Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: The First and Last Kiss and the Smell of Second Debut.

Always safe in Ma's arms.

I love kisses.  All kinds.  The sweet little girl smooches.  The best friend kiss and tell.  The back seat make-out medley.  The peck on the cheek.  The gentle ones blown across the room.  The long kiss goodbye.  And the one that makes it all better.

There’s also nothing like the first kiss. The first first.  Or the first with someone new.  The first kiss lights our hearts on fire.  And stays with us a lifetime.  We never forget it.  We may forget the name.  But never the kiss.

There is one kiss, however, that I don’t remember.  And the truth is, it was my very first kiss.  Long before the kisses with romantic undertones. The original one that trumps all others.  And most of us were blessed with a kiss such as this.  For me, it came from Ma in the minutes after I was born.

Little back story.  I don’t remember anything about me before the age of five.  It’s like my life began when I started school.  I’m not sure what it is about going to school that awakens us from childhood amnesia, nor why we start remembering things.  My first recollection is that of being a Mama’s girl.  No doubt about it.  I was a clingy fearful child.  And I never wanted Ma to be out of my sight.  This must have made life difficult for her.  Having me literally clinging to her skirt like a three-toed sloth.  But anxieties often have curious origins and I’m convinced that at the root of my childhood malaise was Ma’s age.

She would have been considered “older” when she had me.  By today’s standards, she would have been a spring chicken.  But back then she was noticeably older than most of my friends’ mothers.  At least that’s how it seemed to me.  Ma had already been married once before and had three kids by the time I came along.  That alone, put her in the same category as Methuselah in my books.  I worried about her not being around to raise me.  I remember calculating how old I’d be if she died at fifty, which seemed unfathomably ancient at the time.  How would I survive without her? The Old Man was capable enough but he was no Ma.  And he was The Old Man after all.  If my calculations were right, there was a strong possibility that he would outlive her.  He was four years her junior and a man.  With that kind of logic, along with dog-years mathematics, I figured biologically he was at least 28 years younger than Ma. Of course, my worries were for not.  Nothing happened to Ma nor The Old Man.  But the fear of losing Ma was real to me just the same.  On the other hand, I also had the same fear of losing my dog Sugar.  I used to do a similar calculation with her life expectancy.  The mammoth question in my minuscule mind was always, “would she live long enough to survive my childhood and teenage years?”  I wanted Sugar to live forever.  Or at least as long as a horse, an elephant or ideally a tortoise.  It didn’t seem fair that dogs didn’t get this same shot at longevity.  I needed her around until I graduated from high school, at the very least. She was my surrogate sibling and my love for her defied description.  True to her name, she gave me lots of sugar.  She not only survived my high school years, but she lived a year beyond my graduation from University. I will always remember her sweet doggy kisses.

I look back and remember those clingy years with equal doses of horror and astonishment.  It’s Friday night.  Ma and The Old Man are getting dressed to go out to a movie.  I’m like a distressed dog, who senses when it’s owners are leaving the house, and most likely without them.  I could smell abandonment in their every move.  It didn’t matter that it would only be for an hour or two.  It didn’t matter that my older sister was there with me.  There wasn’t a treat or bribe in the world that could convince me that things would be okay if Ma walked out the door without me.  All that mattered was that I was being left behind.  What if Ma never came back?  What would happen then?  So I did what every tiresome clingy kid does.  I bawled my eyes out.  I was too young to intellectually know how manipulative I was being.  I only knew that if I cried loud enough.  Begged and pleaded hard enough.  Flailed and foamed at the mouth.  Ma would come to her senses and not go.  This worked like a charm every time.  Ma, of course would comfort me.  And we’d settle in for the night.  I’d snuggle in her arms and she’d stroke my hair and kiss my forehead.  Things were as they should be.

Starting kindergarten was equally traumatic.  The first week was torturous.  For both Ma and me.  I recall sitting on her lap and refusing to join the other kids.  Soaking her short-sleeved sweater in tears and snot.  My arms wrapped around her neck like a noose.  The more she tried to pull away, the harder my strangle-hold on her grew.  Eventually, she was able to coax me into staying in the classroom without her.   My fears dissipated.  It wasn’t long before Ma was able to kiss me on the cheek and send me on my merry way. I actually grew to love going to school, to be independent for a few hours, and be with my friends.  It was also, the beginning of my love and admiration for teachers.  Mrs. O. soon became someone I could trust.  Maybe not love like Ma.  But pretty close.

That was the beginning of our daily kisses.  Every school day morning Ma would escort me to the front door.  Most days she would be all dressed and ready for her day.  In fall and winter she mainly wore slacks and coordinating tops.  And in the warmer months the tops were worn with pedal pushers or capris.  No make-up, just a splash of lipstick once and awhile.  This was the practical attire of a woman who spent her days cleaning the house, washing clothes in a ringer washing machine and hanging them on the line to dry, cooking meals, and baking goodies.

During the winter, Ma would help me with my outerwear.  Snow jacket and pants.  Lined rubber boots.  Hat and scarf wrapped around my neck like a woolen neck ring.  I was a northern Giraffe Girl.  In the spring and early summer she would make sure my shoes were done up properly, and if it was chilly or raining my sweater or raincoat was properly fastened.  Once I was thoroughly wrapped, buttoned or buckled, I would look up at Ma expectantly.   She would then lean down and give me a kiss on the cheek.  She smelled divine.  A combination of sweet tea and Second Debut.  Her skin was as soft as velvet.  Her lips warm and tender.  Her love deep and sincere.  This was all I needed to venture forth with confidence.  Her kiss was the secret sauce.  On with my day I went.  Much to look forward to.  And then at four o’clock I would return to the smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies or chocolate brownies.  It was pure magic.

