January 3, 2012 | by Aaron Gilbreath
If someone had asked my granddad where he got the chaps in this photo, he might have replied, “At the gettin’ place.” His speech was rich with colorful phrases. To him, a convincing salesman was someone who “could sell eggs to a chicken,” the relationship between a person’s actions and character best summarized with “Whatever’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” And when dismissing someone unsavory, he preferred the placid “Let ’em peck shit with the crows” to a crass “Fuck them.” So many of his sayings reflected elements of the hardscrabble, rural world that shaped him.
The gettin’ place in this picture is a roadside stand in Apache Junction, Arizona. Largely known nowadays for its scenery and suburbs, back in 1947, Apache Junction was a fringe outpost east of Phoenix with a few cafés and tourist traps along the highway. Signs announced: Postcards! Indian jewelry! Pan for gold! Read More »
December 26, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
Over the weekend, in preparation for Hurricane Irene, I moved clothes out of the back-room closet in our Brooklyn apartment, which in heavy rain has been known to leak. I moved coats and a few vintage pieces I never wear but which seem too peculiar to throw away. And I moved the large silver garment bag I’ve carried with me to six apartments in as many years.
You see, when I was twenty-four, I had a wedding dress made. It was—and remains—a beautiful dress, the sort of garment for which “confection” is actually an apt description: sheer Swiss dot overlaying pale pink, a voluminous crinoline, a tea-length skirt. The effect was a bit Funny Face, but not so bridal that I wouldn’t, as I told everyone at the time, be able to wear it again. Where I would have occasion to wear such a dress again was an open question. But when I was married, surely, this question would resolve itself like so many others.
From the get-go, I knew I wanted Mary to make the dress. I’d been pressing my nose against the glass of her Lower East Side shop for the better part of a decade and relished having an excuse to walk through the door into the tent-striped interior, which smelled strongly of Votivo’s Red Currant candle.
Mary was a strong-minded and somewhat intimidating figure whom I quickly grew to revere. Tall and imposing, she was generally black-clad, sporting a feathery twist of hair, red lipstick, and a pair of severely stylized glasses. She said I was the easiest bride she’d ever dealt with; I think I may have just been so young that I was easy to push around. That, and I didn’t have an interfering mother. My mom, who came with me to only a couple of the numerous fittings, was out of her element in the fragrant, feminine space and deferred instinctively to the designer. I didn’t want to prolong the process. I was uncomfortable with someone lavishing so much of her time on something for my express use. Read More »
December 12, 2011 | by Thomas Beller
The streets are covered in snow. The wind whips harshly, a blizzard’s aftermath, and in the laundry room in the basement of my childhood building, I find a neighbor pulling clothes out of the dryer.
She is distracted when I say hello, stares at me unrecognizingly. But then something clicks and a shaky stream of lucidity pours fourth. She asks after my mother, my wife, the kid. And I ask after Gary, my old babysitter, who used to take me downstairs to their apartment on the C line.
The building has four lines of apartments—A, B, C, and D—and two separate elevators. The C line, facing east, gets the least light. It shares the landing with the D line, which overlooks the river and gets the most. Through a door, down the service hallway, and through another set of doors, and you are on the A-B landing, where I grew up and now return for the holidays.
In the whole building, these days, there is a slight tension, the old guard and the new. Anyone who has come in during the last decade spent a fortune to be here. The old guard are certainly not have-nots, but they come from a different world. They march with dignified postures in and out of the lobby, nodding to the doormen, almost indignant at what their apartments are worth, the strain of the contradiction playing faintly on their faces. Read More »
November 29, 2011 | by Vanessa Blakeslee
I became a writer because I was raised at a diner in rural Pennsylvania.
My parents opened the Chestnuthill Diner the first week of August 1984. The diner arrived the summer I turned five, and I watched, gaping, as its twin sections were maneuvered from flatbed trailers onto the concrete foundation that had been poured weeks earlier.
I celebrated my fifth birthday in a corner booth, pleased by the shiny chrome and flame-red seats, the flurry of waitresses rushing past in their brown-and-white striped uniforms, the tables bursting with customers. That was the first day the larger world opened up to me, the realm outside school and playmates, where real life really happened—the swear-laden frays between the cooks masked by radios blasting heavy metal, the combined whiff of grease and lettuce as the produce deliverymen wheeled their hand trucks in the back door, the coolness of the dough resting in the kitchen.
After school, on weekends, and for the next six summers, I would enter the back door of the diner on the heels of my mother, who trundled her coin bags, bookkeeping ledgers, and payroll checks. Past the bright bakery where dinner rolls and pies cooled on the racks, around the corner of whirring compressors and my grandfather’s work bench—he kept himself busy part-time as our fix-it man—stood the basement offices. Read More »
November 15, 2011 | by Chris Wallace
I used to joke that I have daddy issues with Jacques Pépin, because it was he who really raised me. My parents divorced when I was a year old and, until I was thirteen, they split custody in every conceivable way. It was my father’s habit to write in the mornings and watch his favorite cooking shows in the afternoon, with a drink, while preparing dinner. On the days I was with him, I watched too. Usually it was Julia Child, or the Frugal Gourmet; later it was Jacques, and then Jacques and Julia. Recipes and technique were like my nursery rhymes and I grew up—“spoiled rotten,” my dad would say—only ever eating perfect pie crust. By the time I was eleven, my knife skills were impeccable, my Caesar salad the best ever (in my family, hyperbole is hereditary). When my mother invited my high school girlfriend and her parents for dinner I served a traditional osso buco and risotto Milanese. It was a success—my culinary coming out party—and one in which my father, who felt he deserved the credit, took particular pride.
As a Depression baby, my father was raised by a generation of people who wouldn’t utter a sound if their hair were on fire. He spent most of his childhood in the kitchen, with the family cook, because he was afraid to go anywhere else in the house. The Wallaces do their suffering in silence. My father’s father, David Frederick Wallace Sr.—Fred, he was called—went off on drinking benders, leaving the family for days at a time. He died of liver failure at just fifty-seven. Fred’s father committed suicide and the family never spoke of it. The thought of my own father having a personal conversation with his mother, or with his grandmother, whom everyone called the Dragonlady, seems impossible—with his Aunt Bess or his uncle, President Harry Truman, outrageous. Read More »
November 8, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
Lately, I’ve been thinking about wine cake. In the last few years there have been several “lost recipes” cookbooks—one, I believe, from the doubtless clinical and spotless kitchens of Cook’s Illustrated, another by the great Marion Cunningham. Both are good, and both are made up largely of heirloom recipes passed down through the generations.
The way people learn to cook today—or don’t—is a subject worthy of some study, because it’s changing before our eyes. Back in the day, people learned to cook from their mothers, or maybe from a domestic science course. It was a matter of survival, or at least good household management, and was regarded as a necessary part of adult female competence.
There was also the question of continuity: consciously or not, recipes were a living link with the past—not merely of sentimental value, but time-tested before we had four forks to tell us whether to make something.