November 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Remembering Leda Carpenter (1877–1954)
We spent every childhood summer with my “aunts,” who were in fact no relation to any of us. Aunt Martha and Aunt Harriet were the surviving two of three unmarried career women who had adopted my mother when she was just 18 months old. Aunt Martha and Aunt Harriet spent most of each year in New York City (36 Gramercy Park,) but they returned every summer to the house where Aunt Martha (and later my mother) grew up.
Leda Carpenter (we children called her “Matante” with no clue that was not her name but Canadian-French for “my aunt”) was another summer constant for Devine children. Matante spent her days in the kitchen, although she too had her own bedroom upstairs, in the back of the house. Matante did all the cooking, day after day after day — fresh doughnuts for breakfast and sturdy thick soups at lunch time. Dinners were of course what everyone ate for dinner in my childhood memory… a big slab of meat with potatoes (baked, mashed, or roasted) plus a small pile of some kind of vegetable engulfed by yellow pools of melting butter.
Aunt Harriet and Aunt Martha were sweet ladies of leisure, always ready to read a story or play chess or Mah Jongg with children (children ALWAYS would win.) Matante was not sweet, she was tart. Although happy to see us when we visited her kitchen, she kept the most interesting things there off-limits to children’s fingers. I remember she had a big jar full of chocolate chips that I really wanted to get my hands on. Naively, I asked her how she would know if somebody just happened to eat some when she was not looking.
She fixed me with her fierce bright eyes and said, “I count them, every morning, and every night!” This was all the persuasion I needed to leave them alone!
Leda was in fact my mother’s real aunt. Leda was the reason the leisurely wealthy ladies adopted my mother, brought her up in comfort, and sent her to Smith College when she was old enough. But Leda came from a much darker childhood than my mother knew. On Leda’s 12th birthday, her school attendance ended, because a child 12 years old could get a job in the textile mill, 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Of Leda’s earning, her mother let her keep two nickels a week, one for the collection plate at Sunday Mass, and the other to save up for buying presents at Christmas. Daily lunch was one slice of bread, and if Leda was very, very lucky, there might even be a piece of salt pork spread over her bread.
I was reminded of Leda today, when I went looking through all my old recipe collections for a scalloped oyster dish that my mother especially liked. Please don’t be too shocked by the recipe that follows! It is not exactly health food, but it is delicious.
Leda Carpenter’s scalloped oyster casserole
Preheat oven to 350, grease casserole dish
1/2 pint of shucked oysters
1/2 cup of milk or cream
1 cup coarse cracker crumbs (saltines or oyster crackers)
1/4 c butter
1/8 tsp salt
Drain oysters into milk. Melt butter and mix with crumbs.
Put a thin layer of crumbs into casserole dish. Add layers of oysters, crumbs, oysters, and crumbs, so top layer is buttered crumbs.
Pour salted milk mixture over everything. Bake 35 minutes.
Scalloped oysters were a popular 19th century dish (Abraham Lincoln loved them.) Apparently they are also a popular holiday food in the southern US. But this particular recipe makes a very small casserole. I remember that my mother would sometimes make this as a treat when I visited her. A party recipe would need to be quite a few times as large. I am guessing that my mother’s memory of this recipe was also of a small special treat that Matante would make just for the two of them, in the long winter months when the elegant aunts were all away in New York City. But I really don’t know.
Memories remind us how many people we knew that now we would like, when it is much too late, to have known a lot better. Memories remind us, “Pay attention today. All our yesterdays vanish so much too fast.”
Both these songs remind me of my brother Mark Devine (who died in 1998) — Mark never quite found a place on Earth that welcomed his big heart and maybe-too-bouncy spirit. Very, very early his imagination took off for some outer-space world of his own — only my mother’s hard work kept him still earth-connected as long as he stayed among us. It was not very long.
Mark, I have not forgotten you. So much that is best in me is what was best in you. So much that is worst in me is exactly what made you so angry with yourself so much too often.
Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you. Mine certainly is.
October 29th, 2014 · Comments Off on Technology and progress: Past and present
My mother could remember when an electric iron and central heating were huge tech novelties.
I can remember my first pocket calculator (which cost a fortune!), and I remember how long I kept using my CRC handbook and sliderule anyway, not the new toy. I remember my first VHS, the freedom of time-shifting or just re-watching good movies. And my first home computer! But all those were commonplace items to my two daughters.
