When I was 13, my sister Jane and I (I don't want to include those pesky commas and you can't make me) went over to Wisconsin with our parents for my father's family reunion. We didn't go anywhere very often, let alone over to another state, but it was the last time his family would be on the original homestead and so it was reunion time. The oldest brother in the family, who had lived there for years, was selling it and moving to town. His wife, we discovered, wasn't handling it very well, and so, when we arrived in the evening she was nowhere to be found. Jane and I went exploring along the river while the grown-ups stood and talked in the yard. At some point in our discoveries, we discovered her hiding behind a shed. In those days, unbeknownst to us, she'd been finding solace in the bottle, until solace turned into something else which showed up that evening along the Yellow River.
She came out of hiding and we stood by in silence as she wept and threw her arms around our father in utter and complete dejection. That and drunkenness. I do not say this out of anything but affection for this dear woman who always wore jewelry and bright red lipstick, and looked like an aging star. To my sister Jane and me, that's what she was and what she will always be. But in that moment we saw something we didn't understand. Not at the time. Turns out, leaving a home you've known pretty much your whole life isn't an easy thing to do.
I've told you before about that night in the cabin on the river, one of the coldest I've known. It was the same cabin in which my grandfather lived, until one day he took his shotgun out and ended his life, back in 1957. It had been a tough life. He'd turned to the bottle after he lost his leg in a logging accident. Then, he lost his wife to cancer, understandable given those circumstances, which took him even further into those dark Wisconsin woods. He would sometimes - my mother told me, not my father - take off his wooden leg and beat my father with it. Not long after that, my father left home and was on his own. He was 12 years old. But, those are stories for another day.
I'd like to add here, that my grandfather would like to be remembered not for those times, but for who he really was and is. He died when I was only 3 and so I never knew him then, but I've seen the photographs. In those early days, he had such kind and beautiful eyes. Inside those eyes is where his true self lived, and still does.
But, that's not why I started to write this. This is supposed to be about the first time I ever ate cheesecake. So, I'll try again....
The following day was the day of the reunion and the yard was full of aunts, uncles and cousins. Sometime in the afternoon, my cousin, Donnie, who looked like Howdy Doody and was almost as nuttily pleasant, tried to convince me to eat a piece of cheesecake. I had never heard of such a thing and had no intention of doing so, but he was so darn convincing and I prided myself in a willingness to try just about anything, so I finally caved in and ate a piece. Nothing fancy-schmancy. Just cheesecake. No fruit. Baked in an oblong metal cake pan. But, what a revelation! Cheese cake? How could this wonderful thing be? After that first piece, I wanted another, and then another, but I managed to show some restraint and walk away, still filled with longing for just one more bite.
Alas and alack, I made up for it later and now it's not allowed in the house except on special occasions. Is the autumnal equinox a special occasion? I was just wondering....
I suppose I should bring this back to my grandfather now, so I'll just say, I'm betting my grandfather has learned to love cheesecake, much more than the bottle. As a matter of fact, I know he has.
Mmmm. Cheesecake, Sting, and "Be Still My Beating Heart." It just looks unrelated.
The image is borrowed from Mr. Google.
You got a lot in that cheesecake story. I don't want to miss the post when you right more about the 'family'. It sounds an awfully lot like mine.ReplyDelete
It's a tad dark, at times, and I don't like concentrating on that, but I'm sure some of those stories will see the light.Delete
As you know I'm a big fan of your writing and this piece was no exception. The way you wandered around, stream of consciousness, made me think that you were actually talking to me. So much sadness and pride here. And somehow the cheesecake stuck it all together!ReplyDelete
It just started, almost on its own accord. Sometimes, I have an idea and then the Universe seems to have another idea and they somehow end up together.Delete
Love, loss and passion - such are our lives it seems.ReplyDelete
I never did like cheesecake when I was young but now, like you, it is not allowed in the house.
When my son's bring it to me for Mother's Day, I make an exception. Other exceptions might show up, but they'd better be few and far between. Far too tasty.Delete
Cheesecake is something very special. I don't remember my very first piece, but I know how I feel when it reaches my tongue today. :-)ReplyDelete
Lovely story about family and expectations...
