My good friend Janey’s mama died this past weekend and the services were this morning at St. Anthony’s. Our beautiful church shone in the morning light, the stained glass windows threw shards of color across the terrazzo floor. I stared up at the dramatic high beamed ceiling and it occurred to me that a good number of us had made our First Communion there. Our children had been baptized in that exquisite church. The soulful wail of the bagpipes echoed our feelings of sorrow and empathy. So many old, familiar faces came together to show quiet respect and deep love for Jane and her family. After the interment they hosted a lovely brunch at Lago where I had the good fortune to sit at a table with my childhood friends, Andrea and Alyson, and their father Dr. Beasley. In fact, they grew up right across the street from Janey! And also seated with us were Sarah and Julia McTigue who ALSO grew up around the corner from Janey and her family. My family grew up one island away. We laughed about neighborhood adventures and gossiped a bit, too. Dr. Beasley mentioned our grade school, East Side Elementary. I loved East Side. It was a breezy, two-story, mint green building that took up one whole city block. EVERYBODY went there. You either went to East Side or St. Anthony’s. If you lived in our area of town and went to another school that meant you had “a little problem”. Maybe behavioral…issues everyone knew of, you just didn’t talk about it. Dr. Beasley and I chuckled about teachers we adored and those we despised. Made me think of all those wonderful women and men who gave so much of themselves. Starting in first grade…Mrs. Brown. Oh, how we loved her! Gentle and friendly she knew how to make us WANT to be good. My older sister, Cynthia, had her too, which made it ever so convenient when I came along and could just slip right into Cynthia’s ever-so-perfect wake. I loved reading about Alice and Jerry and their dog, Jip. We learned to print on lined paper, we had snack time and recess. Then came second grade. I didn’t really care for second grade all that much. I got Miss Davis and she was old and had bad, curly, too short hair. I recall being rather cranky that year. I wanted a pretty, young teacher. But nooooooo I had Miss Davis. Third grade things were looking up, I got Mrs. Lennon. I was crazy about her. I knew she would teach me cursive and she let me take out as many books as I wanted from the library. By the time fourth grade rolled around I was in trouble and didn’t even know it. My teacher was Mrs. Ross…Lorraine Ross. B**ch. She was unpredictable and had the temper of a junk-yard dog. She could be really, really mean. I tried to tell my parents but they wouldn’t listen. They went to a Parent-Teacher Night and I was thrilled. Now they would see precisely what I was talking about. Now they would see how cold-blooded and evil she truly was. I was asleep when Mama and Daddy got home but the next morning the first thing out of my mouth was, “WELL? See what I mean? Isn’t she awful?!” Mama shook her head and smiling she answered, “Oh, cielo! Don’t be silly. She was just fine. And she really seems to like you!” I went cold all over. That was the kiss of death. I knew I was done. Off we went to school where I tried to put it out of my mind. It was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill day, we did our schoolwork quietly until late morning. And then it happened. Cutting through the stillness of the classroom, the only sounds until then were that of our pencils scratching across papers, Mrs. Ross’ voice rose as she called out, “Alicia, please stand up and tell the class what time it is.” Simple enough. If you know how to tell time. My parents had betrayed me. They had shared with that Baba Yaga-like witch my shameful secret, that I didn’t know how to tell time. Cynthia knew how to tell time in first grade, she even had a watch. I was in fourth…not good! I slowly stood up next to my desk, I remember feeling somewhat resigned but perfectly calm. I stared at the big, round clock hanging above the blackboard and to this day still recall the admiration and amazement I had for those who COULD tell time. Silently I gazed at the clock all the while thinking, “How do those people do it? Is it 6:30 or 11:30? I dunno.” I just didn’t say anything. You see, no one had bothered to inform me that there was a “big hand” and a “small hand”. The hands of the clock were never even referred to as the “minute hand” and the “hour hand”. It was just, “Okay, what time is it now? And now? Alright, now.” They neglected to point out the difference in size of the hands. Well, thanks a lot. But I didn’t get upset and that’s saying something because Mrs. Ross was clearly enjoying herself. Guess she was into her own brand of abject humiliation. I looked around at my classmates unsure if I would see any hint of contempt or derision on their fourth grade faces. And there wasn’t. I saw only compassion and kindness. At one time or another every child in that class had felt the sharp sting of her tongue. I looked back at her and in a very small voice I answered, ” No. No, I can’t”. And I sat down. Later that day when I got home I flew to my mother’s side and confronted her. I was furious. “Mama, how could you? You told Mrs. Ross I can’t tell time and instead of teaching me she made me stand up and show the class that I don’t know how!” My emotions had become uncontrollable. “I don’t understand, Mama! I don’t understand! Everyone in the entire world can tell time except me! What is it? Is there a secret code? How can you just look at the clock and know? How? HOW?”. I threw myself on her bed and sobbed. And that was the moment my mother realized, “Jeez! She doesn’t know there’s a ‘big hand’ and a ‘little hand’!” She filled me in on the big secret, the paradox, the mystery of telling time. And I’m happy to say I have been successfully telling time ever since.
I don’t recall much of the East Side cafeteria but I remember all our food was served on pastel melamine plates and the cafeteria ladies made a mean cobbler. I’ve used this recipe countless times with all different kinds of fruit from apples to peaches and nectarines. I know it’s cheating using a biscuit mix but sometimes you want a warm, comforting dessert that’s fast and easy and this is it. The recipe has been in the newspaper many times and on the box of the biscuit mixes as well. Served with a scoop of ice cream, it’s beautiful!
yield: one batch…serves 8-10
- 1 cup Bisquick or biscuit mix
- 1 cup milk, I use fat-free
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 or 8 Granny Smith apples or any combination of fruit you like, ie. peaches and nectarines, peeled or unpeeled and chopped into 1/2″ chunks
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- Stir together Bisquick and milk then stir in melted butter.
- Pour batter into an 8X11 ungreased baking dish or one close to that size.
- In a large bowl mix fruit and sugar well. If you are using apples feel free to add apple pie spices. For the peach and nectarine mix I add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a large pinch of ground cardamom. Heaven!
- Without mixing, spoon fruit over batter. The batter will rise over the fruit when it bakes.
- Bake for 1 hour or until golden and bubbly.