Stealing a kiss on the cheek from my sweet baby boy.

This sacred ritual of daily kisses carried on right through high school and university.  Even as a young woman with a child of my own, Ma would escort me to the door where we would exchange kisses.  By the time I was in my second year of university I was a mother.  Ma looked after my son while I attended classes.  She would carry him to the door on her hip.  I would kiss his sweet round face.  And then kiss Ma on the cheek.  I was now the kisser.  Some mornings she was still in her flannel nighty when she walked me to the door.  By then I was taller than her.  She was so diminutive.  I had to lean down to kiss her.  Breathe in the Second Debut.  The faint hint of peanut butter and home made strawberry jam on her lips.  My son on her hip, smelling in need of a diaper change.  That would come after the kisses were delivered.  Confidently I stepped out the door.  Back pack full of books.  Head down, deep in concentration.  So much to look forward to.  So much to learn.

When I moved away from home, the kisses grew scarcer.  But sweeter.  Time and distance had their way.  Daily rituals were disrupted.  But never forgotten.  Visits home were greeted with kisses of delight and joy.  Departures met with ones that lingered.  Imprinting the place where lips met cheeks.  Love and memories imbedded for life.

There were also all the special occasion and celebratory kisses.  Birthdays. Christmas.  Mother’s Day.  Graduation.  Weddings.  The birth of my children.  Then there were the comforting kisses.  The skinned knee.  The bruised shin.  The broken heart.  The end of things.  The losses.   And the best of all, the everyday kisses.  Little love plants here and there and everywhere.  For no reason in particular.  Just little reminders that no matter how old, or where you are in life, love can be captured in an instant.  And seized in a kiss.

I have no memory of Ma’s first kiss.  But because I’ve given three children their first one, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what the exchange was like.  She gazed down at me with wonder and awe.  And I peered through a veil of newborn fog into her warm chocolate eyes.  I knew instinctively that I was loved.  Would always be loved. Unconditionally.  Uncontrollably.  Unequivocally.   I was hers.  And she was mine.

The last time I kissed Ma, I didn’t know it was the last time.  A good thing I suppose.  Had I known, I would have been a clingy five-year old with my arms wrapped around her neck.  Unable to let go.  But I will remember that last kiss all the days of my life.  It will linger on my lips for eternity.  That, and the smell of Second Debut.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Hitting one out of the park.

I can feel it.  Spring is definitely in the air.  But even better, summer is just around the corner.  And with that notion comes all the paraphernalia of summer.  Lighter brighter sweeter clothes made from cotton and other carefree fabrics. Red toenails and colorful rubber flip flops.  The summer toys are brought out of the  basement, back shed or garage.  Things with wheels and pedals.  Things designed for the water and hot sandy beaches.  Games that are synonymous with sunshiny days and long warm evenings are played.  Racquets, bats and balls of all description.  This is the season when my favorite sport is played.  Baseball.

Let’s make something perfectly clear right up front.  I am not the athletic type.  Sporty Spice I am not.  I don’t gravitate towards playing team sports of any sort.  I’m a loner when it comes to anything even remotely athletic.  Running.  Walking.  Yoga.  Skip to my Lou. That’s about as close as I get to being an athlete.  But there’s just something about baseball that I like.  And I think it has something to do with The Old Man.

Little back story.  I never thought of The Old Man as terribly athletic either.  Despite what the black and white photos of his younger self reveal.  I only recall a man with a round girth and skinny white bowed legs.  But he did love sports.  In particular, hockey and baseball.   Back in the day, when homes had one television set, Saturday nights were  Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing but.  You could always count on him to be sitting front row and centre, glued to the television set for the two solid hours the game was televised on the CBC.  A bag of Old Dutch potato chips, sour cream and onion dip, and a large bottle of Pepsi at his side.  It was loud.  Raucous. And grating on the nerves.  Ma would often busy herself in the kitchen.  Some Saturday nights I would take refuge in the bedroom I shared with my older sister, if she happened to be out for the evening.  Otherwise, I would sit in the living room in the cozy chair next to the fake fireplace and read.  It was like Ma and I were held captive for those two hours.  Prisoners of Hockey Night in Canada.  But in a strange way, I think I actually wanted to be close to The Old Man on Saturday Nights.  Figure out a way to share his passion and excitement for the game.  Or maybe I just wanted some chips and dip and a tall glass of Pepsi.

Four things came out of those Saturday night sessions with The Old Man.  A lifelong craving for junk food.  A preference for Pepsi over Coke.  An ability to block out ambient noise.  And a love for reading, especially fiction.

On Saturday nights, while lost in a book, I learned to filter all those shrill sounds, the extraneous racket and cacophony blaring from the television set.  I retreated to the world of make-believe and fiction.  I became a mental escape artist.  A cerebral Houdini.  This ability has served me well over the years.  It has been particularly helpful when working in open-concept environments where you can hear everything and everyone. Including the pin drop.  But when necessary, I can press the mute button.  And hear nothing except the sounds within. I’m grateful for this gift, compliments of The Old Man and Hockey Night in Canada.  To this day, I hear the Theme Song and my mind goes to another place.  I switch off.

