In search of story

November 24.21: Coping


In the kitchen

live the ghosts

that waft with air

of pies and roasts.

Abiding still

in towel and platter,

in recipe card

with ancient splatter,

they hover close

and scrutinize

with furrowed brow

and x-ray eyes

my every move,

my chops and pares,

as I use things

that once were theirs.

And then they squeeze around

to eat,

they watch our manners

heads to feet,

then, with a wink

to everyone,

salute themselves

for job well done.



Here is the crowd in my kitchen this week: my mother’s recipe for stuffing in her handwriting, the towel my Grandma Mauck would wet and wrap over the turkey to keep it cozy, their baster and meat thermometer, the platter my Grandma O’Hern’s turkeys came to the table on. Three women at my elbows.

You will note the towel is linen. My mother and her mother insisted on linen dishtowels, and, yes, my dear incredulous reader, they had to be ironed. Ironed damp, no less. In my generation, the technical term for such things was “flatwork,” and it was how we served our ironing apprenticeships. Handkerchiefs, pillowcases and sheets, linen towels…flatwork. Yes, we ironed sheets and pillowcases. And underwear. As I hear it, young women today wouldn’t know which side of the iron gets hot. (They’re smarter than we were.)

But I digress.

It’s a difficult time no matter where you live, dear reader; I wish I could make things better for you, for all of us. You might not celebrate Thanksgiving Day this week, but you can know that I am giving thanks for you because you have helped me write, and that has been a huge gift to me. Thank you!



8 thoughts on “November 24.21: Coping

  1. I sit here reading and smiling. I have recipes from my grandmother so covered in spots I have to squint to read, and I love each one of them. ❤️ Ironing, you say. When I was a kid and spent my summers with my grandparents, I ‘had’ to iron as part of my chores. I remember the linens were sprinkled with water, put in the fridge, and then deposited next to the ironing board for me to iron. I’ve hated ironing my entire life. 🙂 Thanks for the memories, and have a great Thanksgiving, Maureen.

    • A great Thanksgiving to you too, Judy! Yes, the memories. On the reverse side of my mom’s handwritten recipe are my scribbles through the years. What a history! And what splatters. But if we re-wrote the recipes on clean paper, how boring would they be? You are so right to save the stains! As for ironing, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one chained to the ironing board. I hated it! We also had the mangle, and I hated that even more. But I don’t hate ironing any more, and I think that has mostly to do with the fact I no longer iron everything (don’t tell my mother). I hope you have a wonderful time with your family tomorrow! You can tell them tales from the ironing board!

  2. This is a beautiful tribute to the tools and techniques of the trade. Long before anyone thought of sitting with their phone in isolation, there was the camaraderie throughout the house preparing for meals and events. I was never taught to iron, but I was entrusted with a black cotton dust rag and the instruction – “and don’t just dust around things, Take them off and dust the whole table.” I was also expected to empty and clean the ashtrays – remember those?

    There is no need to thank me. I am so happy I found your blog (I think it was through Judy). I am delighted to visit here with each bot of Coping. The perspective you bring to memories and your thoughts along with your talent for writing always make me smile. Happy Thanksgiving Maureen!

    • Oh, yes, I do need to thank you! Your Saturday dialogues at the bar have been especially helpful. Too bad you missed out on the joys of ironing but at least you got the fun of dusting. I do indeed remember cleaning those ash trays. One of the worst arguments I ever had with my mother was about exactly that. I agree that these old kitchen things are the tools of the trade, and I too think back wistfully to the days when people planned together and worked together to get a big dinner on the table. So glad we didn’t have cell phones back then!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Dan!

  3. I still iron some things. It creates almost instant reward, I find it calming and it’s one of my favorite chores.
    The beautiful cursive hand-written recipes are so sentimental. No longer being taught, younger people can hardly decipher cursive, and the art of it is disappearing in front of our eyes. I have an old hand written recipe for a wonderful banana-pineapple cake. It is cherished for its deliciousness as well as sentimentality.

    • Exactly so: a handwritten recipe is a lot more than a recipe! There will be fewer and fewer of those passed along in families, and I think that’s a loss. I agree with you about some ironing, but only some. I certainly don’t hate it as much as when I was a teenager, but then I get to decide now what gets ironed.

  4. It is good to be able to feel their approval. I like the idea of them wafting around the kitchen with the Thanksgiving smells. I had to iron the easy things as a child – and especially remember Dad’s massive underplants (in comparison with my own). I’ve always assumed it was needless, but perhaps the fabrics used creased more back then? Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving. I’ll echo back to you thanks for helping me (and by the sound of things, many others) write.

    • My mother’s rationale for ironing everything was that we had such a small house with such little storage space for four that the only way to make things fit was to iron them! I am sure she considered ironing us from time to time. As for those ghosts in my kitchen, they are very much present, and they definitely keep me in line. Thank you for your good wishes for today; I hope autumn won’t be too heavy-handed there today.

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