Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oil and Water

Ed emailed me today to  tell me that one of my few remaining aunts, Sr. Karen, died on Friday. I suppose that every family has that relative that they would rather not have show up at their front door. In our family, it was Sr. Karen – but she showed up anyway.  She is also one of my top candidates for the person least likely to be a nun – but, again, she was.  If the capacity to put on blinders to the feelings of others and plow ahead with what you want can be considered a virtue, then that virtue was Sr. Karen’s. 

I think we all have our stories about Sr. Karen that illustrate what has caused us to form our particular opinions.  I’ll just offer two brief ones and hope others will add their own.  The first was when my son Pat, was an infant.  We were in my parents’ living room and my wife Mary was nursing Pat.  Sr. Karen walked into the room, grabbed Pat and started pulling him away from her in mid-nurse.  The second instance happened when Lora and I were visiting in California, I think for Mom and Dad’s Golden Anniversary.  It was getting late in the evening, the sky was dark and everyone was tired.  We were sitting in the living room and Sr. Karen was there as well.  People kept hinting that they were tired and wanted to go to bed, but Sr, Karen did not take the hint.  One by one, people got up and headed back to bed. Finally, only Lora and I were left and finally, we said we were going to bed. We walked down the hall and turned out the lights. But Sr. Karen still didn’t leave. She just sat there until she felt like going.  The ultimate indictment for me is that on one occasion Dad, who had the patience of Job and was rarely roused to anger, actually kicked her out of the house.    

I’m sure that other family members have happier memories of her.  I have the sense that she and my sister Mary were close at one time and that she helped Mary out.  She would also send out a family newsletter every Christmas  before blogs and email came into vogue and update everyone on her year and  her various travels.  Though it was mostly about her, it was a way of trying to keep the family connected.  I suspect that Sr. Karen saw herself as a caring person and that by gracing people with her visits she was doing them a favor. 

Ed says that, despite her flaws, she had potential, and perhaps he is right.  She went into the convent at fourteen years old and while still young was sent to the Solomon Islands (near New Guinea) to work in the missions there for a period of ten years.  I suspect some kind of cultures shock occurred – this wasn’t a time in history when farm girls went off to exotic islands.  Even Mom, who gave Sr, Karen no ground for anything said that when she returned, she was never the same person. 

Mom and Sr. Karen were like oil and water.   Their relationship would have made for a TV situation comedy.  Whenever I called Mom during the last few years of her life, I could always expect to hear about the tribulations she had suffered at the hands of Sr. Karen.  At that point in their relationship, Sr. Karen could have been St. Karen and she still would not have had a chance. Even so, she was Mom’s sister and the original left.  In fact, if she is still alive, my Aunt Geneice in Texas may be the only one.

As I was updating my information about Sr. Karen on the family tree, I also discovered that my Aunt Beryl had died in January of this year.  Beryl  was Mom’s next youngest sister and the polar opposite of Sr. Karen.  She was the one Mom was closest too and had a tremendous amount  of character.  Her life, though, is a whole different saga.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Blast from the Past

Sometimes old news can be new.

Recently, Judi posted a pictures of the six Northen siblings at the reception after Mom’s funeral. Whenever I look at Dave in that picture, it reminds me of one of the very few of my Grandpa Wilkins that I have of him at a younger age.  In that picture he is standing with his oldest daughter, my Aunt Lucille, who is a young adult and his mother.  This means the picture must have been from  about  1940.  I cropped the two pictures and pasted them together and put them out on Facebook with the following comment:   “Judi and Ed, I've always thought this picture of Dave in the photo Judi posted the other day looked a lot like a younger picture of Grandpa Wilkins, but see what you think.”

Ed's and Judi’s comments were as follows:

Ed Northen    I have never looked at the two photos together but yes they do resemble one another.

Judi Frensley   I think they do too! I think he has the same body frame too. It's hard for me to remember Grandpa Wilkins not in a wheel chair.

Though I was glad that I saw these comments that support my perception, what really interested me was the conversation that came next.