Baseball on the other hand, is a different game all together.  There is just something about the understated elegance of this sport that appeals to me.  Whereas the hockey nights were filled with shouting, cursing and bellowing at the television set, watching baseball was much more civilized.  Baseball wasn’t intrusive and never monopolized an entire night.  There was no such thing as Saturday Night Baseball, at least not back then.  Plus, during baseball season I could go outside and play with the neighborhood kids while The Old Man watched the game.  I wasn’t trapped inside a small wartime house in the dead of winter with nowhere to run.

Another redeeming quality of baseball was that there were no theme songs that involved a full-on brass section.  No trumpets blaring.  Drums pounding.  Chests beaten. The only baseball song I knew was Take me Out To the Ballgame.  That charming little ditty was universally loved, and whistled, for its sheer unpretentious and innocent hokey corniness.  That’s what I loved about it.  Then and now.

Music and civility aside, there are a few other reasons I preferred baseball over hockey.  First of all, it was warm when you played.  You didn’t have to wear tons of clothing and balance yourself on lace-up boots with blades.  A spontaneous street game could start right in front of your house, at any time on any given day. It was uncomplicated with straightforward rules. All you needed was a ball and a bat.  If you had a glove.  That was a bonus but not necessary to play the game.  And everyone was welcome.  Including girls. Today girls play all kinds of  team sports. But that wasn’t the case back then.

Aside from the friendly neighborhood scrub ball, I played on our school’s all-girl softball team.  I didn’t have to try out to make the team.  We all got in.  It was part of the grade eight P.E. curriculum.  Most of us weren’t very good.  But we enjoyed ourselves just the same.  We played against the other grade eight teams in our town.  And lost most of our games.  But that wasn’t the point.  What mattered was, we got to play.  There were some girls on the team who actually knew what they were doing.  And I recall we had a pretty good pitcher.  They admired them from afar.

I performed badly under pressure.  If I even caught a sniff that the opposing pitcher could actually throw the ball I was a goner.   And if it turned out they could throw like a boy I was dead in the water.  Struck out.  One, two, three.  I was okay in the outfield though.  It was pretty quiet and safe.  Not a lot of action but it offered an interesting outlying perspective.  Mostly I chewed gum and spat.  It was fun being a Tomboy.  And at the end, win or lose, it was glorious to be out there with the other girls playing this beautiful inclusive game.

The Old Man receiving his Bicentennial Medal for community dedication and service.

The Old Man shared his love of the game with me.  And it didn’t even necessitate consuming junk food.  For years, he had been deeply involved with Little League in our town.  In fact, he was one of the guys who got it started.  In 1984, in celebration of the Ontario Bicentennial Year, the Minister of Northern Affairs Leo Bernier awarded my father, along with 42 other folks from our town, a medal for Exemplary Community Dedication and Service.  The medal was given to me after he died.  I never realized at the time, the significance of his contribution to the game in our little town.  I never thought of him as the kind of guy who had a positive and worthwhile impact on the lives of others.  At least not to this degree. He was The Old Man for God’s sake.  A medal?  But now as I look at it, hanging from the red, blue and yellow ribbon, I am proud.  Very proud Dad.

I have fond memories of going to the ball field with The Old Man.  He used to Umpire the games.  I’d sit in the weather-beaten wood bleachers and watch.  Girls had come just far enough to be able to play ball at school and on the street, but not in the Little League.  There weren’t many fans or spectators.  Back then parents didn’t go to watch their kids’ games.  The boys would walk or ride their bikes to the field and play.  And when the game was over they took their gloves and went home.  It was so poetically simple.

I watched as The Old Man leaned in behind the batter at home plate.  Proudly wearing his Ump’s mask and black vest.  To me, he looked just like the real thing.  A pro.  This was a whole other side to him that we rarely saw.  He was confident. Tough. Spirited. And oddly athletic.  This experience was nothing like the Saturday Night in Hockey nights.  It was the complete opposite.  I was fully engaged in the game.  Lost in the warm sunny evenings.  The smell of dusty canvas base bags and chalk powder.  Green grass and young boys covered in dirt stains and glowing sweat.  Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.  Wood on leather.  Cheers and shouts.  You’re safe.  You’re out.  Strike.  Ball.  Batter up.  Batter out.  Loss.  Or victory.  Always good sportsmanship.  Handshakes all around.  Better luck next time Buddy.

The last game I remember going to with The Old Man was during the summer between grade eight and high school.  Everything changed after that.  He continued to umpire games for years afterwards.  In fact, the same year that he received the Bicentennial Medal, my first marriage ended.  Badly.  I was a hot mess.  And that’s putting it politely.  We separated in April and by May I had packed up my two kids and travelled a thousand miles  to that little wartime house in the west end of town.  Ma and The Old Man welcomed us with open arms, unconditional love and above all no judgement.

It was the start of Little League Season when we arrived.  My son, who loves sports just like his grandfather, embraced the idea of playing.  The Old Man got him onto a team, and what could have been the worst of all possible summers, was made enjoyable by his participation in this sport.

All decked out in his green and white uniform and ready to play.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that summer.  Some memories are better left unearthed.  But I do recall going to watch one of my son’s games and thinking how marvelous he was.  How he looked like the real thing in his little green and white uniform.  A pro.  Just like his grandfather.  Then I remember how grateful I was to The Old Man for taking him under his wing.  And for putting some fun into a young boy’s  summer.  I was also grateful that The Old Man got to do something with my son that he was never able to do with me.  Umpire one of his games.

