Three early memories about stories

Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.
Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.
Credit: instappraisal.com.

The first story I remember writing was called “The Burglar and the Bear.” It was written with cherry-scented markers on notebook paper, and I was in second grade.

I’m pretty sure I remember the genesis of this story, too — a jar you could pull story prompts out of in my second-grade classroom. It might have been part of the ongoing project where we created our own “anthology” in a blank journal we were given — or maybe that was third grade. Either way, I kept at it even when I wasn’t getting graded on it.

At around the same time, I started playing a game with other girls in my class during recess; we would pretend we were dogs, living under a picnic bench, which happened to be in Alaska. (I don’t even know). We were each different breeds of dogs, most of which we knew of thanks to pages of full-color photographs of different breeds in the school library’s encyclopedias. I think I was a beagle. Someone else picked an Alaskan malamute, because I guess a Siberian husky wasn’t interesting enough?

Eventually I started writing them down, because if they were entertaining enough to play out once, they were entertaining enough to read about later, right?

When my dad was visiting recently, I spent a long time sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Home Depot, reading. Far from being unpleasant, it was a nostalgic feeling (and definitely preferable to spending an hour arguing with Matt and my father about cement).

Why was this so comfortable for me? It reminded me of the number of times I stayed behind in the car as a child.

Not through any neglect on the part my parents, understand. We traveled a lot by car, because plane tickets were often out of reach. My parents were also antique dealers, so we stopped at every garage, rummage, tag, yard, or estate sale we found, as well as every fleamarket and antique shop. When a ten-year-old nerdy girl gets bored of staring at Depression glass, she goes back to her books.

And my books were in the car.

And we lived in an era in which it wasn’t seen as vast neglect to do this. Dude, the windows (and doors) were open, I wasn’t suffocating. I was happy reading Marion Zimmer Bradley while my parents “invested” in boxes of heat-resistant chocolate bars from the first Gulf War.

This was one way in which I coped with the stuff my parents found interesting and I found boring.

(Another way was building stories from the paintings and knick-knacks and furniture that surrounded me–pretending I was a princess in a nebulous fantasy-land composed of netsuke, ruby flash souvenir glass, faux-ormolu clocks and cigar-box Romantic art. That’s the next anecdote).

It was also how I managed stuff which was too much, emotionally, for me to handle. I remember sitting in the car in a cemetery in Connecticut at the burial of one of my parents’ friends, for example.

Over my seldom-used writing desk, I still have a print that used to be hanging in my mom’s antique shop — called “Twixt Love and Honor,” it depicts two 18th-century gentlemen about to duel over a woman’s honor.

Recently, I researched the print, and found it was a chromolithograph based on an 1892 painting by Laslett Pott. (Which itself might have been a colorized version of an 1886 engraving called “The Duel”). In the late 19th century you could apparently send in 25 tobacco wrappers from the Wilson and McCalley Tobacco Company to purchase this or one of two other framed prints in the series. (I think they’re the ones who added the “TWIXT LOVE AND HONOR” text, as by all accounts that was not the name Pott gave the painting).

I realize by any aesthetic standard, this isn’t a beautiful picture. For all I know, Pott could have been the Thomas Kinkade of his day, and the artifact itself is mass-produced, its frame and backing falling apart, faded with years of sun exposure. But it’s beautiful to me.

It hangs over my writing desk because… this is where it all began. I distinctly remember walking around my mom’s antique shop before school one day (middle school), creating stories from the objects I found there. My story for this one was not quite the same as the one implied by the art; I was convinced it showed a couple being set upon by bandits at a crossroads. I didn’t even notice the print’s name; I only learned it when I asked my mom, “remember that print that used to hang in your shop…?” At that time, she told me she’d never sold it, and sent it on to me.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, but these are three stories about stories, remnants of my youth, that I wanted to share.

What are your early memories of stories?

My grandmother’s kitchen

Reheating my trashy frozen food like a boss

I don’t know what prompted me to write about this — maybe thinking about my love of so-called “trashy” foods, and how the foods we ate on my mother’s side of the family were emblematic of poverty.

The thing to know here is — I’m not kidding when I use the term “poverty.” My life has always been comfortable, but my mom’s was not. I spent loads of time growing up with my maternal grandmother and my aunt (my mother’s older sister); their lives were a lot better by the time I came around, but they were still poor, even by the standards of a poor part of the country.

We ate well, from a certain perspective. We never went hungry. But the foods I ate were… very different than what I ate in my own home, and very different than I suspect my peers were raised on.