Cloice Janson Dave looks just like your Dad....good old Jim he was always so good to me... Even when I recked his car, in to a gas Pump at Dave's Mobile station....anyone remember THAT????

 Judi Frensley Well of course we remember that. I was in the car with you. This story has been told many times in this family.

Cloice Janson Yeah, that was embarrassing, the day after I got my license .... We didn't even get in trouble... WELL guess I did by David but your mom and Dad were so good about it.
Yep I thought my driving career was very short and over. Thank God your dad saved me… Many many memories with you guys.

For the younger generation of Northen’s who may not know,  Cloice was Dave’s first wife and one of Judi’s best friends as a teenager.  This exchange struck me on a number of levels.  First of all, I was out of the family loop by that time and had never heard the story. Second,  I thought it was hysterical.  I was laughing out loud at Judi’s comment about being in the car.

More than anything, however, what it does is reinforce my own warm images of Dad and Mom. I know that people outside of the family who hear about our upbringing simply don’t get why we all have such loyalty to Dad, but this is exactly why.  Dad and Mom would do anything to try to help out their children’s friends and Cloice was by no means the only one.  A number of them ended up living at our house – even becoming part of the family.  Mom also said that what was most important to her was that her kids group up to be good people, and when it came to how they treated others, they led by example.

What I love about Cloice’s comment is that her image of Dad is fresh from a time warp.  She and Dave separated early in their lives, so her image of Dad is that of the person he was many years ago and it is the core image of Dad that I still carry with me.  What Cloice said here, only as a kind of passing joke, to me is a real tribute to them.  If people think as well of us when we’re gone, then I think we will be satisfied – at least I know I will.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Zucchini Bread and Memories

( The following is blatantly plagiarized from Maya’s Lilies and Elephants blog.  My mother made zucchini bread as well – Ed and Judi can probably either back me up or prove me wrong – but the following words are all Maya’s. If you have zucchini bread memories, please share them in the comment. MN)

When I was a kid, my mom invented a game for us called Mixer. Or rather she probably gave an "official" name to an activity that countless other mothers had also shared with their children. Mixer was this: we took every allowable baking ingredient (flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, water, milk) and mixed them into a bowl however we wanted, and then baked and ate it. They didn't guide our cooking, just let us go to town. Keeping in mind that my brother and I were probably four and five years old at the time, the fact that my parents ate these concoctions and deemed them "delicious" is a testament to their love. 

In the past 30 years, my cooking style hasn't changed much, other than the fact that I now know the ratio of baking soda to flour shouldn't be 10 to 1, or you're going to get some strange looking (and tasting) baked goods. 

I like to cook, I really do. But I'm a vegetarian, and many of my dinners involve things like veggie stir fry with baked tofu or seitan, and that's pretty self explanatory. The majority of my cooking is in one of two forms:  intricately follow a recipe from a book/site/pinterest that I could never duplicate without it, or throw everything in the pan/pot/baking dish and taste as I go along, adjusting and learning from trial and error. There's not much of a middle ground. 

My day to day "recipes" also don't hold much special meaning to me, unless you could general sustenance as special, which I guess it kind of is. Still, they didn't seem like something worthy of a blog post. But to keep to the theme, I did, technically, choose a food that does have a special meaning to me. Then, I googled it and found a version here on All Recipies. (Note: this is not my recipe nor do I know the person that wrote it, but it got 5 stars so why not?). The recipe is for Zucchini Bread. I admit, I've never used this particular recipe, but it seems about right. To duplicate the bread of my memories, I'd suggest adding raisins, if you're a raisin person. If not I'm sure it'll be just fine without it. 