Footnote: My son told me today that he remembered two things about that baseball summer with his Grandpa.  He hit a home run out of the park.  And his grandpa called him safe at home when he was obviously out.  I love that The Old Man couldn’t be impartial when it came to his Grandson. I think he was that way when it came to me as well.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Cut From the Same Cloth.

The Crazy Quilt and the lifetime of memories it holds.

I love fabric.  Everything about it.  The look.  The feel.  The smell.  Nothing puts me in a bright-hearted mood like walking the labyrinth aisles of a fabric store.  There’s just something about the colorful categorized chaos that inspires me.  It’s the playful paradox of cloth. And my life.

The inherent tactile nature of textiles is also intoxicating.  With fabric, no matter how beautiful, getting an eyeful is never enough.  It must be touched to be fully appreciated.  For it is in the feel of the fabric that our emotions are thoroughly engaged.  I am never in neutral when I’m around cloth.  And the more senses involved, the happier I am.  The richer the experience.

I love to run my fingers across deep luxurious smooth velvet.  Or get lost in the grooves of the gorgeous cut versions.  I’ve got a major crush on the crinkled kind.  And don’t even get me started on my vibe for velour.  I love the ridges of corduroy, whether barely-there baby wale or the chunky heavyweights.  In the summer nothing says “the living is easy” like cotton.  Bold and brilliant simplicity.  Delicious ice cream colored pastels.  Solid blocks of confident color.  Or whimsical patterns drawn from nature.  Sophisticated. Silly.  Cosmopolitan.  Or country.  I love it all.  And in the winter, my world is a wooly wonderland.  I also love fabrics in the raw.  Natural nubby silk, with its fusty scent, is quite simply divine.  I could drown in a sea of unwashed denim. Even burlap is beautiful to me.

When it comes to fabric I am cut from the same cloth as Ma.

Little back story. Ma loved to sew.  Her sewing machine, a chrome blue Kenmore beauty that The Old Man bought for her at Sears, was set up in our spare room upstairs next to “the boys” room.  It sat on a table in front of the window, that stared directly into our neighbor’s identical window less than twenty feet away.  In winter it was frigid wool-sweater-wearing cold in that room.  In summer it was hotter than a baked potato fresh off the fire. But regardless of the temperature, the sewing machine hummed happily.  The Kenmore came contained in it’s own case but because of its frequent use, the lid was rarely on.  It was a wonder of modern post war technology.  In fact, the basic design of that old lovely hasn’t changed all that much from the one I use today.  I was in awe of Ma’s ability to thread the machine so quickly and efficiently.  Expertly, her nimble fingers drew the thread through the various miniature levers and around the slits in the tension knob.  Up and down.  And all around.  Through the eye of the needle with ease.  And filling the circular silver bobbin.  Pure magic.  Connecting all of that mechanical mumbo-jumbo to turn fabric into something fashionable or functional.  Nothing short of miraculous.

I loved all the brightly colored threads that Ma collected in her fabric covered sewing box.  They were sweeter than candy and enough to make a rainbow envious.  I loved their little barrel shapes. The hole punched through the paper top from their turn on the spool pin.  The notch in the wood that held the end of the thread in place.  Perfection all of it.  The large-sized spools, with the basic black and white threads, were pragmatic and useful but not quite as interesting.  It was the collection of small ones that grabbed my attention and set my imagination wandering.  Even used-up naked spools had a purpose.  I entertained myself for hours with these little squatty wooden people.  I was the kid who had more fun with the cardboard box.

Ma used to make most of my clothes.  What began as a necessity, became a passion.  She had a flair for fashion and an artist’s eye for design.  Fortunately for me, I was one of the main benefactors of this talent.  One of the beautiful things about making your own clothes is their uniqueness.  The one-of-a-kind distinction.  There’s not another one quite like you walking down the street.  This is universally appealing.  Sometimes we want to blend in, be like everyone else.  Feel like we belong.  But we also want to stand out.  Be special.  Bask in our individual singularity.    That’s what Ma’s designs did for me.  I especially appreciated this once I became a teenager and my need to be “different” trounced my need to be just another cog in the wheel.  Of course, for the most part I was just like everyone else but try telling that to a sixteen year old.

One of my fondest and proudest memories of childhood is that of wearing a different “outfit” to school each day.  My favorite was the corduroy jumper.  It pleased me to receive compliments on Ma’s handy-work, in particular from my teachers, whom I held in high esteem.  I couldn’t wait to get home to tell Ma what the teachers said, watch her eyes light up to hear such honored praise for her sewing skills.

I don’t know if the ability to sew is in my genes exactly, but the love for it was definitely passed on to me from Ma.

By the time I got to grade seven, Ma started to teach me everything she knew about sewing.  In Home Ec class, which was mandatory back then, the first thing we had to make was an apron.  Without Ma’s guidance I would have failed that class. As it was I was challenged to knit a perfect pair of baby pink slippers and my macaroni cheese casserole was abysmal.  But my apron was good and got me the passing grade.  Once I was in high school, Home Ec was an elective.  I gave it a pass in favor of music.  I was much more interested in playing an instrument than playing with a measuring cup.  Besides, by then Ma was the best Home Ec teacher a girl could ever have.

