Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Butter Tarts

            “Ever since the advent of Agnes Findlay Mother has been doing a lot less cooking, but there is something about the holiday season that has Mother stirred up.  Right now she is in the kitchen baking butter tarts,” said Alfred to Horace Whittington on the phone. “Now, I love butter tarts and Mother tells me that she has a fine old Canadian Recipe and she is determined to provide us with a special treat.”

It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday and Alfred put down the phone and picked up his Edinburgh Crystal Sherry glass and took a sip.   “Very fine,” he thought to himself. I do enjoy a little Manzanilla Sherry from Andalucia.”

            Just then he heard Mother slam down a mixing spoon on the counter in the kitchen and give a small disconcerted moan.  That in turn was followed by some mild but colorful language on the part of Mother.  “So much for reading,” said Alfred, and headed toward the kitchen.

            Mother was standing there with a large Homer Laughlin mixing bowl and a look of utter frustration on her face.  “Oh, Alfred,” said she, “Whatever will I do?  The recipe is for 48 butter tarts, and I wanted to double the recipe, but I made a mistake.  I tripled the amount of vinegar instead of doubling it.  Math was never my strong point. ”

            “Well,” said Alfred, looking at the recipe on the counter, “Why don’t you add another 3 tablespoons of vinegar, then double the other ingredients.”

            “Oh, Alfred, do you think that will work?” said Mother.  She quickly began to add the necessary ingredients while Alfred watched..

            “Oh, Oh, Mother.” said Alfred, “you might have done it again.”

            “Alfred! I need some help!” said Mother.

            “Well, let me see what we can do,” said Alfred, looking over the recipe again.  Together the two of them began adding ingredients.  At last they stepped back and looked at the mixture.’

            “I don’t know Alfred,” said Mother, “We may have done it again.”

            “Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “let me get my calculator.” 

Very carefully Mother and Alfred, added, and added and mixed and mixed.  At last Mother said, “I think we have got it, but that seems like an awful lot of tart filling.  What do you think, Alfred?”

“Let me see,” said Alfred, punching a few numbers into his calculator, “That ought to make 384 butter tarts. That’s a lot of butter tarts! It’s a good thing you have a couple of extra tart pans and racks.”

Mother laughed, “That’s the first mistake I’ve ever made.  I hope you like butter tarts.”

“I do, Mother, I do, but even I couldn’t eat 384 butter tarts.  We will have to give some away.”

“I know,” said Mother, “Alfred, you can bring some to Choir Practice tomorrow night, and we can give some to the Whittington’s.”

“That’s a good idea, Mother,” said Alfred enthusiastically, “and I can bring some to the office; but even at that we will still have way too many left over.”

Mother paused, then she said shyly, “We could bring some to our new neighbours next door.  I really do feel rather badly about the reception we gave them when they first moved in.  I’m so glad that she didn’t get as badly hit in the rump with that load of rock salt as I thought she had.  Still, I’m mortally embarrassed.” 1

“That’s a good idea, Mother said Alfred, “It’s time we were just a little more gentle in the way we treat people.”

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27).

1See episode 2, A Shot in the Dark

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cold Snap

“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “the weather is supposed to turn and we are going to have a cold snap; the temperature is going down to 20 degrees tonight.”

Mother looked around.  Every vase in the house was filled with the last roses of the season.  White English Alba Roses and the pink David Austin Rose, the Red Veteran’s Honor and the Yellow Floribunda Rose, and so many more; all the beautiful roses spilling out from Mother’s Raffaello and Laleek Vases, each vase and bouquet of roses more beautiful than the next.  Many of the potted plants had been brought in and placed on the Caravan Chelsea Iron 5 Tier Baker’s Racks in the Solarium.  The effect was stunning and luxurious.

“It certainly does look cheerful in here, but it is also a little sad, said Mother.  “Just think about how the frost will wither the myriad of lovely blossoms and roses that we have had to leave outside.”  Then she brightened a little, “But, Alfred; while it might get cold, it’s just as likely not to get quite that cold.  The Dallas News Station weathermen have been wrong before; it seems that they spend half their time just living in hope that the weather will be exciting; sort of gives them some meaning for life.”

“Quite right, Mother,” said Alfred, “but at least we are set for the winter weather, if there is any winter weather, after all, it is Dallas.”

