the top with fresh mint leaves and lemon slices.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Best Advice

Today I mowed the lawn. This is a new activity for me. As a matter of principle, I have always left the mowing to the men in our family.

Here’s why:

(I wrote this a lot of years ago when our children were young.)

The best advice our mother ever gave my sister and me when we were growing up was never to take the garbage out.

“When you girls get married and have husbands some day,” she’d say, “don’t ever break down and take the garbage out. Once you do, he’ll never take it out again.”

This was back in the days when the women’s movement was really coming alive, and my mother could easily have been labeled old-fashioned. But in my opinion, wiser words have seldom been spoken.

We did grow up and get married, and to this day, my sister has never taken the garbage out. She did, however, make the grave mistake of mowing the lawn, and has regretted it ever since.

I have, on occasion over the years, taken out the garbage, but fortunately I married a person whose hobbies include such activities as trash removal, snow shoveling, and lawn mowing. Highly unusual, I realize from talking to friends, but I’m not complaining.

A couple of years ago, I attended a mini-class taught by a good friend and neighbor. I can’t remember the exact title of the class, but it was something like “Come On, Sisters – Anything Men Can Do, We Can Do Too.” The purpose was to teach women to have more self-confidence and be more independent in areas such as welding and plumbing. My friend prides herself on owning her own tool box and on being more comfortable than most men are at handling a chain saw.

Well, somewhere in the middle of her lesson, I raised my hand. This was two or three years ago, and to this day, women I know are still coming up to me and saying, “I’ll never forget that comment you made about the toilet paper rolls.”

I’ve tried to forget it, but I think what I said as something like this: How many of you women are the only member of your household seemingly capable of changing a roll of toilet paper?

Well, this question was received with hoots and howls of laughter. When it died down, I went on and tried to make my point, which was, basically, that if we do it, they won’t.

“I don’t know about all of you ladies,” I told them, “but I’m responsible for enough dishes, laundry, mopping, dusting, vacuuming, etc. to fill up more than twenty-four hours a day. I’m already a maid, a cook, a tutor, a nurse, a chauffer, and more. Why would I want to take on power tools? So my husband would have more time to watch sports on t.v.?”

I then shared a very wise and reassuring statement that my aunt made when I was getting married. She said, “If you can read, you can cook.” I found out that this was true, and not only with cooking but with sewing and many other things as well. If you can get your hands on a good set of instructions, and can read and comprehend them, you can do anything.

Of course we can do anything that men do. The question is, DO WE WANT TO?

I really managed to put a damper on my friend’s lesson. Fortunately, she forgave me. I guess it’s a matter of personal choice. She continues to wear her tool belt around the house, fixing leaky faucets, and building shelves in her laundry room. I make sure I find time to read a little every day, so that if I ever have to, I’ll be literate enough to change the hose in my dishwasher.

Recently, we were at a New Year’s Eve gathering. One husband told a joke. “How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?” he asked. “Nobody knows. It’s never been done.”

The other day my husband was doling out chores to the kids. He asked our daughter to take the garbage out.

“Not so fast there!” I hollered. “I think it’s time we had a little mother-daughter chat.”

So why did I mow the lawn today? Well, my life is a lot different now than it was back in the day of chasing four little kids around. I only have two big teenage boys to look after. Life actually gets a little slow sometimes. I still haven’t taken on power tools, but I have taken up mowing. And I really enjoy it. Especially since our old clunker of a mower died and we’ve been borrowing my father-in-law’s. It’s a really nice Toro model, self-propelled. It practically goes by itself. I’m pretty sure I could mow and read a book at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised if my father-in-law does. (Probably Dickens or Tobias Smollett.) But first I have to work on keeping my lines straight.

What about my mother’s advice? I still think it’s great. It all depends on your own family. Our boys have all inherited their dad’s love of cutting grass, and we all try to be the first one out on the driveway after a fresh snowfall. So this works for me.

And even my mother’s been mowing her own lawn for many years. I think she started about the time she didn’t have kids to chase around anymore.

post script: I do realize how lucky I am. I know there are a lot of single women out there who don't have someone with whom to share the responsibilities of a household.

