Friday, June 10, 2011
There is Mother's Day and Father's day, but I am Declaring Secret Parent's Day. Our Life with Margie McCalla
The best picture, ever, of Mom and Dad, before 7 children hit them.
We celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day, but what about the other parents we have had in our lives?
This week, our family fondly reminisced about the one and only, Margie McCalla, our cook and family member.
Margie is not happy to be photographed
We were so blessed to have her in our lives; we cannot believe the luck and grace of 36 years with her. In our house, Margie was Sacred. What she said--went, even to my Mother. She ruled us so completely because we knew she loved us. She was not our Nanny; she was the head of the house. She was the keeper of our secrets, shared humor and sass, solved every murder in The Post, and stood up for all of us. My happiest memories in life go back to my years and years in the kitchen with her. Margie wrapped me in an apron and stood me on a chair. There we would discuss life, food, Santa Claus, spring flowers…you name it. She absolutely taught me the art of witty banter. With a wooden spoon raised in the air, she would tell me, "That is not funny," or, "I've heard that joke before," or she would double over and laugh.
More photography under duress
Margie had opinions, and we believed in them. I still believe in them. The kitchen was her laboratory and pulpit, where a vast array of ingredients was transformed into swooning courses—served piping hot, beneath a Southern spiced, running commentary. Soap Operas were analyzed, baseball players were discussed, assassins were vehemently, chopped, diced, and skewered, as Margie ran her race to the 6:30 serving. I felt grown up. The joy of life centered there, and we paused over a sprouted seed in an avocado, lemon or lime, and stopped everything to reverently plant and preserve the tiny promise of life.
John's first birthday
With all the ritual and pattern of serving, often 36 meals in a day, our kitchen garden produced trees that we transferred to larger and larger pots in our sunny dining room. I was a very important servant to our brilliant cook. I scuttled around to fetch dirt, pots, water, stir, measure, learning teaspoons and tablespoons, cups and pints. Margie unraveled letters and numbers by teaching me how to read the side of a stick of butter and add up her amounts, explaining proportions and ratios. She slowed her bubbling, broiling and sautéing dance to break it down for this little chatterbox, who was hiding from five brothers and a bossy older sister, seeking refuge from the endless correction of the nuns.
I'm causing some sort of trouble here
Margie in the background with baby John (1960)
She was magic, turning seeds into trees, egg whites into solid peaks, whipping cream, explaining how 20 seconds too long, would create butter. I felt like Arthur in the cave with Merlin. To extend the analogy, Margie, thanks to the miracle of Noxema, never aged. Her 1940’s hairstyle was an unchanging sculpture of black sheen, tucked demurely into a hairnet.
Sleepy at night, in front of T.V., watching Ironsides or Mission Impossible, I would take her face in my hands and laugh at her freckles, complimenting the smoothness of her skin. Then I would nestle into the softness of her upholstered side, and inhale the deep rich eucalyptus, camphory smell of her—part dentist office, mixed with band-aid box.
That's baby John pouring champagne
She looks exactly the same!
Unlike everyone else shoving and pushing me through life, Margie coaxed me through domestic bliss. As I grew older, and was absent for day camp or ski-trips, I would resume my place in the kitchen, and regale her with stories of the mean girls and the cute boys. Inevitably, there was a baby boy in a high chair singing a song, lapping up food, banging his spoon, babbling to us about Santa Claus, Wild Kingdom, army men, and all their boyish thoughts. Our eyes would meet, and we would dramatically roll them.
Margie bustling around the kitchen, Mary Maudsley, baby Tim and John
Then we would play with the baby and laugh, thicken and thin our gravy, and get dinner out for the hoardes. Every single member of my family felt as special to her as I did. All of my friends rushed to the kitchen when they came to our house to greet her. My parents’ friends loved her. Margie’s kitchen was True North in our house, where all visitors stopped for benediction.
Our dear Margie passed on June 7th at the age of 101, in the arms of her devoted family. If I ever felt lost in this life, I should be ashamed, because God sent an angel to watch over us.
Charlie's 8th birthday, 35 years ago
I will always love Margie, and be thankful everyday for her love, humor, and camaraderie. I am not allowed to grieve for her, it is just wrong, after her great run through life. We can only be profoundly grateful for the grace and cohesion she provided for the great rabble she always led to the table.
I cannot duplicate her fried chicken, veal or eggplant, but I come close to her, when I pull my friends and children into my kitchen, and make them chop, and stir and chat.
It is not a proper party--it is better. It is Margie’s kitchen that I compulsively recreate—a place where we can have disasters, laugh, eat delicious meals, but best of all, find our true selves.