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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grandmother Stories from 2006

Sam, just under two years of age, kicked his mother. He was wearing his cousin Burton's shoes at the time, shoes that Burton's mother had handed down to little Sam. I learned of this by phone. I said, "Hi, sweet Sam." And he said, "They're taking my shoes off!" And I asked why. And Sam said, "Because I kicked Mommy when I was wearing Burton's shoes." And I said, "Oh Sam, that isn't a very nice thing to do!" And Sam said, speaking in full sentences as he did from the very beginning of speech, said, "No, Nana. It isn't." The shoes were put away to wait for a wiser Sam.


We were approaching the departure date for our trip to Nova Scotia, where we would be watching Olivia, 6, and Burton, 9, for two weeks. Before we left I got a letter from Olivia, written and spelled by her, asking if, while I'm there, I would make her Halloween costume. So I phoned.


"What do you want to be for Halloween?"


"An M & M," says Livvy. Then later, "or a Jedi" (and what does a Jedi look like? Don't ask ME!). Then later "Princess Leia." And then Burton chimes in with "Or you could be a swizzle (or some such name)" and he described a tiny pink ball-like creature that's part of one of his computer games.


It was going to be an interesting sewing session.


During that same phone conversation I also talked with Burton.


"Nana," he says, "will you teach me to make pinwheels [that's the pastry kind, not the ones that blow in the wind] while you're here? That way I can have some whenever I want."


"Sure," I say.


"Actually, I think it's not really too hard to make them," says Burton, full of untried confidence.


"But the good thing," says the Nana, "is that you'll learn to make pie crust at the same time. So you can make a pie whenever you like."


"Actually," says Burton, "I don't much like pie. I just like pinwheels." So pinwheels it was, not a pie in sight. And at Halloween Livvy was a royal blue M&M, with a costume made from a hula hoop.


Later was another exchange. Burton says, "Nana, I just love the "Yuck" book you made for us. But I think you need to make a "Yum" book, too. I've already started listing things we like. But it's hard to find foods that start with "q".


For the "Yuck" book I used quinoa and quark. Burton says he thinks he likes quinoa now, so maybe we could re-use it with an opposite connotation. I suggest using "quiche." He says he's never heard of a quiche.


I need to talk to his mother about this failure to introduce him to one of the major food groups—the ubiquitous quiche.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Excellently Improvised Soups

In my mind it's so ordinary to improvise soup (whether or not "excellently") that the doing of it scarcely merits mention.


Winter squash? Cook with onions, garlic, and apple in stock or water. Throw in a potato if you have one. Season with salt and pepper and thyme. Puree. For greater elegance, run the puree through your food mill. Add cream, or milk and butter, or just plain milk.


Vegetable soup? Look in the vegetable crispers for what's on hand. (Omit crucifers unless you want their strong taste.) If you plan to puree this soup, cut veggies into same-sized chunks. For a textured, unpureed soup, cut them carefully into matching dice. Carrots, onions, celery, sweet potato, rutabaga, parsnips, winter greens. Tomatoes (canned or dried). Herb the soup the way you like.


I've never met a soup that wasn't improved by homemade croutons: cube leftover bread and toss with olive oil.

Fry up or bake (if the oven is already on). Sprinkle on soup as you eat it, a few at a time, so they don't get soggy.


The best way to eat soup? Puree it and serve it in a mug, for sipping. Goodness knows my mother taught me the proper way to approach a soup bowl (move the soup spoon away from you as you scoop the soup, sip the soup from the side of the spoon). I can don the mantle of civilization if forced to, sitting at a table and eating my soup with a spoon. But I'd rather lounge on a sofa, feet up, with a mug of hot, pureed soup in one hand and a book in the other, to indulge in my two favourite pastimes at the same time: eating and reading. Which is actually just one favourite pastime: eating-and-reading.

Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 11, 2011


When I lived in Alabama during my first marriage, my parents came to visit us only once. I was perhaps 30 years old, still yearning to be seen by my parents (by my mother) as . . . as what? A daughter to be proud of? A worthy colleague? An equal? I was never sure what it was that I wanted, but I knew unequivocally that I had never gotten it from her.


They drove down from Indiana to stay with us for a long weekend—my husband and I, three children under five, and my parents, all folded into our tiny house for three days. I no longer remember what we ate, but I do remember my determination to make calas for my mother, Eileen.


It's not that there was a family tradition of calas. We have no ties to Louisiana. But I do love doughnuts, and I had always loved my mother's homemade doughnuts (I thought for years that she had invented doughnut holes all by herself). And the idea of making those yeast-raised rice fritters for our breakfast was irresistible.


In the evening, after dinner, I cooked the rice for the calas. Eileen was as excited as I was about having calas for breakfast. I let the rice cool.


