The Detective’s Daughter — Lost Language

Kim in Baltimore enjoying the last days of summer.

“What’s black and white with a cherry on top?” This was my dad’s favorite joke. “A radio car,” he’d say before anyone could answer and he’d laugh as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard. A radio car.

A few nights ago two police officers came to have a talk with a man who lives down the street with his girlfriend. She’d been on the porch yelling at him right before they showed up.

“What’s going on?” my daughter asked.

“Not much, just a radio car stopped down the street,” I answered.

“A what?”

“A radio car,” I said again. She stared at me, a blank expression on her face. “A patrol car, you know, the police.”

This exchange left me wondering. Does anyone still say radio car? What other pre-historic phrases am I using that baffles my family and friends?

Have you noticed people seldom say telephone anymore? It’s either landline or cell. I’ve even had to describe to my kids about  phone booths.

I think back to my own childhood and the phrases my grandmother would use. When she said, “I’m going to lay across the bed,” that meant she was going to take a nap. And that was exactly what she would do, lay across her bed and not on the pillow or under the covers. I still say this, but it means I’ll be napping upstairs and not on the couch.

One of my favorites was the word “jackpot”. And no, it didn’t mean a big prize, in fact quite the opposite. If you were in the jackpot it meant you were in a great deal of trouble, not a winner.

For years we said things such as icebox and hanky because that’s what my grandparents said.

Why is it that some expressions hang on while others disappear? Is it because times change or is it that we move farther from our families these days and the old terms fade away with our distance from them?

My daughter is never going to use the term radio car, or say she’s in a jackpot, but hopefully some of my “old” sayings will be passed along for future generations to wonder over.

Readers: What phrases or words do you remember your parents using that are no longer in fashion?

The Detective’s Daughter

Kim in Baltimore protecting my eyes from the eclipse.

Nat King Cole sang about those lazy, hazy days of summer as Nana cooked in the kitchen. I could hear the music as I played in the yard. The windows were wide open despite the muggy heat of a Baltimore summer and the fact that Nana had a brand new air conditioner. She refused to turn it on no matter how hot the temperature.

I lounged in a tiny pool that Pop-Pop used a bicycle pump to inflate. Nana had put several throw rugs and an old comforter to protect the bottom of the pool and to cushion my feet from the hot cement.

Sometimes my friend Valerie from down the street would come over to sit in the cool water with me, but most often it was my dog Rikki who kept me company. He stayed in the shade under our picnic table watching over me as Pop-Pop sat dozing in his lawn chair with a transistor radio to his ear listening to the Oriole game.

This is how I remember the summer days of my youth. Baseball games, steamed crabs on Sundays, snowballs at night. I can close my eyes and conjure up the smell of Nana’s rose garden after an afternoon storm and hear the whistle of the trains passing the house and smell the tar of the street that was too hot to walk across in bare feet.

I tried to recreate those summers for my own children; the freezer stocked with juice pops, a wading pool in the yard, a gentle dog to keep watch. I have an air conditioner in the window I rarely use. When we first moved to the house we only had a few fans. In the morning I’d strip the beds and load all our sheets in the freezer for the day. At bedtime we’d grab them out and run as if the devil chased us up the stairs, throwing ourselves onto the sheets not even bothering to smooth them out or tuck them in. We just wanted to enjoy those few moments on the icy bed.

The coolness of the sheets was as brief as those summers that we remember not so much for the warmth of the days, but the happiness of being together.

Readers: What are your favorite childhood summer memories?

 

 

The Detective’s Daughter — Page to Screen

Kim in Baltimore enjoying the air conditioning and a cool glass of watermelon lemonade.

 

I’m going to do a dangerous thing. I’m going to read a book and then see the movie! What’s that you say? Don’t do it? I know, I know! I set myself up this way every time. Although most novels make a disappointing show on the big screen, a few have managed to capture the essence of the author’s story. I loved Practical Magic, the fabulous book by Alice Hoffman turned into an equally fabulous (in my opinion) movie starring Aiden Quinn. I  think Sandra Bullock was in it, too, but who knows once Aiden Quinn hits the screen! To Kill A Mockingbird and Gone With The Wind are two of my other favorites.