To name just a few of the things we ate…

  • White bread, above all. At home I ate wheat, although in the 80s “wheat bread” was basically just white bread with caramel coloring.
  • Bologna. My grandmother lived on bologna sandwiches with mayo on white bread. I still remember the order she sent me into the corner grocery store all the time: a quarter-pound of garlic bologna.
  • Occasionally, if we got fancy, there was olive loaf. Or turkey (which my grandmother ate with butter. Yuck).
  • Speaking of processed meat products… Spam! Or Treet, or some off-brand thing. Looooooved pan-fried Spam sandwiches on English muffins. Still do.
  • there was, in fact, government cheese. Though I don’t think anyone actually liked it…
  • Cheese sandwiches (toasted or not) and grilled cheese were a thing, but always with American cheese singles, the kind with the consistency of the plastic they’re wrapped in.
  • Omelettes. Except my grandmother called them “cheese eggs,” and told me how she had learned to make them from my Uncle Sonny after he came back from the Navy.
  • For all this use of fake cheese, there was almost always real cheddar in the house, too. They just… didn’t put it in anything?
  • Tinned vegetables, never frozen, and rarely fresh. I remember complaining to my mom that the frozen peas we ate at home didn’t taste as good as the (salty, mushy) canned peas.
  • Canned soups. Still unironically love Campbell’s Cream of Celery.
  • Boiled eggs. It was also a treat to get pickled eggs when we went to bingo.
  • Always, always tea in the afternoon, which was Salada black tea served with sweetened condensed milk. I thought it was disgusting, at the time.
  • My grandmother perc’ed her coffee, which I’m told is also disgusting, tho I never tried it.
  • Boiled dinner – that very New England meal of bits of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potato.
  • Roast beef, which my grandmother would cook to the point of leatheriness
  • Frozen fish sticks
  • TV dinners
  • This disgusting macaroni soup with tomatoes and hamburger (always ground chuck, because it was cheap), which I disliked even then
  • Hamburgers (again, from ground chuck) and hot dogs
  • Apple crisp. Learned to make it from my aunt.
  • Always ice cream. Store-brand vanilla.
  • Popsicles
  • Strawberry shortcake when berries were in season, which they made by smashing up berries and putting it on those bright yellow cakes. With Cool Whip on top, of course.
  • In summer, there was raw rhubarb with salt
  • Nobody drank water as a beverage. Nobody. There was, as I said, tea and coffee. There was always Coke in the house. (My mother was a Pepsi drinker, though, and I take after her in that regard). There was “orange juice,” which was usually an artificially sweetened orange-like beverage like Sunny D. There was Kool-Aid in summer.
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Gravy from a mix
  • Pizza was too newfangled for my grandmother (this was not my Italian grandmother, mind), but there was occasionally frozen pizza, like Mama Celeste.
  • when all else failed, Burger King. My grandmother loooooved Burger King.
  • Or that regional treat, michigans.

What foods did you eat growing up? Are they similar or different from what you eat today?

#TBT, the text edition (Thursday, January 22nd)

I love the idea of Throwback Thursday, but I never participate — mostly because I seem to perpetually lack pictures of myself.

Words, however. I’ve got words in abundance.

So have some words from the past.

January 22, 2004. So…. if I got a webcam so that I could keep an eye on Burnbright during the day while I’m at work, would that be a redeeming use of a webcam? (I suspect this wasn’t long after I got him — which I think was in November of 2003)

January 22, 2006. After seeing this casting questionnaire for a LARP I’m attending at InterCon this year, holy shit, I’ll never complain about casting questionnaires again. This one is quite literally likely to reduce me to tears. My favorite “bug-eyed monster”? My favorite universe? Essay questions involving theremin and Vogon poetry? ::cries::

Holy shit, that was for Across the Sea of Stars, at my very first Intercon, Intercon F. Man… I was complaining about casting questionnaires even then? When I had filled out, what, two of them? (And, um, sorry, Jeff D. I understand the purpose of casting questionnaires a lot better now).

Also I believe that the job interview I’m preparing for (mentioned at the end of the entry) is for the job I eventually accepted (and eventually lost) at an educational marketing company. DON’T DO IT, LISE. DON’T GO INTO THAT SCARY CAVE.

January 22, 2007. HOLY SHIT VETIVER. Ah, so this was when I was first discovering BPAL. Little did I know then how much Matt would end up liking Highwayman, and how little subsequent bottles would smell like that imp.