In high school I became fashion conscious.  I was awakened.  Had an epiphany.  A sudden revelation.  For the first time, I realized that clothes actually said something about who you were.  They were a way to express yourself.  Make a statement.

I loved to comb through magazines picking out fashions that I thought were cool and reflected my inner being.  Styles that spoke to me.  I would show Ma little dresses that I liked and ask, “Can you make something like that Ma?”  I remember so vividly one little dress in particular.  It was a “baby doll.”  All the models in the magazines were wearing them.  Twiggy, the doe-eyed waif, looked especially smashing in her little number.   I had to have one.  Despite the fact that I was half Twiggy’s height and twice her weight, I knew I could look just as groovy.

Ma and I went straight to the fabric department situated on the top floor of Eaton’s.  The Mecca for sewers in our small northwestern town.  It was awash in bright sunlight and cheerful colors. First we scoured the pattern books for dresses that looked like the ones we saw in the fashion magazines.  There were no exact matches but Ma was a wizard at adapting patterns and adding her unique touch to achieve my voguish vision.  It was Spring and the seasonal cottons were in abundance.  We combed through the sundry bolts of fabric until we found the perfect motif.  Navy blue background adorned with tiny hot pink flowers with little viny green stems.  Just like in all the magazines.  Perfect for my baby doll dress.  Ma had this idea to add some pink cotton lace around the bottom edge of the bodice and tiny pink buttons as accents on the sleeves and neck front.   A Navy zipper, thread and seam binding completed our purchase.  I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation.  Step aside Twiggy.

Although I was learning my way around the Kenmore by this point, making a baby doll dress was not in my wheel house.  I had managed to avoid making anything that required zippers or button holes and wasn’t about to start with something of this magnitude.  Ma would be flying solo as the seamstress on this project.  And I trusted her unconditionally to do an impeccable job.  And she did not disappoint.  In addition to being a wizard on the Kenmore, she was a bit like an elf in her industriousness.  I went to school in the morning and came home to find a brand new baby doll dress waiting for me.  It was perfect.  Beyond my wildest expectations.  Better than the one Twiggy wore in the magazine.  It fit perfectly.  I felt fantabulous wearing it.  I wore it to school with navy tights and navy Mary Jane shoes.  It was the best outfit I ever wore.  And in many ways, nothing has made me feel that good since.

The Old Man and Ma in the powder blue gown I made for her.

Over the years Ma made me many dresses.  And I have made myself many as well, including my first wedding dress.  I even made one for her.  A soft powder blue floor length gown that she wore to some function with The Old Man.  She looked beautiful.  It was a labor of love.  Payback for the baby doll dress and all the other marvelous clothes she so tirelessly made for me.

People who sew tend not to throw away fabric. It’s all so precious and dear.  There are always scraps, bits and pieces left over from each project.  Ma saved all these little bits from her sewing history.  Then she gave them all to me.

Early in my first marriage, shortly after my oldest daughter was born, I began a project.  It was ambitious, and as I look back on it now, I was probably suffering from post-baby hormones. The ones that make you do cuckoo things.  What else could have made me embark on such an enormous undertaking?  It was in this frame of mind that the crazy quilt began.  It took about a year to hand embroider all the random pieces from a lifetime of sewing and stitching into a six foot by six foot masterpiece of psychedelic irregularity.  Asymmetrical.  Crooked.  Uneven.  The story of my life.

I used brightly colored cotton embroidery thread to hold all the individual pieces together.  The delicate stitches were all the ones Ma taught me.  Blanket, cross and chain.  The occasional french knot just for fun.

As the crazy quilt grew bigger and bigger, it was like I could see my entire life unfurl before me. The bright pink checkered dance costume.  The turquoise, teal and red baby wale corduroy jumper.  The long multi-colored hippy peasant gown.  The short lime green mini dress with the purple flowers.  The white eyelet skirt.  The embroidered dashiki top.  The wedding dress. Assorted kitchen table cloths and placemat sets.  They were all there.  And when it was all done, I carefully spread it out on the bed I shared with my husband.  It took my breath away.  My heart and mind drifted back to that little room at the top of the stairs where Ma sat with her beautiful elegant piano fingers.  Guiding the fabric along the steel plate of the blue Kenmore.  Her foot steady on the speed pedal.  The rhythm of the needle keeping pace.  By day’s end a baby doll dress for her much loved daughter.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Spring Traditions, New Shoes and the Easter Bunny.

Boo in her shiny new shoes and Easter best.

I love shoes.  There’s nothing like a new pair to hearten the soul. And the soles.  Snazzy sneakers for Saturday morning strolls with the dogs.  Dependable running shoes for weekday jogs.  High heels with pointy toes for strutting or stumbling depending on the height.  Cute comfy flats engineered for walking at lunch.  Freedom flip flops in every color under the sun that just make me so happy.  Summer sandals to show off my red painted toes.  Butt-kicking black boots with straps across the ankle and shiny silver buckles.  Cowboy boots.  Doc Martens.  Converse.  Leather, canvas, suede or rubber.  My love affair with shoes began early.  And came honestly.

Little back story.  When I was a kid, way back in the day, the arrival of Spring was a long time coming.  Much anticipated and welcomed.  Weary winter arms wide open.  Some years there were a few false starts.  Hiccups along the transitional path. Others years felt like it was never going to come.  We were taunted and teased by Mother Nature.  Occasionally, it seemed as though the season was by-passed completely.  We were catapulted right into summer like a rock from a slingshot.