Scrumptious beyond belief comes to mind.Delete
Strange and interesting and delightful how memories come, and which ones.ReplyDelete
Isn't it? A wonderful and crazy thing.Delete
How skilfully you weave your stories and tie these seemingly disparate details together. You are the most wonderful storyteller!
We have to confess that we have never developed a fondness for cheesecake. Perhaps we have never had one made to the correct receipt, but it has always been too tasteless, too solid or too cheesy to really have made it a favourite pudding. However, if one should mention chocolate profiteroles, then we are sunk!!!
I'm enjoying an early Sunday morning chuckle. I love your response. I am also having a sudden yearning for a profiterole. I believe they are quite similar to what we call eclairs. close enough. Chocolate, and all.Delete
Another wonderful story. A sad intimate story, yet it seems familiar??? I remember those days, as apparently you do...a series of "firsts". I can remember being so very young when I first became aware of my father drinking, or other relatives. How strange it was in my young eyes...ReplyDelete
I started out wanting to write about the cheesecake incident and it took on a life of its own, with a repeat of some biographical info.Delete
I've always been very glad that my father never drank and ended that cycle of physical abuse, which doesn't always happen. Seeing my beloved aunt this way was very unfamiliar territory.
Families, each, have such intriguing stories. Sometimes it is difficult to share these with others. You are a braveheart to tell us these very personal stories. They truly give us a ticket to, perhaps, tell some of our own family stories of which I find very difficult to do. A very good post. -- barbaraReplyDelete
I never thought I'd let myself get this personal with my stories, but as time moves on, and I get more comfortable with my blogging family, it's become easier. Everyone has their stories to tell, and I hope anyone who wishes to, will feel free to do so....Delete
Thank you, Barbara
All of our old relatives had such hard lives. They had to struggle without self-help books,ReplyDelete
anti-depressants, grief counselors or even clergymen who were trained to help others cope with their demons. When my grandfather hung himself in the garage, it was hushed up. That generation felt they had to be rigid to be strong and then they cracked under the pressure.
Thank you so much, Janice, for this response. My grandfather had to raise his children during the depression, by himself. I've often wondered how he held up as long as he did. And there were so many like him, in similar situations.Delete
Thank you Teresa! Love is indeed all you need!ReplyDelete
It's nice to hear from you. Have a wonderful time on your vacation! Don't forget to eat your veggies, I mean vegetables. ;)Delete
Dear Teresa, such a tender and loving posting about your grandfather and your aunt--the aging star. And then the taste of cheesecake and the surety that your grandfather has forsaken the bottle and taken the same delight as you in this culinary masterpiece. Your writing always leads me down a path of that enlightens me and draws me ever forward.ReplyDelete
And Sting's song is evocative. I couldn't watch the video because the movement brings on Meniere's problems, but the words. Ah. Peace.
Hi Dee, I have to admit to having a bit of trouble with the opening to the video myself, with motion sickness issues, but the song... ah, yes. I hope you're having a fine Sunday. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my posts. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.Delete
WOW! Now that's what I call a post. WHEW! Happiness, sadness, and a little levity too. Ya know what? It works. You certainly have vivid memories. I do have a short cheesecake story. I once ordered cheesecake at a restaurant. AND I ordered it al-a-mode. My dining companion said you should never order cheesecake with ice-cream. This happened more than 30 years ago and I still remember it. Vivid memories.ReplyDelete
Well, that's a silly rule, and rules are meant to be broken. And a fine cheesecake story it is. You master of decadence you! :)Delete
How well you wove this all together, Teresa. Only problem is that now I want a pice of cheesecake, which I dare not do. Isn't it interesting how one idea leads to another, then another; a song or a poem or a family connection?ReplyDelete
:) Thank you, Penny. Memory is a multi-layered thing.Delete
LOL Teresa. I agree. I have some memorable "whipped cream" memories too.ReplyDelete
I bet you do. :)Delete
While the whipped cream out of the can is very convenient it just doesn't compare to the real thing. Nothing better than whipping it yourself. Adding just the right amount of sugar and a perfect amount of vanilla extract till it forms perfect peaks. I'm sure we agree.ReplyDelete
We might be heading into dangerous territory here, so I'll just say, yes, I agree. :) The real thing, always.Delete