Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Musings, 13 December 2014

Good morning,

Rubble surrounds me on the dining room table:  Jessica's old computer sits beside her new one; a box which came from St. Louis and holds Christmas presents for wrapping lies at the opposite end; two plants expire quietly in their pots flanking either side of Trudy's bowl full of shells, shells given to me by friends Jane and Diana albeit decades apart.  I sit amid the happy mess and eat lemon-flavored yogurt from the carton, drink re-heated coffee, and gaze around with pleasure.  I like my house.  It quintessentially and perfectly reflects my little plebeian soul; the soul of the great-granddaughter of a peddler, the daughter of a dreamer, the mother of a writer.  I could not feel better than I do right this moment.  

I close my eyes for a few brief seconds and realize that this table could be the table in my mother's home; that this  morning in Kansas City could be a morning in Jennings; the whirring furnace could be the one in my parents' basement.  And I close my eyes again, and I am there, not on one of the ragged nights when my father let the noose of alcohol tighten around him; nor on Saturday, when he dragged himself from bed with bleary eyes; but on Sunday, when the world started anew.  

I stand now, gazing into a kitchen fragrant with sizzling bacon and perking coffee.  My mother's back is toward me, She wears an apron and I see she has tied the bow upside down.  My heart twinges at the sight of the lopsided loops.  She pivots, then, and the pale brownness of her face smooths beneath my glance.  Her eyes brighten before her mouth becomes a smile.  Mary, she says.  Hello, how was church?  I feel for a moment as though no morning will ever be as peaceful.

She's holding an egg in one hand, my mother is.   I see the yellow Pyrex bowl on the counter beside the canister of flour.  I'm making Schmarren, my mother comments.  Do you want to mix it?  I cross the kitchen to the cabinet drawer where my mother keeps the kitchen linens.  My mother has not gone to church with us this day; she might have gone to five o'clock mass the night before, or to an earlier service.  She's stayed behind, in any event, to make breakfast.  I hear the two little boys clamoring for the comics in the living room, their sudden laughter quieted by a deep-toned chide.  My father.  I shake my head a little and tie an apron over my dress. 

I am thirteen; the little boys are 9 and 10; I feel tender towards them in ways that I will never understand but accept.  As I take up the wooden spoon, they begin to play with the tinsel on the Christmas tree and my father speaks more sharply to them, cautioning them against breaking the glass balls.  My mother and I exchange a glance which neither of us explain.  For myself, I'm thinking, that's something fathers do, right?  I tell myself the answer lies on her face but I do not ask the question out loud.

My mother speaks the recipe again, as though I haven't been making Schmarren since I could stand on a bench to reach the work space.  I don't need the bench now nor the lesson, but I let her remind me:  four eggs, a cup of flour, a half-cup of milk, a half-cup of sugar.  Four to one to one-half to one-half.  And stir, just lightly:  yes.  I follow her voice and the eggy batter appears in the bowl, and I look to her for approval.  She touches my arm.

A cast iron pan has been heating on the front burner, and now I put two tablespoons of butter in it, turning the electric heat down to medium as the yellow squares melt.  When the bottom of the pan glistens, I slowly pour in the batter and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  My mother reaches around me, to turn the bacon, and for a moment her scent surrounds me and I am taken into her pores, where her being lives, where the pain she feels and the joy she gives and the life of her gathers.  I do not move.  

Then my mother shifts, and turns back to the counter for the forks which she's laid there.  I move aside, reaching to the shelf above the stove for a bowl of cinnamon sugar.  And as my mother breaks the Schmarren into pieces with the forks, I sprinkle the sweet mixture into the pan.  Soon the pieces of the Austrian pancake have browned, and they shine with drops of butter to which the sugar clings.  My mother turns the heat off and sets down the forks.  She smiles at me.  My heart soars.

Now I am older than my mother ever lived to be.  I am older than she was on that Sunday morning, when she showed me, for the thousandth time, how to properly cook an Austrian pancake.  The Christmas tree twinkles in my living room; and the dog sleeps in her bed.  I have no church at which to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.  But this evening I will sit at the Stony Point Church and listen to Elizabeth Carnie sing "I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas", and afterwards, I will sit in the living room of Ellen Carnie's farmhouse.  We will drink wine, and talk about whatever friends may share.  I will sleep in the spare bedroom, surrounded by the muslin curtains, the old dolls, and the scent of a home where love flavors every dish cooked in the warm bright kitchen.  In the morning, perhaps Ellen will let me make a pan of Schmarren, and I will tell her about mornings in Jennings, and she will hold me if I cry.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

I googled "schmarren" and clicked "images", and this appeared.  This closely resembles my mother's Schmarren. The page on which this photo appears is in German, so I don't know if the recipe is the same.  Ours came from a little card in my mother's cookbook, but I also have found it in a book called "Cooking the Austrian Way".

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.