Zucchini bread and I go way back. Probably farther back than Mixer and I do. My Grandma Ventura lived in Buffalo, NY which was, at the closest, about six and a half hours from where I grew up (significantly more when we lived in Georgia, of course). As a child, zucchini bread was synonymous with my grandma, and vice versa. Every time she came to visit us, she'd get off the plane holding loaves of zucchini bread wrapped in foil - I can still picture this exact scene.... it was in the days when you could still meet people at the gates. Going to Buffalo to visit her, we'd leave after my parents got home from work, usually around 6 or 7 PM I suppose, and arrive in the middle of the night. She'd always be wide awake (I was amazed at this, since it was usually 2 or 3 AM by the time we got there) and have zucchini bread and Italian Wedding Soup waiting for us. Sadly the soup was out for me after I became veg at the age of 11. This tradition happened every visit, which was at least Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year, and Easter every year, from the time I first remember until I was about 17. In college, I wasn't at Grandma's as much, but when we visited each other, it was the same. 

I think I knew when Grandma started to get sick because the zucchini bread and soup stopped. I couldn't imagine she'd break the tradition for any other reason other than that she physically couldn't keep it up. She either wasn't able to remember how to make them, or didn't have the energy. I'm not sure which, as she covered her symptoms up well at first. Probably, it was a combination. Eventually, she couldn't remember what the stove was for.

My Grandmother passed away, seven years later, from stroke induced dementia and Parkinson's. Towards the end, she didn't recognize us and could barely communicate. But we talked to her anyways, telling her stories from the past, hoping to get a glimpse of some recollection, to share happy memories with her. Once, when she seemed to stop recognizing us and communicating all together, we reminded her of our late night arrivals to her house, and how she used to greet us with zucchini bread and wedding soup. She quietly said, "but no soup for Maya, not with the meat." Whether it was a moment of lucidity, or she was more alert than we thought and just couldn't tell us, we'll never know. But in that moment, I realized not only how much those visits, and that zucchini bread (and for everyone else, the soup), meant to us, but how much they must have meant to her. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April Quiz

Here's a quiz for family members to try that takes in some of the events of the first few months of 2015. 

      The  name of Eli’s new architecture firm is _____________.
(a)    EN Architects, (b) Urban Geometries,  (c) Architects R Us, (d) Northen Exposures
2.      The most unusual ingredient in a pupa cu l’ova is ___________.
(a)    ground lamb,  (b) a hard-boiled egg,  (c) curry powder, (d) crushed candy canes

3.       My brother  Pat and his wife Rose recently bought a house in ___________.
(a)    Hawaii,  (b) Canada,  (c) Mexico,  (d) Florida

4.       Which member of the Cotter family did not swim in a race recently ___________.
(a)    Amelia,  (b) John,  (c) Liam, (d) Melissa

5.      The name of the “little sister” in Seattle that Maura has been taking on trips and outings for quite a few years is _________________.
(a)    Latifah,  (b) Rachel,  (c) Brooke,  (d) Junita

6.       For over the past year, Maya has been working for CHF.  What does CHF stand for?
(a)    Camden Health Fund,  (b) Community Housing Federation, (c) Corn Hole Fanatics,
(d) Chemical Heritage Foundation

7.      Connor just celebrated a special event.  What was it?
(a)    confirmation,  (b) winning school basketball championship, (c) his birthday, (d) indication into school honor society

8.        Which family member preached a sermon in their church last month?
(a)    Ed,   (b) Lora,  (c) Judi, (d) Melissa

9.        Which of the following cities did Lora, Mike and Maya visit in February?
(a)    Madrid,  (b) Istanbul, (c) Morocco, (d) Lisbon

10.    Of the following people, who is the only one that is currently working a job directly related to their undergraduate degree?
(a)    Maura, (b) Melissa, (c) Maya,  (d) Eli

And a few family history questions.

11.    Elvera Northen’s  last name before she was married was __________?
(a)    Lewis,  (b) Wilkins,  (c) Ryman, (d) Sitzman

12.   The children of James and Elvera Northen can trace their family history back to all of the following countries except which one?
(a)    England,  (b) Ireland,  (c) Germany,  (d) Switzerland


1 (a),    2 (b),    3 (c),    4 (d),    5 (d),    6 (d),    7 (a),    8 (a),    9 (d),    10 (d),   11 (b),   (12) b