People are passionate over the books they love and are not forgiving when Hollywood botches up a story the reader holds dear. I am a great fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I was thrilled when I learned Ms. Evanovich modeled her character after Sandra Bullock. That was exactly who I saw as I read each novel. When there was talk of One For The Money being filmed, I was overjoyed. That fizzled fast enough when word spread that Katherine Heigl – not Sandra Bullock – was to play the lead role. I gave it a chance anyway. Who wouldn’t want to see Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur? I was sorely disappointed.

This time will be different, though, I’m sure of it. While sitting in The Charles Theatre taking part in their weekly revival series, I saw the coming attractions for My Cousin Rachel starring Rachel Weisz. It looked good enough that I felt I’d be willing to pay for a full price movie ticket. I had read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca several times and had seen the 1940 movie as well, but I’d never read My Cousin Rachel. I made haste to my local library and borrowed a copy. I was only halfway through the novel when I realized the movie was showing at my beloved Charles Theater. I was truly torn about going before I’d completed the book, but didn’t want to miss it’s run at my favorite movie house.

Just as in every great novel, my life had a major plot twist before I could make it to the cinema. My husband ended up having heart surgery on the very day we had planned to see the movie. He recovered at an amazing speed, but we have yet to see the film. I might need to wait until it’s on Netflix at this rate.

The book kept me company over these past weeks and the story now is as close to me as a dear friend. I’m counting on Rachel Weisz not to disappoint me.

 

Readers: What books do you think were turned into enjoyable movies? Which ones should have stayed on the pages?

The Detective’s Daughter — The Emerald

Kim in Baltimore soaking up the sun…finally!

I’m sure every woman has heard the cheesy line “what’s your sign?” at least once in their life, but how about “what’s your birthstone?” No, really, I’m asking. What is your birthstone? As you’ve probably guessed from the title, mine is an emerald. That’s right, I’m a May baby and on the last day of this month I’ll be…well, it’s only a number, right?

I’ve been told a girl’s first piece of “real” jewelry is her birthstone. That was true for me. On my tenth birthday Nana and Pop-Pop gave me my first ring, an emerald. I wore it everyday for years and still do on special occasions. They bought it at Earkes’ Jewelry store on Light Street, the same place Dad bought presents for Mom.

You can only imagine how grown-up I felt with my emerald ring. I’d always admired my grandmother’s rings. Nana had been married twice. On the ring finger of her left hand she wore the wedding set  Pop-Pop had given her and on her right hand she wore a large square diamond which had been the rings given to her by her first husband, John. After his death, Nana had the set combined to make one large ring. Though her diamonds were sparkly and beautiful, and maybe even a girl’s best friend, they were not as lovely as my small emerald.

The first year I taught school I did a really stupid thing. Well, I probably did a lot of stupid things, but this one landed me in the emergency room with my fingers stuck in a plastic toy. It was one of those boxes where you hammer in a shape. The shape was stuck and I thought it would be easy enough to stick my finger in and push it out. The problem was my ring…the emerald… got caught on an edge. After a few teachers prodded and pulled at my hand, my finger swelled. I was in tears by the time they got me to the hospital, but not because I was in any pain, I was terrified my ring would be destroyed. Fortunately, my ring survived, the toy wasn’t as lucky.

The emerald is the symbol of rebirth, fertility, and love. It is believed the owner of an emerald will have foresight, good fortune and youth. It may even cure stomach problems and ward off panic, keeping the wearer relaxed and serene. I’m not so sure about that, relaxed and serene are not two words anyone would use to describe me!

My grandparents have been gone many years and I now have Nana’s rings. Every Mother’s Day I wear them to honor her. Gemstones may have healing powers, but this emerald holds the power of keeping the memory of my grandparents alive for me.

Readers: Do you wear your birthstone? Have you investigated the history and meaning of your stone?

The Detective’s Daughter — Seeking Fortune

By Kim in Baltimore where April is living up to its shower promises.