But when Spring finally did arrive, there were a few things that I could count on.  The Easter Bunny.  Chocolate eggs.  Hot cross buns.  And new shoes.

In northern climates, the mere thought of Spring is reason enough to rejoice.  Celebrate.  Skip to my Lou.  Do a little Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah dance.  You were happy to surrender your snowballs in favor of cats-eye marbles, skipping ropes and red rubber balls.  You could smell the balmy potential for knock out ginger, dodgeball and red rover.  Your bike was waiting for fresh air to be breathed into its tires.  Peddle pushers and other cotton casuals, that had been hanging around all winter, were raring to go.   You could smell change in the air the second you stepped out the door.  Palpable.  Expectant.  Buoyant.  There were chirpy hints of green everywhere.  The possibilities were breathtaking.

In the midst of all this climatic commotion and hullabaloo, there was Easter.  I’ve always found this particular holiday to be a bit emotionally and intellectually confusing.  And perhaps that’s the point.  To Christians, this is both a sad and happy occasion.  Sad because of what happened on Good Friday.  Joyous because of the awe-inspiring event that occurred the following Sunday. An entire religion was built around this belief.  Despite the fact that we were Lutherans, this foundational theological presumption eluded me.  It was only years later that I understood this core tenet.    Doctrine aside, weather-wise I recall Good Fridays as being bleak.  Grey.  Cold.  Depressing.  And Easter Sundays were just the opposite.  Bright.  Warm.  Optimistic.  To add to all this dogmatic perplexity and emotional bewilderment, there was the Easter Bunny.  It was a head-scratcher for a church-going kid.

I have to admit, that as a child I was much more interested in the big EB than JC.  The Easter Bunny was something real.  Fun.  Exciting.  Santa Claus’s good buddy.  They were in cahoots.  I loved them both.  I looked forward to their annual visits.  And the gifts they came bearing. In particular, I loved Easter Bunny’s sense of adventure and cleverness.  Unlike Santa, who just deposited his gifts under the Christmas tree, Easter Bunny hid his all over the house.  Chocolate covered marshmallow eggs tucked beneath the cushions of the couch. Bright colored sugary eggs nestle behind the clock on the mantel.  Jelly bean eggs scattered hither and yon throughout the kitchen and living room.

Like Christmas Eve, I spent the night before the Easter Bunny visit imagining all the sweet treats that would be delivered to our house.  Just for me.  It was a night of salivation and sleeplessness.  The next morning I would hop out of bed (in honor of my long-eared hero), anxious to begin the annual hunt.  Ma would have a brightly colored woven basket ready for me to collect my hidden treasures.  Around the house I scurried.  Like a  saintly little Jack Rabbit.  Crouching and crawling to retrieve treats concealed under various pieces of furniture.  Standing on tiptoes to peer over the top of the taller things. Carefully reaching behind Ma’s nicknacks and ornaments to gather these sweet rare gems.  A special delivery made once a year by a giant white rabbit with enormous ears and a dapper pink bow tie around his neck.  It was like I had died and gone to Sugar Heaven.  It was exalted.  Majestic.  Downright divine.  I suppose in my young mind this was somehow the connection to God.  Only a Supreme Being could send someone so wonderful.  So magical.  So marvelous.  And so imaginative.

After the hunt was complete, and Ma assured me that I had discovered every treasure hidden, we had breakfast.  I never questioned her psychic ability to know this.  It was all part of the fantasy.  The wonder.  The make-believe.  After breakfast of eggs, bacon and hot cross buns, we got ready for church.  This involved a new wardrobe.  In particular, new shoes.

Back then it was tradition to get a new pair of shoes every spring.  It officially marked a farewell, not only to winter but to sloshing around in big heavy pile-lined galoshes.  I looked forward to the annual shoe shopping trip with Ma.  I would try on various footwear options but in the end it was usually the black patent leather shiny ones that seduced me. With or without bows.  Usually with round toes, straps across the ankle and gold buckles.  They were magnificent.  And I wore them proudly to church Easter morning.  Along with the new dress Ma made for me, white gloves, my spring coat, an Easter bonnet and white cotton gloves.  I was a vision of sartorial splendor.

Although Ma and I were the annual Spring shoe shoppers, my love for shoes actually originated with The Old Man.  Next to sports, sweets, and Vodka, he loved shoes.  He called them kicks.  Even as he grew older – when his stride became a shuffle – and the compulsive hunger for a new pair struck, he’d declare that it was “time for some new kicks.”  I suspect it was an urge as irrepressible as that for alcohol or orange filled wafer cookies.    It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the motivation behind The Old Man’s obsession with shoes.  It was simple.  As a child, he never had much of anything that was new, little alone a pair of shoes.  Everything was either second or third used.  Hand me downs.  Patched, stitched, re-patched and repeat. Worn with holes in the soles.  Broken laces.  Flapping toed humiliation.

The Old Man had shoes for every occasion.  And for no occasion at all.  He needed no rhyme nor reason for acquiring new shoes.  It was equal parts compulsion, exhilaration, triumph and satisfaction.  And once purchased, he lovingly and happily cared for them.  Polished.  Buffed.  And shined.  Lined up in a tidy orderly row.  Contained and coveted.  Something he could control.  They were his to admire and enjoy all the days of his life.  It seems with each new pair, he was given a temporary lease on life.