And I hope I die before Kent. :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Fridge

We bought a new refrigerator last spring. We finally joined the nineties and got one with an ice maker and water in the door. It periodically makes a noise like something out of Jurassic Park. Several times over the first few weeks, I thought I was a goner. I’d be standing at the kitchen sink with my back to the raptor-I mean the fridge. Remember that part in the movie where the chubby guy is trying to sneak top secret stuff off the island? And he doesn’t make it? Remember the sound those things made? Kind of a clackety-clack/whirring sound? Our fridge sounds just like that. I’m getting used to it. Instead of jumping out of my skin every time it happens, I’m just a little startled and I think about dinosaurs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Short Rant Followed By A Really Good Cookie Recipe

A woman brags to me, “I am sooo not domestic. I can’t even make Jello.” I reply, “I’m so sorry. Please tell me, how did you manage to get into law school?”

True or False: In order to be intelligent, a woman cannot possess any domestic skills.

There is something really messed up in a society where women are encouraged to play dumb in order to look smart. Our culture has so devalued the traditional role of wife and mother that those of us who choose to be homemakers (aw, how quaint) are usually lumped together with people of sub-par intelligence.

Yet, if a woman denies the ability to provide simple sustenance in the form of homemade cookies or gelatin dessert, we think, “Wow. She must really be sophisticated and intelligent. Important and successful.”

This way of thinking is based on faulty logic.

Have you ever read the side of a Jello box? If you have, you will have seen the simplest of culinary directions. Even if you choose to use the quick-set method with ice cubes, it will be almost impossible to mess up.

Which brings me to my final point: There are certain laws of the universe. They don’t change according to who’s doing the cooking. Chemistry is chemistry. No more excuses.

Okay, so with that out of the way, here’s a really good cookie recipe. If you can read and follow directions, you can bake cookies!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar (granulated)
1 lb. real margarine
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream together above ingredients in a large bowl.

2 (12 oz.) bags milk chocolate chips

Mix in chocolate chips.

1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
7 ½ cups flour

Combine dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture. Mix well. Don't burn out your mixer's motor. You might need to finish mixing by hand. Pack dough into cookie or ice cream scoop. Flatten slightly with hands. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for nine minutes. Don't overbake. Cookies should appear slightly underdone. At least, that's how we like them.

I use a 2 1/2 inch ice cream scoop and get about 4 1/2 dozen large cookies. If you don't want that many, cut the recipe in half. Or do what I do so that you won't have to work so hard next time you want cookies. I form all of the dough with the scoop, freeze on a cookie sheet, then dump unbaked cookies into a ziplock freezer bag.

And oh yeah. For you sophisticated women: store ziplock in freezer. :)

B.T.W., I know there are also a lot of women who just plain aren't interested in cooking. I feel this way myself a lot of the time. Maybe some women think that playing dumb is a good way to get out of it. I'd rather just admit that I'm not interested than give the impression that I'm stupid.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Green Beans

Simple, but really good. This is how my kids like them. We like these along side Mediterranean Chicken on the Grill and Tabouleh with A Greek Twist (posted below).

olive oil
sliced mushrooms
fresh or frozen long, thin green beans
Slivered almonds or sesame seeds (optional)

In a large frying pan over high heat, sauté garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook until golden. Add green beans and stir fry until hot all the way through but still bright green and a little crisp. While cooking, season well with salt and pepper. When done, stir in slivered almonds or sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Tabouleh With A Greek Twist

I messed around with traditional tabbouleh and came up with this.

1 cup cracked wheat (you can buy it at a health food store)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped or half as much dried basil
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into little chunks
1-1 ½ cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half or thirds
3 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Soak cracked wheat in enough cold water to cover it and then some for several hours until soft. (All day or overnight might be good. Sometimes it takes a while…) Drain and press out excess water. Combine all ingredients, gently adding feta last.

To make traditional tabbouleh (without the Greek twist), you would leave out the feta and use fresh mint leaves instead of basil.