On Mulberry Street, a mile or two from where I grew up, sits an abandoned shop that once housed my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant. It was called The White Rice Inn. When Nana didn’t feel like cooking her traditional Sunday feast, or I had a good report card, or some family tragedy had befallen us, we visited The White Rice Inn.

It was an exotic place for a little Irish girl who was use to white potatoes for dinner. I loved it all – lo mein, chow mein, fried rice, chop suey – but none of that compared to what was served afterwards.

At the end of each meal, along with the check, fortune cookies were delivered. There was one for each of us. First you ate the cookie, then everyone had a turn reading aloud what was written on their paper. You had to choose your own cookie, no one could hand it to you.

Through the years I have eaten hundreds – really, I’m not exaggerating – hundreds of fortune cookies, and I have saved nearly every single fortune paper that was tucked inside. I have boxes of fortunes, tiny papers stuffed in drawers, hung on bulletin boards, taped on my laptop, pressed between the pages of books and bursting from my wallet.

In 2004 my family and I took our first cross-country trip to San Francisco on the Amtrak. With such beautiful sites as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and Lombard Street to see, I chose the most spectacular of all for our initial tour…The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

Opened in 1962 and family owned, the factory is located at 56 Ross Alley in China Town. We headed down the alleyway unsure that our directions were correct and finding the sign, stepped into the small establishment. In a cramped room an older woman sat at a table pressing snips of paper between the edges of warm cookies. The aroma of vanilla was heavenly. I held my camera up to snap a photo, but the woman put out her hand towards me.

“No, no. One dollar,” she said. I gladly unfolded the dollar bill from my purse and gave it to her. She shoved it on a shelf where a wad of crumpled bills overflowed from a cigar box. I would have given her ten dollars for the photo had she asked.

I bought so many bags of fortune cookies – who knew they came in chocolate! – and worried they would be eaten or crushed in our suitcases before we returned home. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is always the top item on my itinerary anytime I visit San Francisco.

Did you know that fortune cookies originated here in the USA and that they were not available in China until 1993? In China the cookies are advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.” I tried my hand at baking these several years ago for Chinese New Year. The cookies tasted good, but they hardened so quickly I couldn’t get the fortunes inside. Instead I had my guests take a cookie then choose a fortune from a bowl.

Last week I went away on a retreat with my good, good friend, Ramona. About twenty-five writers attended and we were each asked to bring a dessert to share. No, I didn’t bring fortune cookies, but someone else did. A lovely lady named Teresa had baked them herself and they were delicious. Maybe even better than the factory cookies! Inside she had tucked sweet messages such as “eat a brownie” or “what would Dr. Phil say?” Most of them, though, had messages related to writing or being mindful which was good considering we were participating in the Mindful Writers Retreat. Teresa was kind enough to share the recipe with me and gave me permission to share it with you. I haven’t attempted this recipe yet, but it’s on my to-do list.

The night I arrived home from my retreat I was tired from driving and didn’t feel like cooking. We ordered Chinese food. After dinner I went in search of the cookies only to discover someone (I’m not going to mention any names, but if you’re a wife you have one of these!) threw away the take-out bag before removing the cookies. This will never happen again.

Here is the recipe:

FORTUNE COOKIES

5 tablespoons butter, melted*

1 cup sugar

1 pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

4 large egg whites

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons milk

Plug in fortune cookie maker and preheat for 5 minutes (until ready light is on.)  Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl and mix until frothy and well blended.  Sift flour and salt into egg white mixture and stir until fully incorporated and lump free.  Add melted butter, milk and extracts  and blend until the batter is thick and smooth.  Coat top and bottom of fortune cookie maker with melted butter and apply a tablespoon of the batter into the center of each plate.  Close cover.  Cook for 2 minutes, until lightly golden brown, then remove cookie.  Working quickly, place fortune in center of cookie and use the folding tools to shape.  Fold as directed.

*  Let the butter cool after melting, it should be lukewarm when you mix it into the batter.

NOTE:  The amount of sugar in the batter determines how dark the fortune cookie gets with baking.  Add less sugar to make lighter color fortune cookies.