Have you ever tried to cool cooked rice? Rice could be used as a heat source in the winter. You think it's cool enough (the coolness is an inch deep), but when you turn over a spoonful you find the center is still steaming. So you wait a bit longer and turn it over again. Cooling rice takes a long time.


I tend to be impatient. I decided it was time to add the softened yeast to the cooled rice and let the mixture rise overnight. So I did it.


And Eileen, having bitten her tongue for as long as she could bear, couldn't resist saying, "I think the rice might still be too hot."


I ignored her advice. It was my home. My kitchen. I was a grown-up. And so I did what she had accused me of doing all my life: I cut off my nose to spite my face.


I went ahead and added the yeast slurry to the rice, along with the other ingredients. And the minute I did it, I knew Eileen was right. (I actually knew it even before I mixed them together, but how could I give in?)


I spent the night waking periodically to send good thoughts to the yeast: please don't be dead! Please show that you were able to overcome the excessive heat of the rice. Please be growing and expanding in the morning.


Alas, my prayers were in vain (rather self-centered prayers that they were: please let me win!!). When I uncovered the bowl in the morning, the rice was inert, the same volume it had been the night before. The yeast had died. The calas were ruined. Eileen had known. And I had failed.


I don't remember what I did. Did I try to deep-fry the rice fritters without leavening, ending up with deep-fried rice-flavoured hockey pucks? Today, I might try to salvage them by leavening them with baking powder, but I didn't think to do that. Maybe I made sourdough pancakes with maple syrup, instead.


But the lesson I took from that failure was that—no, that's a lie. I took no lesson from it, other than the knowledge that I had once again had to swallow my humiliation.


Looking back, however, I see the pattern. I see how desperately I wanted to make my mother proud of me, to accept me. It may have looked, to the world outside, as if I was trying to impress her. But it was simpler than that, and more subtle: I just wanted to get her attention. I was just saying, "Here I AM! LOOK at me!"


I recently sent a piece to the family website commenting on the fact that I never felt that my mother loved me. My dear youngest brother, usually laconic to a fault, wrote back that Eileen loved us all. She just, for reasons related to her own childhood, had no idea how to express it.


One of my teachers used to say, "It is the duty of the parent to inflict the sacred wound." And I'll be durned if we don't all manage to perform that duty, one way or another.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some Doughnut Thoughts

If someone asked me to write about cutting a doughnut into pieces, I would have to ask: who would cut a doughnut into pieces? Why would you take that perfect shape—round, with a hole in the middle to ensure that the doughnut fries all the way through—and slice it? It's like slicing a banana. And the only time you should do THAT is to put a piece or two on the tray of the baby's highchair so you can watch the tiny fingers work at picking it up. (The only other time you'd slice a banana is if you live in France and are trying not to look like an uncivilized and wild New World bumpkin. In France, you eat your banana with a knife and fork, the way God intended.)


Where was I? Someone was talking about cutting a doughnut into pieces. I suppose you would do it if you had four people at your tea party and only one doughnut. You could slice it into 12 pieces, each slightly slanted, since you can't slice a round thing into square pieces. Even better, make it 13 pieces, so each person could have three and there would still remain a piece about which to say, "You take that last piece." "No, I couldn't possibly. You take it." And so on, a conversation that could last forever or until someone finally gives in and eats the durned thing.


Of course, since I have recently found that I actually have a wheat allergy, all this talk of doughnuts is academic. I have a choice, says my body. I can avoid wheat and look normal, or I can eat wheat and endure a painful, itchy, bright-red rash on the front of my neck. So far, I prefer to avoid wheat.


There are, as I'm sure everyone knows, seven zillion wheat-free (and gluten-free) recipes, most of them for sweet treats. One cookbook is called BabyCakes after the author's gluten-free bakery in New York City and Los Angeles. The lovely young author is very proud of her doughnuts. Like most wheat-free recipes, this one calls for a combination of oddball flours (in this case, brown rice flour, garbanzo and fava bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot, and the always essential xanthum gum). I haven't yet made myself a batch of wheat-free doughnuts, but I see a baker's dozen in my future, because who can live without doughnuts?

Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Time

I woke to the sound of rustling leaves. The squirrels were running their daily marathon in and around my eaves troughs. I checked the clock: 6:30 a.m. Too early to get up, even though it would be a crisp October day, my favourite. I was rolling over to catch an extra half hour of zzzs when I remembered: two pumpkin pies were waiting in the refrigerator with my name on them.


I sprang from my bed and as I performed the morning ablutions, yesterday's kitchen orgy ran through my head: the mixing bowl, the freshly pureed pumpkin, the cloves and cinnamon and nutmeg. The pie shells, partially baked in advance so that the liquid of the filling wouldn't make the crust soggy.