The amounts of the ingredients are rough estimates. I usually don’t measure anything. It’s helpful to taste as you go.

Mediterranean Chicken on the Grill

This is our family's favorite chicken. I usually serve it with Tabouleh With a Greek Twist and our favorite green beans.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (bone in, skin on would be good, too)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of two or three lemons*
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons dried oregano (or twice as much fresh)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Keep in fridge for two to twenty-four hours, occasionally turning and working marinade into chicken. Take out of fridge about thirty minutes before grilling time. Preheat grill on high for about ten minutes. Place chicken on grill and immediately turn down to low. Maybe half way between medium and low, but closer to low. Close lid. Cook for about ten minutes, then turn over. Close lid. Cook for maybe another fifteen minutes. Remove as soon as it’s no longer pink in the center. With practice you can tell if it’s done by how it feels when you squeeze it with the tongs. Do not overcook or it will dry out. Better to undercook and then put back on the grill than to overcook it! And once you cut into it to see if it's done, the juices run out. I usually take it off the grill a little early, put it on a plate and cover it snugly with aluminum foil. While I'm getting the rest of the meal on the table, it cooks a bit more under the foil. I can't stand overdone chicken. Can you tell?

*I never buy bottled lemon juice. I don't think comes close to the real thing. I like to buy a big bag of lemons or limes at Costco and enjoy having them in a bowl on my kitchen counter for a while. After a few days, I juice them, freeze the juice in ice cube trays, and then dump the cubes into a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Two and a half to three cubes equals the juice of one lemon.

I read somewhere that if you microwave a lemon for 30 seconds before juicing it, you'll get more out of it. I don't if it's true, but now that I've read it, I always have to do it. Limes, too. Less time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classic Rock - Name That Band

Flashback: 1971 – I’m eight years old. We’re at our cousins’ house, a 250 year old half cape in a small Massachusetts town. My sister and I are upstairs with our girl cousins in the bedroom the three of them share. “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” has come out on record and we have the forty-five. It takes up the A side and the B side- the longest song we’ve ever heard. We love it. We listen to it over and over. We don’t know what a levee is, and what’s that he’s saying? Rye? We do know what whiskey is (“If the Ocean Were Whiskey and I Were a Duck”; Camp Farley, circa the same time). And the fact that the three men Don McLean admires most are the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost really earns him our respect.

Flash Forward: 2009 – I’m forty-six. My youngest child, Joel, is fifteen. We’re in the car. He’s driving with his new learner’s permit. I’m in charge of the radio. We’re singing along together, both of us thinking we’re cool for knowing every word. The song is “American Pie.”

When my kids were little, I taught them classic rock. We played “Name That Band” in the car everywhere we went as we listened to the local classic rock station. Maybe we should have been memorizing world capitals or solving equations in our heads. No, they never would have gone for it. This was way more fun.

Kent and I were never big on the whole allowance thing. Once in a while we’d pay a child to do a special job around the house or yard, but our basic philosophy was that, as a member of the family, you help out because you are a member of the family.

But I did pay a nickel for every classic rock band they could identify as we drove in the car. I had a tab running with each one of them. They made out pretty well for little kids. When they got really good and were bankrupting me, I had to quit paying.

Flashback: 2001 – My son Kurt is a sixth grader. The music teacher is covering for the core teacher’s prep period. He’s giving a spelling test. Number seven: contemporary. “Who can name a band that was contemporary with me when I was young?” asks the really cool music teacher. Kurt immediately starts calling out names: The Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult, C.C.R., Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Lynard Skynard, Rush,…” Really cool music teacher nearly falls on the floor. Kurt misses contemporary but earns bonus points for life with this guy.

Why did I do it? I had a purely selfish motive. I didn’t like the new music that was coming out. Do I really think my kids benefited from it? Sure. It’s given them something to talk about with their friends’ parents.

Flashback: 2006 – My son Jeff needs physical therapy for a sports injury. I go with him to the first appointment. At one point, while the therapist is manipulating Jeff’s arm, Jeff turns to me and says, “Norman Greenbaum.” The therapist looks at us kind of funny. I explain. Jeff has bi-weekly appointments for the next month. While Jeff goes through his prescribed treatment, the therapist seeks him out when he thinks he can stump him.