Kim, this Fortune Cookie Maker comes with a ladle, a fork-shaped thing to lift the cookies off the griddle, two little plastic pieces to hold either end of the cookies to help close them and the top of the plastic box they come in has two indentations to help keep the curved shape.  When I need room for the next two, I use a cupcake pan to completely cool them.

I hope you enjoy them!

Readers: has your love of a certain food inspired you to take a trip? Do you keep your fortunes? Do you have a favorite?

 

The Detective’s Daughter — Slither!

Kim in Baltimore watching the snow melt on the first day of spring.

I don’t like snakes, never have. Growing up in the city amongst concrete and black top, I’d really no reason to come across one, but it didn’t stop me from checking under the toilet seat or searching under my bed before I went to sleep.

Most children are afraid of the dark, afraid of some inanimate object eerily coming to life in their room, or of a monster lurking under their bed or in their closet. My fear was something I could name, a reptile I could visit in the zoo or, worse yet, at the circus my mom and Nana insisted on dragging me to every March. The circus train would pass our house each spring on its way to Penn Station. On many occasions it would stop just outside our back doorstep, waiting for what I was never sure. It was in these moments, as the train sat silently, I worried the most.

Suppose one of those slithering creatures escaped? I was never concerned about the lions or tigers, they’d be missed immediately. But how long would it take to notice a lone missing snake?

It was Thanksgiving morning. I was fourteen years old. We had just begun to prepare the relish trays, I was in charge of the pickles and my sister took care of the olives. The sirens from a radio car and fire engine broke the calm order of our holiday. We were good neighbors, so we shuffled outside, coffee mugs in hand, to stand with the rest of our block. We did our duty and showed our concern by standing on the pavement and gawking at the house where the emergency vehicles were parked.

“Kitchen fire,” said one neighbor.

“Heart attack,” said another. But there was no ambulance. Seconds later Animal Control pulled up. One man carried a large stick, the other man held what looked like a laundry bag.

“Snake,” Dad said.

The poor woman in that house had found an eight-foot python behind her stove. A young man several blocks away had been in search of his pet python, Serena was her name, all morning. Fortunately, Serena had been well fed and cared for by her owner and the woman or her Toy Poodle had not been on the python’s Thanksgiving menu.

I learned two things that day; snakes seek out warmth, and that my fear was not as unfounded as my parents led me to believe. There’s more than one benefit to sleeping in a cool room, I thought.

When I was twenty-five years old I taught preschool. A local nature center came to give a presentation one afternoon. The center was known for their care and rehabilitation of wild animals. I arranged for this program because I wanted my inner-city students to see these animals up close and to learn how to respect nature. The director of the center brought along with her quite a few animals that included an opossum, a barn owl, a hawk, and, of course, a snake.

“I need a volunteer,” she said to the crowd. My principal pushed me forward. “This was your idea, after all,” she  reminded me.

My job was to hold the snake. I thought I was going to faint. I could actually hear my heart beat in my ears along with great swooshing noises. I swallowed my fear and held out my hand for the small yellow and brown corn snake. Her name was Lipstick and her skin felt soft as silk material, not like slime or leather as I’d feared. She gently moved her body around my wrist and up my arm flicking her tongue in and out. It was the only time I’ve ever held a snake.

My dad was sixty-one years old when he came to live with me and my family after his house  burned down. As the months passed, it became apparent he was not well. It was hard for him to put sentences together or to walk very far. We turned our family room on the first floor into a bedroom for him where he’d have easy access to the bathroom and the back porch where he could go to smoke.

By year’s end he began to have mini strokes and was now unable to move around on his own. I took him all his meals and sat with him drinking endless cups of coffee while watching game and talk shows.

One evening, after everyone was asleep and  I was up reading, I began hearing odd sounds. I checked the children, but they were sleeping soundly. The dogs were curled by the fireplace. After checking each room without discovering the source of the shuffling sound, I decided to check on Dad. He had been asleep for hours. I opened the door at the top of the stairs and saw a brown pattern move on the steps. I screamed and flipped on the lights. There was Dad slithering up towards me, his tongue twitched from side to side as he slid on his belly maneuvering his way up the stairs.