All of that I had tackled in a Dionysian frenzy (it was an orgy, after all) until the two pies were in the oven and I was cheerily humming "Over the River and through the Woods." But I wasn't going to grandmother's house this year. I had made the two pies not for the family gathering but for me alone! Me!


And now, dressed in my fall best (jeans, turtleneck, and wool sweater) I raced to the refrigerator and opened it to spy my golden-orange pies, as colorful as the leaves on the maple tree in my front yard. I took one from the fridge and warmed it in a 300 degree oven as I made my coffee and took my vitamins (thus guaranteeing myself a long life). Then it was time. The pie was warm. I cut it into eighths, pretending that I would be eating only one or two pieces.


Five hours later I was bursting and the pie-plate was empty. Luckily, a second pumpkin pie still sat untouched in the refrigerator, in case anyone else was hungry.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I'm a fan of beets. My husband is not. It is a measure of my upbringing in the '50s that for ten years of the marriage I thought that meant I couldn't eat beets except occasionally at a restaurant.


It took my husband himself to say one day, "Just because I don't like beets (or sweet potatoes either, for that matter) doesn't mean you can't have them. I just won't eat any."


Ever since then I've bought beets when I wanted to, especially at the summer farmer's market, where I can buy teeny-tiny beets, then small beets a week or two later, then medium-sized beets, and finally, at the end of the summer, large beets—all with the leaves attached, of course. (My husband won't eat beet greens either, though he likes kale and collards).


When I arrived home at dinner time recently, our box of vegetables from Frontdoor Organics was waiting on my doorstep, with collards and beets to last us for two weeks. Before I left home that morning, I had put together a shepherd's pie. Taking advantage of the oven's being on to bake the shepherd's pie, I decided to roast the beets instead of boiling them. I cut off the beet tails, washed them, wrapped them in foil, and popped them into the oven.


While the oven did its work, I washed the grit from the beet greens and cooked them up to go with the shepherd's pie. I washed and de-ribbed and ribboned the collards and steamed them into docility for the freezer.


We ate shepherd's pie with gusto and (for me) beet greens.


Later, when the beets were done, I opened the foil package and let them cool while I finished a novel. Then I aproned myself and began to peel the beets at the sink.


I've peeled beets for years, you know. I love the way you push aside the remaining little crown of stems and then with your bare hands shove the skin down from the top to the tail. The skin slips off and your hands turn fresh-blood red so that you rinse them frequently to reassure yourself that you haven't inadvertently nicked a finger.


But this beet-peeling was different. I pushed off the crown of stems and began to peel. The skin was like velvet or fine suede, or maybe a much-washed linen: soft, pliable, with a velvety fuzziness about it. I was stunned. I stopped my usual "let's get this job over with" motions and felt the skin as I pulled it off the beet. Each peeling strip was a sensual experience. When I finished the first beet I picked up the next and nudged its crown off. Very slowly I pushed the first piece of peel toward the tail, feeling both sides of the skin and the smoothness of the peeled roasted beet. My hands, red with the mock-blood, slowly removed the peel. I resented the fact that I had bought only three beets (large ones, more than enough for me to eat) because now there was only one left to peel.


All good things come to an end. I collected the handful of velvety peelings and dropped them into the compost bucket. I sliced the three slippery beets, sprinkled them with walnut oil and balsamic vinegar, and put them in the refrigerator to accompany the next day's lunch.


Were these a new variety of velvet-skinned beet, or have I finally learned to give beets their full due?


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Booty. Pirates are making me walk the plank because I was after their booty.


"Go get your own booty!" they tell me. "You can't have ours. We stole this fair and square, using the sweat of our brow, using every muscle of our brains. This is hard-won, this booty is, and you can't have it."


This is the essence of pirating: every man for himself. No sharing of booty.


Having instructed me on the rules of piracy, they prick me with the points of their swords and force me off the end of the plank into the briny deep. Arms tied behind me, of course. Shark-infested waters, of course.


And as soon as I am in the water, the pirates hoist sail and take off, the ship skimming over the waves toward their next load of booty, Jolly Roger streaming from its flagpole at the bow.


And me? What happens to me? Well, you know the old stories: swallowed by a whale, perhaps. And then later a fleet of dolphins surrounds me and floats me to one of those New-Yorker-cartoon desert islands, a circle of land that is 25 feet in diameter and has one coconut palm for shelter.


I climb the palm tree. Spy a ship in the distance. Hail it by taking off and waving my white shirt. I'm saved!


I write a book about my adventures with the pirates and the deep blue sea. It's optioned by a famous movie director and I become richer than any of those original pirates.


And aren't THEY sorry when they see the movie of my adventures!!



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Unicorn Dream

I ride the unicorn. Riding high. Don't know how I got there.


Was it a dream? (Who knows what a dream is? Is it what happens when you're wide awake? Or is it what happens when you are asleep?) Well, dream or not, it's as clear in my memory as the eggs I had for breakfast today.