It’s also not surprising, nor coincidental, that The Old Man not only named his horse Tootsie but one of our dogs as well.  So great was his affection for his tender ones.

This Easter my grand daughter will hunt for chocolate bunnies and rainbow colored eggs, that the big EB will sprinkle about our house in all the usual places.  But before that happens, we’ll go shoe shopping.  This is not the time to break with tradition.  And as the Paolo Nutini lyrics express so fittingly, “hey I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything is right.”

Abby's new Easter shoes. 2


Diaries of the Breadman’s Daugher: The Wonders Within Ma’s Recipe Box


These are some of Ma’s basic everyday recipes.  I’ve described them as she either prepared them or wrote them down for me.  Over the years I have added my own spin to The Savories.  Adapted them to my own family’s tastes or in some cases allowed my creative inspiration to take hold.  For example, her Meat Pie recipe has become Shepherd’s Pie, a Christmas Eve tradition to honor the Great Shepherd.  I don’t add tomato soup to my Chili but I do add a variety of beans and chic peas, for my youngest who loves them.  I rarely do meatballs in my Spaghetti because I’m too lazy.  Her Barbecue Ribs are quite simply the best.  Perfect the way they are.  Wouldn’t change a thing.

The Sweets are exactly as the recipes describe.  Lovely.  Perfect. Easy to make.  I’ve only attempted the Christmas Cake once.  It turned out good, but not as good as Ma’s.  I made them two Christmases after she died to honor her.  Never again.  Way too much work.  The Brownie recipe is so easy and foolproof.  So chocolatey. Kids of all ages love these!  And the Ginger Snaps are a family favorite.  The recipe for these can also be found at the back of my novel, again placed there in honor of my dear sweet Ma.   I tried making the Angel Food Cake once or twice but it was too finicky for me.  Ma always made me this cake for my birthday.  It was her specialty.  When my youngest daughter turned one,  Ma baked one for her too.  The Butter Tarts are my Granddaughter’s favorites.  We love baking together, especially these family recipes.

The Savories

Saturday Night Spaghetti

Tomato Sauce
2 tins tomatoes (ground or chopped)
1 tin tomato paste
1 onion chopped fine
1 stalk celery chopped fine
1 green pepper
Seasoning to taste: Italian seasoning, bay leaf, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper
Before we had a blender Ma chopped everything fine and put it in a big pot to simmer all day.  After we got the blender, she put the tomatoes, onions and celery in the blender until smooth.  Simmer all day on low until rich and thick and delicious.

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
1 slice of bread
Seasoning to taste: Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper
Roll into 1” balls, fry in oil.  Add to sauce.

Meat Pie

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tbsp prepared mustard
1 cup mixed vegetables
1 small onion
1 tsp brown sugar
1 cup water

In frying pan cook meat and onions. When brown add ketchup, mustard and water to meat.  Add vegetables and sugar.  Simmer until vegetables are tender.  Fill pie shell.  Top with second shell.  Cut steam vents in top crust.  Bake at 350 until crust is golden brown.

Barbecue Spare Ribs

Combine and mix well:
1 cup tomato soup
1/4 cup mild vinegar
1 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika

Cut 2 1/2 lbs. spare ribs in serving pieces.  Put in baking dish and cover with sauce.  Back at 350 for 2 hours.

Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 – 2 tsp soy sauce (or more)
Coat ribs in flour and fry in oil until brown.  Ad sauce and cook 45 minutes until tender.

Old Fashioned Baked Beans

1 lb. dried white beans
1 quart cold water
1 small – medium onion, sliced
1/4 lb. salt pork or bacon

1/2 tbsp salt
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp prepared mustard
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup ketchup, pinch pepper

Pick and rinse beans.  Add 1 quart water and soak over night.  Simmer 30 minutes or so.  Drain, keeping liquid. Place onion slices in bottom of 6-cup casserole or clay bean pot.  Mix seasoning and add to pot. Add beans and hot liquid or water to cover.  Arrange pork slices on top.  Cover and bake in slow oven 250 for 7 hours.  One hour before serving remove cover to allow salt pork/bacon to brown.

Chili Con Carne

3 tbsp oil
1 large onion
1 green pepper
1 lb. ground beef
1 28 oz can tomatoes
1 10 oz can tomato soup
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp chili powder
1 glove garlic
1 tsp salt
1 14 oz can kidney beans

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add onions, green pepper and meat.  Cook until brown, stirring occasionally.  Add tomatoes, soup, paprika, cayenne, bay leaf and chili powder.  Simmer about 1 hour adding water if mixture gets too thick.  Mash garlic and combine with salt.  Add to hot mixture and stir well.  Add beans and heat thoroughly.  Pour into large serving bowl and garnish with onion rings.


2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion
1/4 tsp pepper
1 15 oz tin tomato sauce
2 cups hot water
1 clove garlic
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
8 oz package lasagna noodles
1/2 lb. cottage cheese
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese

Brown lightly garlic and onion in hot oil.  Add meat and cook stirring frequently to brown meat evenly.  Season.  Add hot water to tomato sauce and pour mixture over meat.  Mex well and simmer.  Uncover 30 minutes. In a baking dish pour a few tbsp of sauce.  Place half the cooked noodles over the sauce, the cottage cheese and half mozzarella cheese.  Add rest of noodles, remaining sauce and top with mozzarella.