“I usually get it right, but sometimes they play this easy listening junk. Soft hits of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.”

Not the same thing.

My kids are almost all grown up now. We still play when we’re in the car together. I reluctantly admit that they’re better than me. They listen to newer music, too, but each one will tell you that the new stuff can’t touch the old stuff.

Flashback: last spring- I’m substitute teaching in fourth grade. A tiny girl with dark hair in a pixie cut and a rather bohemian fashion sense is first in line to come in from recess. While we’re waiting for the rest of the class, she tells me “At home I listen to The Beatles and Pink Floyd. And I really like Baba O’Riley. That’s by The Who.” Really cool substitute teacher nearly falls on the floor. I give that girl’s parents an A+.

Friday, July 10, 2009

another book suggestion

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

This novel is about the occupation of France in 1940. It tells the overlapping stories of several people/families as they evacuate Paris on the eve of the occupation. It's beautifully written.

Irene Nemirovsky was a Russian Jew living in France. She was already a successful author at the start of the war. In 1942, she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered. Her manuscript wasn't published for many decades. This book is an account of the occupation/war by someone who truly knew. So sad.

book suggestion

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is a novel about the occupation of the Chanel Islands between England and France during World War II. It's really a book about people, and caring, loving relationships between those who know each other well as well as relative strangers. The whole book is written in the form of correspondence.

I chose this book for my book group to read for the month of August. I hope they like it as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

personal essays

Writnig essays is one of my hobbies. Previous to this post, I posted a couple of things I wrote during the past few years. I'll continue to post new essays as well as some I've written in the past. For me, it's a way to keep a record of my personal history; maybe in a hundred years my descendants will feel like they know me.

I also plan to post my ideas about things (some important, most not) and maybe some favorite recipes, book suggestions, random ideas...


When I was a little girl growing up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, my best friend was Nancy Jane Mendoza. We lived in the same neighborhood and began playing together when we were about three or four. One of my favorite childhood memories is of one particular play session in the Mendozas' cellar. These days, at least in the part of the country where I now live, we would call this an unfinished basement. I suspect that on Cape Cod, even today, it's still called a cellar, or more particularly, a “cellah.” When I was a kid, we referred to the basement of a house as “down cellah,” as in “Let's go down cellah and play house.”
My accent wasn't as bad as that of most people born and raised in Massachusetts. I've always attributed this to the fact that my mother is from Indiana. At this point, she's lived on Cape Cod for forty-six years and still retains her Hoosier accent. Somehow, between our “fathah's” Massachusetts accent and our mother's mid-western drawl, we kids were fairly well- balanced. In fact, I remember people accusing me of speaking incorrectly at times.
“Yaw talking like yaw mothah again,” they'd say.
The Mendozas had a play area set up down cellah complete with kid-sized table and chairs, play dishes, games, building blocks, and a chalkboard on an easel. I was an extremely shy child. I liked to play down cellah at the Mendozas' house because that way we were a little more removed from Nancy's parents; I said as little as possible to grown-ups in those days, and wasn't very comfortable if I knew grown-ups could hear me.
On this particular day, we must have been playing a counting game. I remember Nancy got to “fawty-faw.”
“It's not fawty-faw,” I countered.
“Yes, it is,” she insisted. “Fawty- faw! Fawty-faw! Fawty-faw!” She skipped around on the cement floor of the play area.
“No, it's not,” I argued.
“Fawty-faw! Fawty-faw!” she sing-songed as she skipped.
A moment later we heard the door open at the top of the wooden set of stairs. Nancy's fathah's feet and legs appeared and began to descend. Nancy Jane quickly ran to the chalkboard and picked up a piece of chalk. She wrote the numeral in question.
“Dad, how do you say this numbah?” she asked him, pointing to it on the chalkboard.
“Fawty-faw,” he replied with confidence.
Hand on hip, smug expression on face, “Seeeeeee?” Nancy declared triumphantly.
Naturally, I clammed right up and looked at my feet.
I left the East Coast for the Intermountain West at age eighteen. Over the years, as I've returned for visits, I've noticed that the classic New England accent is fading. The last time I visited with Nancy Jane I noticed it, and even my own fathah is pronouncing r's where he nevah has before. (Although he still adds them to the ends of words when they shouldn't be there--- think “idear” or “the United States of Americer.”)
I suspect it has something to do with the information age and worldwide communication. When we were kids, we didn't even notice that the people on television shows spoke differently from the people in our community. I guess media is such a huge part of our lives today that regional accents don't stand much of a chance.
I think it's a little sad.
My birthday is in a few weeks. I'll be fawty-faw. I plan to celebrate the entiah ye-ah.