People are gathered all along the path: a wide swath of a natural path through the never-cut growth of deep forest. The path is wide enough for me, my steed, and people flanking the path, a crowd at least four or five deep on each side.


What a sound they make. I've never been cheered before, at least not in this life, or not that I remember outside of a dream. I feel like a combination of Joan of Arc and Lady Godiva. Oh, yes. Did I forget to tell you that part? I am naked as a jaybird, in my altogether, and I have to admit that my hair isn't nearly long enough to cover my shame, as they say.


So it is hard for me to discern exactly why that multitude is cheering. Is it because I've done something to deserve applause, or is it simply because I am showing them my ta-tas?


Or maybe I am incidental and they are cheering my unicorn! She is a beautiful mare (okay, they're usually male, but this is my dream and she is a she. And this is one case where the female gets the long, stiff, pointy decoration). She is pure white, with a mother-of-pearl sheen to that beautiful central horn. The horn is like a third eye that just keeps extending and extending, allowing her to pull in more and more information from the world around her.


Sometimes a unicorn is depicted rearing up, standing on hind legs only, tail aloft and flowing. But as I ride her in my dream she is more decorous, now walking, now showing off a little dance step for the crowd.


I don't really have a memory of how we have come together in the dream. Well, that isn't quite true. I was walking through a meadow. Off in the far corner of the meadow was a little fenced-in part. And there she was, lying peacefully in the middle of that fenced area. I entered through a gate, she recognized me, and the next thing I know, we are parading through the forest being cheered by a crowd.


I won't try to decipher this dream. I'll just remember the joy of being carried through the forest on the back of a beautiful unicorn.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take More Than You Need

She opens her hands and says, "Take more than you need. Pass them along. Spread these plants around."


And passers-by on the neighborhood sidewalk stop to contemplate the periwinkle and sweet woodruff and garlic chives loosely pressed into the soil in a cardboard box. They hesitate at first, not wanting to seem greedy, but the gardener insists. Her straw hat shades her eyes, so it's hard to see exactly what her motivation is. Maybe she's motive-less. She wants to get rid of all those weedings, but she can't bear to throw them on the compost heap.


The periwinkle, left on its own, will devour the entire garden, sending out stems that then sink tough, grasping roots wherever they land. Other plant varieties fear the periwinkle. Starting as a single little plant in a bare spot, it spreads down the slope, eating up the space once occupied by the perennial yellow alyssum—which has totally disappeared.


Oh, don't get the gardener started on the rapacious periwinkle! Even its flowers take part in the assault. The periwinkle comes into bloom just as the gardener has steeled herself to the job of ripping it out and reducing it back to its originally planned size. But who can be so heartless as to dig up a flowering plant? Who can consign those pretty blue flowers (she remembers her periwinkle blue cashmere sweater in grade 11) to the compost heap? So because of the flowers she procrastinates, and by the time the flowers have died away the periwinkle's new season is well entrenched, those grasping roots digging into new territory claiming, "Mine, mine, all mine!"


The garlic chives have a totally different strategy. She bought one clump of garlic chives years ago and was pleased to see the pretty white blossoms at the tips of the strong flower-stalks. Each blossom was made up of numerous flowers—somewhat like the botany of the dandelion—and when it was time, the blossom exploded, sending seeds to every part of her garden. She didn't know this, of course, that first year. No one had told her what to expect. But the following spring she found garlic chives everyplace. Still, that year she welcomed the blossoms again: "Oh, how pretty! Any flower is welcome in my garden." But that was the last year for THAT sort of indulgence.


War was declared. This gardener, so loath to do her weeding that she allows the vinca to battle with the other ground covers until a winner declares itself—this gardener set out to control her garlic chives. First, she uprooted most of the garlic chive plants (or so she thought) and ate the pungent stems. Then she attacked the blossoms of the remaining clumps. Whenever a flower stalk appeared, its bulbous tip hinting at its pregnancy, she pulled off the soon-to-flower tip and threw it away. Dozens of times a day, passing this part or that of her little rock garden, she snatched at those flower stalks, removing a dozen a day.


But, like the periwinkle, the garlic chives are still not under control, so every year she offers the superfluous plants to her neighbours: "Take more than you need. Please! I implore you to take more than you need."



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Crowded Elevator

When my brother lived in New York City years ago, he was desperate to fit in. He wanted to be taken for a New Yorker, not someone from out of town, so all his actions were designed to camouflage his Indiana roots. (Little did he realize that his apparently ineradicable Hoosier accent undermined his every effort. But that's a different story.)


Because my brother's office was in a skyscraper, his workday began and ended with a long elevator ride. It hadn't taken him long to learn the etiquette of the big city elevator: avoid eye contact and maintain silence. At that time (and I doubt that it has changed), a New York elevator experience was a silent one. The strangers in suits and ties faced the front of the box, unspeaking and unmoving.