“Well, Alfred,” said Mother when the next morning came, “The worst that can be said is that the remaining pansies in the pots outdoors look a little limp,  but the roses have survived the cold snap splendidly.  If anything they seem to enjoy the cooler weather and their magnificent blooms are thriving in the moderately chilly air.”

“There is an analogy here, Mother,” said Alfred.

Mother looked warily at Alfred, “And what might that be?”

“It’s rather like love relationships,” replied Alfred.  “We know that Spring always follows Winter, and Summer always follows Spring.  The moderate days of Autumn are sometimes host to periodic cold snaps, harbingers of winter winds.  But in Autumn there are also days of halcyon warmth, of Indian Summer.  All lovers go through cold snaps, but if their basic commitment is sound, the warmth always returns.”

“You know, Alfred, that is rather beautiful when I think about it,” said Mother.  Some people would rather live in a moderate tropic zone where the weather if always 80, but I much prefer a change of seasons.  That’s one difficulty with Texas.  We could use a good hard freeze, not that one is desirable in love relationships.  But you know what I mean.”

“You are right, Mother,” said Alfred, “I think that there is something both suspicious and monotonous with relationships that never have ups and downs.  That’s what old Screwtape meant when he referred to the principle of undulation and wrote, ‘If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.’  That same principle applies to our love relationships, to our marriage, and to our relationship with God” [Screwtape Letters, Ch. 8].

“Well,” said Mother, laughing, “That is actually a relief.  Sometimes if things get too warm for me, I find myself cooling off immediately after.”

“Well, I know,” Mother, said Alfred, “Well, I know.”

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6).  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Impressionists: The Artists of Light

Mary Cassatt: Children Playing with a Cat

            It was after the Sunday morning service and Mother and Alfred were at home.  Alfred had retired to his study with a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea and the latest issue of the American Art Review.  He was gazing at a Mary Cassatt painting of Children Playing with a Cat.   “How beautiful,” he thought, “the way that the Impressionists captured light and managed to convey the beauty of creation.”

            Suddenly he became aware of undue noise emanating from the kitchen.  Mother was banging things around, slamming doors, and muttering to herself.  Pippa the frou-frou dog came scurrying out of the kitchen and took refuge under Alfred’s mahogany 19th Century Partner's Library Desk.

            “Oh, Oh,” said Alfred,” I thought Mother was unusually taciturn on the way back from Church. She’s obviously in a foul mood.”  He drank the last of his Lapsang Souchong and headed for the kitchen.

“Well? Mother?” he asked inquisitively, “What is going on?”

            “That Mildred Hutchins, what a witch!  She did nothing but complain about Father Goodfellow’s treatment of Ima Hatchett.  You know as well as I do what kind of trouble Ima was causing in the Choir.  You wouldn’t think that the Altar Guild was a place for complaining.  It quite spoiled my first day of serving on the Guild.”

            “The problem with Church, Mother,” said Alfred, “is that it’s made up of people.”

            Mother shook her head, “Well, you are absolutely right Alfred.  People can really spoil things for others.  If it wasn’t for Grace Whittington, I would have just dropped everything, quit, and headed home.  But Grace, bless her heart, just said, ‘Mildred, I don’t feel that way about it.’  But Mildred couldn’t take the hint and just continued grousing; but you know me Alfred, I’m not meek and mild.  When I got my breath back I said, ‘Stow it, Mildred! No-one wants to listen to you complaining.’  Well, Mildred was furious and went storming out, but not before saying, ‘You’re new.  What would you know about it?’ I’m still angry.  She’s an awful woman.  Isn’t there a verse in Proverbs that says something like, ‘A cheerful heart makes a good medicine, but a grousing spirit rots the bones,’[i] or something like that.  Even if it’s not there, it ought to be.

            “Mother, I quite understand,” said Alfred, putting down his tea cup on the counter. “I was just looking over my copy of American Art Review and it occurred to me that some artists see light and beauty, but others seen things bent and warped and paint parables of misery and darkness.  They must be very small and miserable inside.  Mildred must be a very unhappy miserable woman.”

            “What misery is, misery does,” replied Mother, “and I have no desire to be like her.  Seeing light and beauty is a decision, and as for me I want to be on the side of light.”

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,  but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).

[i] Proverbs 17:22  “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”