The Visiting Teacher

In our church we have a women's organization called the Relief Society. All women over the age of eighteen who belong to our church are members of the Relief Society. Within the Relief Society there is a program set up called “Visiting Teaching.” Women are paired up and assigned other women to visit on a regular basis. Ideally, each woman in the church receives an in-home visit monthly from her visiting teachers (and most serve as visiting teachers as well). The visiting teachers offer friendship, support, and a religious-based message when they come. It really is an incredible concept, if you think about it. Consider that there are around twelve million members of the church worldwide. Maybe about five million of them are women over the age of eighteen. That's a lot of visiting going on. And a network of built-in friends for everyone.
Some women have a problem with the whole “assigned friend” idea. Nobody wants to be someone else's obligation. Admittedly, it would be nice if we were all friends by choice, rather than by assignment. It would be nice if every woman in the church felt like she had someone she could count on for support in her times of need, loneliness, or even when she was bursting with great news. Unfortunately, that isn't the case for every one of us. Sometimes women slip between the cracks. The Visiting Teaching program, if carried out effectively, can do much to fill in those cracks.
I happen to like the Visiting Teaching program. I guess I'm not proud; since I'm not naturally a girlfriend kind of person, the assigned friend thing works pretty well for me. Through Visiting Teaching, I have had opportunities for friendships that I may never have had otherwise. I have one friend in particular, an older woman whom I originally got to know through Visiting Teaching, who has been a real treat in my life. And I love it when those in charge of assignments mix things up once in a while; it's like playing “musical friends,” only no one's ever out. Enough chairs for everyone.
Of course, sometimes Visiting Teaching can be a bit awkward, too. First of all, we're calling each other up and inviting ourselves over, which must seem a little intrusive if you're not used to the idea. And sometimes, unavoidably so, we're partnered up with someone with whom, although we share a common faith, we may not have a whole lot else in common.
At one point, a long time ago in a visiting teaching district far far away, I had assigned to me a partner who intimidated the heck out of me. She was tall, thin, beautiful, well-spoken, and had much more life-experience than I did. And somehow, I didn't seem able to contribute a single thought to any conversation that wasn't worthy of her correction. One afternoon we made a visit to a woman in our congregation. We knocked, were invited in, courteously left our shoes by the front door, and sat down in her living room for a nice little chat. When we got up to leave, I remember thinking “Wow, that actually went pretty well.” I had even managed to pipe in with one or two comments that had stood uncorrected by my partner. I was feeling pretty good about myself as we stood in the entryway preparing to leave. Maybe this arrangement was going to work after all, I thought.
Then, “Melinda,” my partner condescendingly spoke my name, “you're wearing my shoes.”
Oh well. For the most part, Visiting Teaching has been a real positive in my life. I continue to enjoy the sisterhood and benefit from friendships with all types of women. I have recently been assigned new Visiting Teachers. They called and invited themselves over just last week. One is a woman close to my age whom I have admired for several years but haven't had the time or opportunity to get to know as well as I'd have liked to. The other is a young mother of boisterous three-year-old, red-headed twin boys. Maybe I can play the role of the wise, older friend. Could be kind of fun.
A little advice for anyone new to the program: relax, have fun, make good friends, and when it's time to go, make sure you're putting on your own shoes.