Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sacred Fire

Vile shrieks emerged from the kitchen. Incomprehensible animal sounds of deep guttural rage.  Everyone seated in my grandmother’s sun room tensed up.  What was that noise?

My mother and her stepfather were fighting about the Boxing Day salmon.  Apparently Howard had taken it out of the oven and messed with the tin foil as he was inspecting its readiness.  In the process, he had destroyed the salmon’s meticulous aesthetic presentation, which had caused my mother exceeding distress.
In the sun room we were playing a game called “Questions,” a conversation starter for dinner parties and other awkward situations.  My Grandma had just read the question, “Would you rather be remembered for your accomplishments or for your character?”

The explosive bellows from the kitchen died down and my mother came to join us in the sun room, a little red in the face and tight in the shoulders.  She huffed and puffed ever so slightly.
 “What’s the question?” she asked.

 My grandmother repeated it.

 Being remembered for character is not always a good thing,” she said.   

 “I agree,” said Robbie, my boyfriend at the time.  I used to call him the Boatman because I met him on a boat. “I would like to be remembered by my accomplishments."  His statement caused some scandal in the sun room.  How shallow and superficial, some of the company was thinking.  But the Boatman already has excellent character and so it is natural that he would wish to aspire to something else.

“Well,” said my grandma.  “I can see that.  I hardly got anything done in my life.  In my next life, I’d like to accomplish more,”   Of course this led to great objection in the sun room.  And tears.  First my sister started, then my grandmother and my mother joined in.  Tears on this side of the family are contagious.   All this emotion inspired my mother to tell us all about her recent singing lessons.

“So I went to see this woman and she gave me all these scales and breathing lessons.  She said I didn’t breathe right so I did her exercises every day. I worked really hard.  Then one week, my soloist at the church had to go away so I didn’t have anyone to do the introit.  So I brought the introit to the singing lesson.  It was only a few bars long.  I’d practiced it a bit before, breathing deeply of course.  And at the lesson, I sang it for my teacher who didn’t smile once through the whole thing.  When I was done, she just sat there.  Finally she said, ‘Well, maybe in a couple of years, you’d be ready to perform it.’”

Now my mother was crying and soon the other women in the family would join in.  No one in the Boatman’s family cries at family dinner and so this is always an interesting experience for him.  My mother wasn’t finished her story.  She continued on a mile-a-minute.

“I just felt so humiliated.  I mean, what a thing for a teacher to say to a student.  For a four-bar introit at a church service in Perth Ontario! And she was charging like 75 bucks a lesson!”

My mother went on to say that she never went back to the teacher.  But the story still wasn’t over.  The next day one of her 12-year-old piano students came to her.   The elementary school talent show was the following day and she wanted to accompany herself singing “Knock, knock knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” by Bob Dylan.  

She went through the song once and it was horrendous.  My mother almost told her it was a lost cause, but then she remembered her traumatizing singing teacher and was determined to coach her student through the song.  She spent a whole hour labouring through the song with her student until she finally sounded good enough for the Stewart School Talent Show. By the end of the story, my mother was in tears again.

“You know, if you’ve got a song, you’ve gotta sing it.”

Now the salmon was ready and my mother returned to the kitchen.  More guttural animal rage and screaming.  This time, Howard was insisting on serving the salmon that had bones in it. The fury was astounding.  After serving everyone’s plate, my mother sat down at the table.  This time, she fumed and huffed and puffed, visibly and audibly.

At the end of the supper, my grandmother and sister had planned something delightful that was guaranteed to raise everyone’s spirits.  Bananas Flambé.

Banana’s flambé, or fried bananas is the stuff of legends in our family.  When my sister Taes was three years old, she went to visit my grandmother in her house in New Jersey.  One day, Grandma told Taes that they were going to a very special restaurant where they could have a very special dessert called Fried Bananas.  So three year old Taes was tremendously excited.  She rushed through her dinner in anxious anticipation of the upcoming dessert. The waitress came with the dessert menu and Taes placed her order.  But alas, the waitress returned with very bad news.  The bananas weren’t ripe enough.  Taes screamed and wailed and made a huge scene, somewhat comparable to the salmon rage.  Rather embarrassed, my grandmother dragged her out of the restaurant.  The next day, Taes called Grandma into the living room where she was watching Sesame Street.  As fate would have it, Big Bird was making Fried Bananas.  My grandmother wrote the recipe down, and our family has been enjoying the delicacy ever since. So on this tense and brawling Boxing Day evening, the whole family gathered around the stove to watch the process.  Taes poured the vodka onto the simmering bananas. 

“I think maybe you need a little more,” said Grandma.   So Taes poured a little more. “Okay, here it goes, said Grandma.  And she threw in the match.  Flames burst up from the frying pan up to the ceiling.  Grandma and Taes froze, eyes widened.

 “Oh wow,” I said.
 “Oh my God,” said my mother.

 “Throw a towel on it, Mary,” called Howard.  “Mary! Put a towel on it!” 

 “Put a lid on that please,” said the Boatman. 
 Nick, my brother-in-law caught the whole thing on camera.  (The movie is entirely delightful; however, for some reason youtube has banned it due to copyright issues. Something about the word flambé, or bananas. We're not sure...)

Probably it took us about forty seconds to find the lid.  In the end, combined with vanilla ice cream, the Bananas Flambé was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. 
The End.

Happier Salmon Days
Sister in Salmon on Salmon with Salmon

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
I Let Go, self-help book by Erica J. Schmidt

Poopy Mango Baby Wipes and the First Day of Christmas
Family Visits and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Other Things that Happened in December

No comments:

Post a Comment