Enter our irrepressible sister Sari, who had emerged from the womb babbling to the world around her. Sari's idea of a good time was to learn the life story of an airplane seatmate. An outing with Sari took twice as long as you wanted it to because she insisted on long conversations with every clerk, receptionist, and functionary. Sari could talk for 15 minutes on the phone to a wrong number.


During our brother's New York City days, many years ago, Sari flew from Denver to visit him. He was proud to show off to his little sister how well he could navigate the streets and subways of New York and to impress her with his version of a true City Guy. One day he even asked her to accompany him to his office so she could see how respected he was and how well he fit into the world of New York journalists.


It was his own fault. Any embarrassment he experienced was due to his having forgotten just who Sari was.


Together they passed through the lobby of his building and joined the throng of office workers and accountants and lawyers and journalists waiting for one of the elevators to land at their feet. Already Sari was glancing around, eyeing the crowd, beginning to form questions, to wonder who did what, where they were from originally, how long they'd been in the City.


Her brother could see that she was itching to begin eliciting life stories, and he began to sweat.


When the elevator came, they shuffled into the box along with a crowd of men in suits and turned to face the front. Silence was broken only by the humming of the elevator motor.


And Sari couldn't bear it. She probably knew that she shouldn't actually start talking to any (or, God forbid, ALL) of these strangers. But she was unable to stand in a crowd with her wonderful brother and NOT TALK. So she began to talk to HIM. She was going to start a conversation with her brother, in a New York City elevator, and the conversation would reveal to the crowd all the things that he routinely hid from his fellow city dwellers.


"So," she said (and even that one spoken word sent an electric shock through the rigid auras of the men in suits), "so, have you heard any news from Delphi lately?"


Without moving his lips, he muttered, "No." Perhaps Sari would take the hint that he didn't want to continue this conversation. He wanted to send her a dirty look to discourage her, but if he moved his head to look at her (or if he stomped on her foot, which is what he really wanted to do) it would be clear to all that he was the one this chatty woman was addressing.


"Well, I had a letter from the folks and Mother said Indiana's having a real heat wave right now."


Surely she was doing this on purpose. Now everyone knew that she was related to him and that he was not a real New Yorker but a Hoosier. He ignored her questions and exhaled with relief when the elevator reached his floor.


I've always thought that it was a miracle that he didn't murder Sari on that trip. He eventually forgave her (though I don't think he forgot his embarrassment). But Sari remained irrepressible for the rest of her life. She always made connections, she was never embarrassed, and she was determined to give everyone the opportunity to come into the center of her circle.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Little Maple Desk and Chair

The slanted top of my little maple desk opens out to make a shelf on which I could, but don't, write.


I don't know where it came from originally. But when I went off to college I needed a desk, and my mother said, "You can take the little maple desk and the little maple chair." So I did.


After college, the desk and the chair both ended up back at my parents' house, but when my first husband and I settled in Alabama, we had room for the desk. The next time we were in Indiana, having driven up there with two babies in our little black Volkswagen bug, we tied the desk to the top of the car and took it south.


Foreseeing the possibility of rain, we wrapped the desk in plastic before we tied it to the car, but the wind made short work of that attempt at preservation. And then the rain started. For ten hours the little desk was bruised by wind and drowned by rain.


When we finally got home, a third of the maple veneer was warped and damaged. That was in 1964.


Today the desk, veneer still missing or loose, sits in a corner of my kitchen. Hidden behind its slanted lid are bankbooks, stamps, a stapler, two pairs of scissors, a receipt book, a ruler, and enough other little items to ensure that something gets jammed beneath the hinges whenever I open the lid. At one point in the last 25 years I honored it by buying pretty new hardware for its three drawers.


But the veneer! I should check the yellow pages, ask around, do some research, and find someone to fix it. Instead, I keep waiting for the moment when, at a party, I will unexpectedly meet the person who will say, "Oh yes. I do furniture. And I specialize in repairing the veneer on little maple desks." I'll hire him in a New York minute.


The little maple chair lives in my multi-purpose room upstairs. When we need extra seating for guests, it is the second chair in line to be pressed into dinner-party service.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 9, 2011


--I'll tell your fortune, cookie, if you like.


--Oh do, oh do!


--Okay, here goes. You will take a trip. Does that resonate with you?


--Oh yes, oh yes. I AM going on a trip.


--Good. I'm on a roll. You will meet a man. A man who is tall and dark.


--Oh yay, oh yay. I need to meet a tall, dark man! Tell me more.


--This man has two wooden legs.


--He what?!


--He has two LONG wooden legs. Oh wait, I see it more clearly now. He's on stilts. That's why I thought he was so tall.


--So what does he really look like? Not that looks are at all important.