Meatball Stroganoff

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped fine
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms
1/4 tsp paprika
2 tbsp flour
1 cup consomme or beef stock
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Meatballs: Combine beef, milk, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and parsley.  Blend and shape into small meatballs.  Melt butter and fry.
Remove and add mushroom and onions.  Saute.  Sprinkle fry pan with flour and paprika.  Pour in consomme stirring constantly.  Cook until thick and add meatballs.  Add worcestershire sauce.  Heat to boiling point. Add sour cream.  Serve over buttered egg noodles.

Cabbage Rolls

1 cup rice
3 cups water
Cook for 45 minutes until rice is tender

1/2 lb. ground pork
1 onion
Spice to taste: garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper
Combine rice and meat mixture in bowl.

1 medium cabbage
1 small tin tomato juice

Cook cabbage in large pot of water until partially cooked.  Remove and roll with meat/rice mixture.  Place in casserole/covered baking dish.  Pour tomato juice over cabbage rolls. Top with left-over loose cabbage leaves.  Bake at 350 for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Popovers (Yorkshire Pudding)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
Pour into well-greased muffin pans till 3/4 full.  Bake at 450 for 40 -45 minutes. Serve immediately with roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Pie Crust

5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Cut 1 lb. shortening into flour mixture.
Beat 1 egg + 2 tsp vinegar in bottom of measuring cup.  Fill measuring cup with cold water and mix well.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour liquid.  Mix well.
Form big ball, then divide into 6 smaller balls. Wrap each ball individually and freeze.

The Sweets

These are perfect for dunking into milk.

Ma’s Chewy Ginger Snaps

Cream Together:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses

Sift Together:
2-1/3 cups flower
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ginger & cinnamon
1/2 tsp closes
1/4 tsp salt

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.  Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll in white sugar.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets @ 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Cream together:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
Gradually beat in:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
Beat well.
Blend or sift together:
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Add to creamed mixture and combine.
Shape dough into balls which are about 1” in diameter.  Place on baking sheets and press down with a fork.  Bake in 375 oven for 10-12 minutes.

Serve warm just as it is or with vanilla ice cream. Divine.

Apple Crisp

6 cups sliced apples
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter

Arrange apples in greased baking dish and sprinkle with lemon juice.  Mix flour, oats and sugar.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, sprinkle over apples.  Bake at 375 until are tend and topping is lightly brown.  (35 – 40 min.)  Served with vanilla ice cream if you like.

Rich. Moist. Dreamy. Impossible to eat just one piece!

Chocolate Brownies

Mix all together in one bowl in this order:
1/4 lb. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
2 heaping tbsp cocoa
Optional: 1/2 cup walnuts

Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes.

Chocolate Glaze
Mix together:
1 cup icing sugar
2 level tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp butter
Hot water – enough to form glaze
Pour on brownies while hot (straight out of the oven)

Chocolate Oatmeal Globs

3 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of coconut
6 tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla.

Mix first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.  Heat butter, sugar and milk in saucepan until almost boiling.  Pour over dry ingredients and add vanilla.  Stir well.  Drop by tsp on wax paper and chill until set.

Make it square. Or make it round. Sweet and spicy either way.

Tomato Soup Cake

Beat together in large bowl until light:
4 tbsp butter
1 tin tomato soup
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
Blend/sift together:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp of each of these spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice & nutmeg.
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

Combine dry ingredients with wet and mix together.  Pour into 8” square pan and bake one hour at 350.

Butter Icing
1 cup icing sugar, 2 tbsp butter and milk to make thick.  Beat until smooth.  Add 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Spread on cake when fully cooled.

Dark Christmas Cake

Wet Ingredients:
1 lb. butter
2 1/3 cup brown sugar packed
7 extra large eggs or 8 large (separated)
1/4 cup molasses

Dry Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

Fruit Ingredients:
1 lb. raisins
1 lb. currants
1 lb. candied cherries
1/2 lb. candied mixed fruit
1/2 lb. nuts
3/4 cup orange juice,
2 tbsp lemon juice
Pour juice over fruit mixture and let stand overnight.

Beat egg yolk, sugar and butter together.  Add molasses.  Combine half the flour mixture with the fruit mixture.  Add to the wet ingredients. Mix well and add rest of the flour mixture.  Beat egg white and fold into entire mixture.  Bake in 250 or 300 oven for 2 /12 hours.

Ma’s specialty birthday cake. Heavenly.

Angel Food Cake
(One large tube pan)

1 1/2 cups fruit sugar
1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup egg whites (8 – 10 eggs)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp almond, lemon, pineapple or raspberry extract
3/4 tsp vanilla

Sift sugar and flour together four times.  Beat egg whites until foamy, and then add salt and cream of tartar.  Continue beating until the whites are stiff, but not dry.  Sift 2 tbsp of the flour and sugar mixture at a time over the egg whites.  Fold in carefully after each addition.  Add vanilla and almond extract.  Turn into an ungreased tube pan and bake at 275 degrees F for 25 minutes and then at 300 degrees F for 45-50 minutes.  Remove from oven, invert pan for 1 hour and cake will then slip easily from pan.

The best butter tarts ever. And so easy to make! Child’s play.

Tasty Butter Tarts

1 egg, well beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rich milk
1/2 cup raisins (or currants)

Add brown sugar to well-beaten egg and beat thoroughly.  Add vanilla, milk and raisins.  Line tart tins with pastry.  Add 1 tbsp of the above mixture to each.  Bake at 400 for 20 – 25minutes.