Today I learned from a childhood friend from the old neighborhood that the house I grew up in burned down. She sent me a note on Facebook and included a memory of eating my mother's home made rosettes - a traditional Scandinavian holiday cookie - in our kitchen with my youngest sister. Indeed many of my own best memories of that house are in the kitchen. While I jokingly say now that in the battlefield of my parents' marriage, my mother's weapon of choice was often dinner, I still have many recollections of her doing wonderful things in the kitchen.
When I was a young child, my mother was at home with me and my two younger sisters while my other brother and sister were in school all day and my father worked. During those early years, she made a lot of things from scratch. I remember picking fruit that grew wild in the back yard for jams and jellies and being allowed to eat the foam she skimmed from the top of the large simmering pot. She made egg noodles that she hung around the kitchen to dry. She also baked her own bread and let me and my sisters take turns punching down the dough after it had been allowed to rise. The smell of baking bread still reminds me of this time and I always find time to bake when I miss my mother.
Even thought she gained a reputation for culinary atrocities like oatmeal tomato and cheese casserole (this was the thermo-nuclear bomb in her arsenal), she was especially good on special occasions. There was one birthday when, at my request, she produced battered fried chicken and baked Alaska. She could also make custard-filled cream puffs that melted in my mouth and the best Door County cherry pie ever - despite the pits that my father invariably bit into with the stubborn hope that this time the pie would be pitless.
My mother really shone at Christmas. To to express her appreciation of friends and neighbors, she gave them cookies. She made refrigerator pinwheels, traditional cut sugar cookies, and a variety of treats from our Scandinavian heritage, including the aforementioned rosettes, krumkake, lefse, and a holiday braided bread of sweet dough and dried fruit. All this, she packaged carefully in aluminum pie plates wrapped with saran wrap that she hand-delivered in those last weeks of December.
Mostly when I think about the old house on Quincy Street, I remember the 1980's that had a lot of hollering and ruined dinner as my mother served meals of resentment and despair that my father washed down with frustration and incomprehension. Even though this rough patch in their marriage remains prominent, it is tempered with other better times. I also remember bringing friends home after school and getting home made cookies. I remember birthday parties with whatever I wanted being magically created by my mother. I remember the German apple pancake she used to cook on Sundays in a large cast-iron skillet on the stovetop. I remember good smells of home made pickles and tomatoes being canned and me sitting under the kitchen table while she used her considerable (if under appreciated) skills to make sure we had good food in the house.
Now the house is gone. Fire seems an appropriate end. With the passing of my father a few years ago and now the destruction of my childhood home, it feels like the early chapters of my life are now closed.
327 South Quincy Street, Green Bay WI 54301