--Here. Let me sense the spirit a little more deeply. Oh yes. I see. It's just a kid on stilts wearing a dark Batman mask. Sorry.


--Story of my life. And I'm NOT going to pay you!



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The "little room" of my two-room elementary school was home to the first four grades, its pupils ranging from six to ten years old—quite a handful of an age span. Sister Mary Cecilia was equal to the challenge. She could listen to the times tables, explain the theology of that man on the cross, and clean up the pee from a timid first grader afraid to ask permission to visit the outdoor toilet. She could do all of this with one hand behind her back or—more accurately—one hand fingering the huge black rosary that hung from her waist.


But she couldn't deal with little Jack Anderson's spitballs. How do boys learn to make spitballs? Does Popular Mechanics run a yearly spitball article? Or is the skill passed from older to younger brother ("You want to tee off the teacher? Here's how. You take a bit of paper, chew it up . . .").


I don't know how Jack Anderson learned to make and send a spitball, but he was durned good at it. You'd be sitting at your little desk, one of six in a row nailed to a pair of parallel 1x4s, minding your own business. You might be intent on deciphering the answer to 2 plus 3. Minding your own business, as I said, or thinking about who you would play with at recess. Or looking at Mary Crosby's long black braids in front of you and longing to tug on them. Minding your own business.


And suddenly your little bare neck would be stung. You'd slap the spot, jumping from the shock. And there, on your neck, would be a tiny, sloppy-wet little ball of chewed-up paper.


Jack Anderson strikes again.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Contest

"Jeepers creepers!' she began, "it's raining cats and dogs outside, a real gully-washer! I thought I was a goner a couple of times when my wellies slipped in that mud. Mud! You wouldn't believe the mud. Why it's as muddy as…as…as"


Ella's words trailed off. She had run out of trite metaphors and clichéd similes. She looked at James, who held the stopwatch.


"Sorry, Ella," he said. "You only lasted seven seconds. You're obviously not going to be a winner tonight. But, as you know, heavy the head that wears the crown! Being champion might have been just one more onerous burden for you. Let's move right along. Harold, you're next in line. How about you give a kick at the can?"


Harold cleared his throat and began: "Fourscore and seven years ago… Just kidding, folks. Just tickling your ribs, trying to get a rise out of you. Now here's the real McCoy, the real deal. I'm stepping out here, letting loose with all the bells and whistles and, as they say, I've got rings on my fingers and bells on my toes tonight. I could bend your ears till the cows come home, so don't get your hopes up that I'll let the golden ring slip through my fingers. Old Silver Tongue will be happy as a clam, as smug as a bug in a rug, chattering on for your pleasure. This sort of thing is like mother's milk to me, a piece of cake, as easy as pie. Why, I was born and raised on clichéd phrases and trite expressions. My talent is just a gift. A downright gift. And I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Now you just stop me, James, if I go on too long, but I think I can safely say that I'm the best of a bad bunch here tonight. I believe I've captured the gold ring and James has the stopwatch to prove it! How'd I do?"


Indeed, Harold's performance was hard to beat. He was crowned winner of the Citywide Cliché Contest, and he reigned in peace for the entire year.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apostrophe to a Cello

Oh cello, whence comes (notice that old-timey construction) your human voice?


I've read that the violin most closely resembles the human voice. Well, that might be true if the voice in question is that of Isabel Barakdarian or Joan Sutherland. But for most of us, the violin's range  is much higher than the range of our voices. To me, the violin can be screeching or ethereal, depending on who's playing it. But it seldom sounds to me like a human voice.


But you, you plump wooden darling, you are tuned to my voice and my heart. Your bottom string resonates like thunder at two octaves below middle C. Your top notes—for those who have practiced long enough to be able to make them beautiful—rival the violin in their vocal inaccessibility.


But your middle range! All those tenor timbres that sing from the heart! Those cello tones that groan with sorrow or uplift the heart with their full joy. You are the instrument for humans, you curvaceous beauty.


The bow engages your strings, moving back and forth so smoothly that it sounds like a singer practiced in circular breathing—a sung sound that never ends.


I can apostrophize further in this vein, but I don't want to turn your pretty head. So let's move on to the nitty-gritty. The rest of this monologue is a plea. Since I began studying your ways, I've never asked you for much. But now I'm asking you to respond to my hours of work and let me sound like a cellist. I want to make beautiful sounds not just occasionally but throughout a whole piece. If I give you my loving attention each time I play, surely you can respond to my intention, which is to create beauty.


If I work at becoming less rigid, can you not do the same? As I play the Bach that I've worked on for so many weeks, I ask for your indulgence. I will pay attention to intonation, to bowing technique, to the underlying musicality of the piece, to accuracy as the fingers of my left hand shift from one position to the next, from one string to the next. I will devote my attention to all of these things (not to mention the additional element of memorizing those notes!). And in return, what will you grant me? Can I ask you to sing? Can I plead with you to respond to my attempts to create beauty? Can I at least ask for your cooperation?