“Did I scare you?” he asked and rolled over on his back. I could barely breathe. My body shook so hard I had to sit down on the floor. I reached down and touched his shoulder to reassure myself it was only my dad. His face was covered in sweat from exertion.

“I want that brown stuff in a mug,” he said.

“Coffee?” I asked. “I will bring you your coffee.” But I still couldn’t move.

“I scared you,” he said again and began to laugh.

He laughed so hard for so long he sent himself into a coughing fit. It took the fire department to get him off the steps and back in bed. He continued to tell the story and laugh about it for days afterward. I believe it was the last hearty laugh he enjoyed.

In my childhood I was not afraid of ghost or the dark, but of something slithering near me. My dad has been gone from this world for eleven years now, but there has not been one time since that evening that I have not been leery of opening that door and just a bit terrified I might find him slithering up towards me.

The Detective’s Daughter — Wanting to be Moore

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore enjoying the warm weather. Wait…it’s still February, right?

I was ten years old and had my future mapped out fairly well for a fifth grader. I knew I wanted to move to Minneapolis on my eighteenth birthday and live in a second floor apartment in an old Victorian house on a snow-covered side street. Pop-Pop gave me a glass jar so I could begin saving for my dream. I tried to convince my best friend at the time, Denise Hampton, to go with me. She could live upstairs from me and wear a long vest and a scarf on her head. She did move, but without me and before we had even made it to middle school.

I had every detail set up perfectly in my mind. A magazine or television station would hire me and I’d have a gruff but kind-hearted boss who would guide my career. I knew this could happen, I had watched this life unfold every Saturday evening.

“You know, Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t really live in Minneapolis, don’t you?” Mom asked one morning as she filled my bowl with Cap’n Crunch cereal.

“Of course I do,” I said, hoping that in real life she lived with Dick Van Dyke in New Rochelle.

kim-auntsEvery weekday afternoon I would walk a half block from Saint Mary Star of the Sea School to my Aunt Madeleine’s house for lunch. Aunt Madeleine lived with her daughter whom the family called “Little Madeleine” despite the fact she stood nearly six-feet tall, a good foot over her mother. I was in high school before I realized that the title “little” referred to her age not her size.

Auntie would fix me what she called a “tuna plate” which consisted of a scoop of tuna salad on an ice burg lettuce leaf, carrot sticks, potato chips, and a dill pickle spear.

We sat at the counter in the kitchen watching reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show on a black and white portable television. It was there I first fell in love with Mary Tyler Moore.

However much I adored Laura Petrie and her perfect hair and fabulous wardrobe, it was Mary Richards I aspired to be. I did not want a house in the suburbs, I wanted to be a writer. It was a career woman’s life I intended to emulate.

For ten years I was that woman, I even had an apartment in an old Victorian, but it was in a dodgy side of town rather than on a picturesque snowy road. My life seemed to reflect Bridget Jones more than Mary Richards!

Through the years as I changed from career woman to suburban mom, I followed Miss Moore’s  career and shared her movies and shows with my own children. I began to admire her more for her personal achievements than for her television accomplishments, especially her work in searching for a cure for diabetes.

This past November at Crime Bake as we celebrated the fabulous William Kent Krueger at dinner, all the attendants were given a task to write a little something that would include bits about Minnesota where Krueger’s series take place. I sat at a table with the Wicked Cozy Authors and together we created quite a lively and funny piece. Julie Hennrikus represented our table and read our creation to the audience. Sherry Harris threw a cap in the air at the final sentence mimicking the MTM show opening. Our table won for being the most creative.

kimmtmIn January I was crushed when I learned of Miss Moore’s death. I remembered being a young child and seeing Nana crying at the kitchen table. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Our Judy died.” At the time, I didn’t understand her affection for Judy Garland, but now I’m sure I feel quite the same as she did on that day. Someone beloved had been lost to us.

Our idols, people we admire, shape our dreams and our goals. I’ve been across this country four times and have yet to visit Minneapolis. I’m determined not to let another year go by without making the trip. Mary Tyler Moore, her spunk and determination, gave me courage to reach for my dreams and to constantly remind myself that I’m going to make it after all.

Readers: What famous individual has had an influence on your life?