My daughters remember a time before there was an Internet; a time before smartphones, Siri, ubiquitous constant connection via the “cloud.” To their children, all those will be unremarkable facts, as commonplace as deliveries from the coal man and the ice man were to my mother’s household in the 1920s.
My mother was 8 years old when women got the vote. Soon thereafter, her aunts daringly drove from Northampton to Springfield in order to have their long hair “bobbed” by a barber. Oh, the freedom of not spending hours every day maintaining long hair — and oh, the wonderful freedom of owning a car!
All new technology pokes and prods our shared culture. Even despite some nostalgia, most of us would be reluctant to give up our latest new tech freedoms.
Here’s hoping the book that inspired these thoughts (The Second Machine Age, by Erik Bryniolfsson and Andrew McAfee) will provide more answers than I can now see by myself.
That’s what it took to clear up all the trees that Hurricane Irene dumped back and forth across the road that leads to our house. So now we could leave if we wanted to, but we don’t.
We charged up all our hardware before we lost power, so I sit here posting the photos from my iPhone into my Flickr account via my little Sprint wifi hotspot, by the light of a fireplace fire and one wax candle.
We’ve go plenty of food and water but come tomorrow we will probably venture out to get some more electricity.
The Northwood NH Fire and Rescue team are super people, in the best sense of the word. These men made their way down the long dirt road to our house, chopping up great big trees as they went along.
The man with the chainsaw remembered the last time they came out, after the microburst storm in 2006, when he helped to remove a truly enormous tree from my neighbor’s house. Compared to that, Hurricane Irene was not so bad.
We have no lights or fridge until (probably) tomorrow but big wooden matches will still light the propane stove. So we had hot dinner, with toasted marshmallows to follow.
And we had to eat up every bit of the ice cream melting in the freezer. I blame it all on Hurricane Irene!
Is this the table where JRR Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings? Is it the setting he had in mind for Elrond’s conference where 4 hobbits, 2 men, and one each of wizard/elf/dwarf pledge their faith to a fellowship of the One Ring?
It may well be both of these, for it is a fine old stone table in the gardens of Merton College, one where (it is said) Tolkien would often sit outdoors writing on fine days like yesterday in the years after 1945, when he became Oxford’s Merton Professor of English language and literature.
…The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.
As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you…
It’s worth reading more of, as is Kalilily, so be your own angel and go check it out!
“When they scroll the credits of my life, Dave’s is going to be one of the first names on the list. And when they scroll the credits for blogging, outlining, writing, scripting, journalism, XML, RSS, SOAP, podcasting and a pile of other technologies, standards and practices we will all eventually take for granted, the same will be true for those as well.”
Dave’s contribution to my first year of blogging, when he was a Harvard Berkman Fellow, may be overshadowed in the view of history by his use of Berkman Thursdays and Bloggercons to assemble a critical mass of bloggers, “real news” people, and technophiles and get them excited about stuff like campaign blogging. At Bloggercon 1, Dave showcased audiobloggers in front of a roomful of Apple-toting technophiles–those people, including Dave, soon pushed those concepts forward into podcasting.
For more of the wit and wisdom of Dave, see his own blog. Happy tenth, Dave, we look forward to the next ten!
Tomorrow is Homecoming at my alma mater. I’ve attended the Homecoming Football game with my family since I was in my teens. It was my Uncle Shane who started the tradition. He’d buy reams of tickets and arrange huge tailgating parties. Shane was exceedingly gregarious, and nothing pleased him more than to have family and friends all together for food and quaff.
His children have continued going to the annual festival, as have I and my children. My two sons went to every Homecoming Game that’s been held since they were born. Now they both attend the University: Now I travel to see them at the Game. There’s a satisfying symmetry in this.
Autumn may be a season of change for some things…not for others!
October 18th, 2006 · Comments Off on Could Frank Wilczek be right about this too?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that no matter how long you wait in line for a resident parking sticker, there will be some reason that you can’t get it today:
“I’m sorry, but you need to show, not only your car’s registration, but also three pieces of mail delivered to you within the last 30 days, at least one of which must be a utility bill, bearing in mind that cable TV bills don’t count as utility bills.”
So tonight at dinner, I was proud to announce that it had taken me only TWO separate trips to our City Hall Annex to get one new resident sticker.
Frank may well have an insight into this problem. “Maybe any time they actually give you a parking sticker, some penalty gets deducted from their pay check?”