If I can get you to accommodate me to this extent, can I then move on and ask you to overlook my occasional gaffe? Will you be forgiving of those times when I use a smidgen too much pressure on the bow—or too little—or when I anticipate the string crossing by a hairsbreadth, a nano-second, or when the little finger of my left hand (called the fifth finger in real life but the fourth in cello language)—when that finger isn't quite strong enough to press the string firmly—in all of these cases I ask your indulgence. I ask for a little mercy. I ask you to give me, if only occasionally, the benefit of the doubt, an A for effort. In short, I ask you to be kind.


And in return I'll practice, I'll dust your dark wooden surface, I'll keep you away from roughhousing grandchildren.


Together perhaps, one day, we'll make beautiful music.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Shared Meal

I'll have a bit more of that polenta, if you don't mind, Mr. Payne.


No problem, Ms. Joy. It's quite delicious. The menu described it as "Apache Polenta," quite a mingling of cultures. You'll notice, as you take a bite, that the polenta holds both grilled onion and grilled poblanos, giving it a southwestern flavor. And, of course, polenta itself is Italian.


You do go on, Mr. Payne. Sometimes for longer than one wants to listen.


Just a bit more, my dear, for I wanted to point out that the corn used for polenta is actually itself a New World product, thus this form of polenta is not really traditionally Italian. The original Italian polenta was made from chestnut flour or buckwheat flour. There. Now I've finished my lecture. You help yourself to a bite of this interesting dish, which seems to be cross-cultural but is actually, as I have shown, mono-cultural—that is, completely New World. 


Ms. Joy takes a bite of the Apache Polenta from Mr. Payne's plate.


Um-m-m. Oh yes, it's quite good. I do like the poblano flavor here. But, Mr. Payne, must you always always elucidate? Do you feel you need to enlighten me with every single bite?


When you eat from my plate, Ms. Joy, you partake of more than just my food. By asking to dine with me, to eat what I eat, you are in effect asking that I share with you a part of myself. So that's what I've been doing.


And I thank you for it, truly I do. It's just that sometimes (not always, of course) I find your explanations and enlightenings just a tiny bit long-winded. Appropriate for the classroom, perhaps, but hardly what I want to listen to as I eat.


And may I ask, Ms. Joy, what it is that you would like to listen to as you eat? Or, more apropos, what is it that you like to eat? What is that mixture on your plate, for example?


Ah. You've forgotten what I ordered, have you? I don't know whether it would be to your taste. But it suits me so well. It's a mixture of tropical fruits, and I ordered it because it felt just right for this hot day. Would you like to try a bite from my plate?


Thank you, my dear. I don't mind if I do. M'm-m. Interesting. I never have much liked that silly star-fruit, myself. It makes up in appearance what it lacks in flavor, so I find it makes a better objet d'art than a food item. But here's a piece of mango. Oh yes indeed, that suits you. Ms. Joy. Mango is indeed a joyous taste. Of course, you know that in this country we get to sample only two or three varieties of mango, while actually dozens and dozens of varieties are grown around the world. So, while this particular mango is quite good, one can't help but wonder whether another type of mango might actually be better suited to this tropical salad of yours.


You know, Mr. Payne, I'm beginning to see just how well your name suits you. You do tend to be—well, yes, a pain. May I suggest that we enjoy our meal and not analyze it to death? Do you parse all of life in such detail?


Indeed I do, Ms. Joy. Parsing life gives me great pleasure, if Mr. Payne can be said to enjoy pleasure. The more I can divide life up into tiny little compartments, minuscule shades of meaning, then the more likely it is that I will find the almost-hidden, nearly-forgotten shards of pain. It is important to reveal their pain to people so they can wallow in it. Without me, they might be able to overlook it.


And that's a most disgusting sentiment, Mr. Payne. As "Joy" incarnate, I feel it is my duty to expand experience for people. The more sensation they can bring to an experience, the more likely it is that they will be able to transcend or to forget their pain. I find this a loftier goal than yours.


Each to his own taste, Ms. Joy. You do your thing and I'll do mine. Whose approach will be more popular? I'm quite sure mine will be. No one is actually looking for "Joy," no matter what they say. People want to feel their pain, dwell on it, hold it, bring it out and fondle it. Your happy-happy attitude is counter to what I have seen of human desire.


People change, Mr. Payne. Whole societies change. People need joy. And, whether or not you admit it, Joy can obliterate pain. In fact, I'm sorely tempted to do that right now. But no, instead of obliterating you, I'll just have another bite, from your plate, of your Apache Polenta.


No hard feelings, m'dear, I hope. Help yourself. And if you don't mind, I'll try a bit more of your slightly disappointing though still interesting tropical fruit salad.


