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  • Writer's pictureJayne Lisbeth

Coronavirus: Being a House Lady, Wedded to Walls

The Coronavirus has reminded me of how very fortunate I am to be a lover of cooking, baking and everything nest related. I admit it. I am a homebody.

My mother never taught me how to cook. Nor did my other mother, Hildegard. I think I learned how to make our family-famous Tomato Basil Sauce by osmosis. Or perhaps it’s in my genes.

In 1965 my future mother-in-law taught me how to make gravy, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and the wonderful Spam and sweet pickle relish/mayonnaise spread my future husband adored. His sister, Sharon, made me a beautiful felt covered cookbook with all the family recipes, including Pumpkin Pie, Sweet and Sour Pickles, Boston Cream Pie, and so much more. She was eleven. I was fifteen. It was the most beloved and sacred Christmas gift of my young life. Her handwritten cookbook guided me, recipe by recipe, into my house of culinary delights.

At my wedding shower in 1967 I received the“Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking”. It was an enormous boon to my culinary quest. My mother-in-law gave me my first copy, with its homespun red cover, of Betty Crocker’s Womens Cookbook. These cookbooks became the foundation of my early culinary education. Still, I recognized I needed more than books. I needed our family recipes from my mother.

I recalled all the delicious, glorious meals which magically appeared at our table every night. How to recreate those meals in my early domestication was an enigma. Mom lived less than five miles away but she was never a hands-on instructor in her kitchen. My phone calls to her were the lifeline to my kitchen.

She was always thrilled to answer any questions. “Mom! What does braised mean? How brown should a pot roast be when the recipe calls for brown well?” When a recipe states, “saute the garlic until translucent” what color is translucent?”

Over the years my quest for culinary expertise and confident command of my kitchen continued. In Vermont I learned to can vegetables, make jam from whatever wild strawberries and fruits I could find afield, and how to boil down maple sap into syrup overnight. My still-beloved husband and I did so over an open fire in which we poured the collected sap of that day into a very old large metal pan. The scent of our wood fire and boiling Maple Syrup perfumed our scant neighborhood and our clothing and hair for days.

I learned to fry fresh-caught trout from our ice cold stream in bacon grease for breakfast. I learned to bake bread. I sold my fresh baked honey wheat bread, onion bread and rolls at a local grocery store after my divorce in 1972.

In 1974 I wrote a poem with the all-important line, “Being the Houselady, Wedded to walls.” In Monterey, California, 1985 it became my first published poem. During the height of the Feminist movement in the early 1970’s it was not de riguer to be a houselady wedded to walls or wedded to anyone. In 1985 times were gradually changing. Women who worked at home were gaining more respect, even if their employ was being a “housewife, wedded to walls.”

This afternoon I happily thought, I think I’ll make onion bread, to go with my squash fettuccine and cheese casserole.

I kneaded the dough in the well-known dance my fingertips and hands so well remembered. I caressed the flour/yeast/water mixture into a satiny round. I gently placed the dough into an olive oil doused antique bowl, which has risen my bread from Reading, Vermont to Tampa, Florida.

My poem with the line, “Being the Houselady, Wedded to Walls…” rose to greet me as I gently removed my bread from the oven. The scent of my freshly baked bread transported me to every culinary success, every special dinner party I have contributed my bread to over the years. All those hundreds of tasty, round loaves.

In the midst of quarantines, friends and family becoming ill and rising fears, I wake up, and think, “Tonight should I make Chicken and Vegies? Or Prime Rib? Maybe Tomato Basil Sauce?”

And I rejoice in my life. I am fortunate. I have learned how to be a master chef. I can make do with just about anything from my pantry. I have learned from past generations and well-worn cookbooks. There is nowhere I would rather be, confined to my home for safety from CoronaVirus than being ‘a Houselady, wedded to walls.” I try my best to celebrate all I have. I have learned.

Keep safe. Learn new skills. Write. Create art. Read. Cook and Bake. Appreciate the little things and the big ones. We will survive. Have faith in the homespun skills you have learned and taught. They will get us all through.

Some Evenings at Dusk

September 18, 1974

My home in Reading sits on the knoll with the green beyond

and my favorite pine above my secret hiding ledge.

Sits on the knoll amid it’s safeness, staring at me blindly

through gold shuttered eyes

Silently reminding me of all that could have been,

of all that was

of the hours I raced through in warm homespun joys.

Days of canning and sunshine through windows

strawberries staining my fingers sweet

as I smiled for friendships now spent.

Evenings of fires with the ghosts of my memory,

candles and wine,

stoned amid giggles

tears in my eyes.

Being the houselady, wedded to walls.

Shiny bright woods with warm secret joys

Hours spent with my sweet golden house,

my friends and my lovers and warmth all my own.

Then suddenly, silently hours were dead

as I spun from my safety

into gossamer webs of aloneness.

Some evenings at dusk I fly by on Reading Road

and glance at my gold-shuttered nest.

Exchanging sad blind eyes of hours long gone,

promises long since broken.

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