Having realized that they will never come to agreement, Mr. Payne and Ms. Joy continue to eat from each other's plate.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prudence or Fear?

I'm a wimp. I don't make waves. On the subway recently I sat at a right angle to (and several seats away from) a large young man. He slouched over two seats, but the car was not crowded, so I didn't begrudge him that extra space. He wore a ball cap pulled over his eyes. And his face was set in a scowl.


I noticed him only when I realized that I was hearing really ugly rap music. Two girls and a boy were beyond him in the car, and I hoped that the music was coming from them. (They looked a bit more approachable.) But as I kept glancing up from my reading I had to admit that the music was coming not from the two girls and their friend but from the glowering young man nearer to me. The music was not only truly dreadful, but it was not bleeding from his i-Pod. He had a radio or some device (I never did see it) playing at top volume into the subway car. This was not accidental. You might even say it was provocative.


Here's what I wanted to do. I wanted to say to him, in a non-censorious tone, that I did him the favour of not blasting my favourite opera into the public space of a subway car, and I wished he would pay me the same courtesy.


Here's what I did: nothing. I was afraid.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Feed a Grandchild

The phone rang. It was my Nova Scotia daughter saying, "Do you have time to listen to Livvy play "Oh Susanna"? Well, of course I do. Burton (11) and Livvy (8) started studying piano last October and have been chewing up the scenery ever since. So Livvy played (perfectly, I must say), "Oh Susannah," and then "B-I-N-G-O" and then two other pieces. I was so proud of her. As I was finding ever more complimentary words for her playing, she interrupted me: "Nana," she said, "when we come to Toronto this summer can we go to the Mandarin again?"


"Of course," said the Nana.


"Oh good," says Livvy, and it's fairly clear that the Mandarin is at least as large a draw for the Toronto trip as are Nana and Papadino. For those who have not had the pleasure of the Mandarin experience, it is a Chinese restaurant chain in Toronto and other southern Ontario cities. It offers a huge buffet that includes, for the benefit of timid eaters, a station with roast beef, hamburgers, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and other items not usually recognized as typical Chinese dishes.


One summer we took Burton and Livvy, visiting from Nova Scotia, twice to the Mandarin. Livvy is a picky eater. On our first visit she stood with me just aside from the main buffet line, gave a glance down the length of their endless steam table, and wailed, "There's nothing here that I like!"


I was patient (I was a good Nana that day) and said there were no rules except that she had to choose at least SOME non-sweet food before she could have dessert. And whatever she chose she had to eat (Nana and Papadino don't believe in wasting food). I left her to her own selections and she returned to our table with a plate of white rice, mashed potatoes, French fries, and a roll.


Then she had seconds on all those "foods." Her brother, Burton, took on the role of taster for her and came up with a couple of items he thought she might like to try, just for variety. A sprig of broccoli. One baby carrot.


Finally it was dessert time. The Mandarin sets out half a dozen ice cream flavours, and patrons serve themselves as much as they want. Livvy was in heaven. She ate three large bowls of ice cream, one after another. No wonder the Mandarin is her favourite Toronto hangout!



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oh, those fifties!

I saw a photograph of my past recently. It was a picture from the National Geographic, not a shot from my family albums. And wherever they took that picture, I'm glad I'm not there. But seeing it tumbled me back to the past: the early-50s cars, the drugstore's trumpeting sign of "Borden's Ice Cream" and a fountain with not just Coca-Cola but fountain Cokes, the ones made with Coke syrup (also good for nausea and vomiting, you remember) and seltzer that bubbles out of the faucet into the little curved glass with ice and the syrup. You can have a cherry coke or a lemon coke or a vanilla coke if you want, for no extra charge. And one scoop of Borden's vanilla to go with it, in a metal inverted-cone dish, like a wide, short-stemmed martini glass, the dish lined with a heavy white paper cone. For a dime you get the ice cream and the Coke and the opportunity to sit in the back of the drugstore where the tables are and the teenagers are and you can pretend you're part of the group because for a few minutes, for half an hour, you are.


You get your dime by stopping by the family business on the way to the drugstore. You open the unattended register, take out a dime, and write your name and the amount ("Ann--$0.10") on the paper roll that advances when the till is opened. Nowadays, dimes are harder to get.


They've remodeled the old Opera House in my home town, I'm told. It's the third floor of the row of street-front stores on the east side of the courthouse square. When I was young it was not an opera house. It was, if anything, a storage space for the street-level stores beneath it. Whose idea was it (and better yet, whose money was it?) that turned it back into an opera house? And now tell me just who will be using it? The days of divas traveling to outlying areas are long gone. Will this become a tourist go-to place? A Vacation Destination? A historical wonder not to be missed? Well, stranger things have happened.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor