I've Decided How I Want My 105th Birthday Celebrated If Cost Is No Object:

I want to wear a pale pink colored Fortuny dress which may be obtained, I think, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. If that proves impossible, a pale pink silk dress with a matching cashmere cardigan will do. I'll be so tiny by then, any small size will fit.

I want as many as possible of my descendants there, all of whom, I hope, will be on speaking terms with one another.

I want to hold a very young baby ( a blood relative) and nuzzle its neck.

I want three silver buckets of full blown fragrant roses, one pink, one white and one yellow.

I want the following in good looking containers, not jam jars: a tiny vase of forget-me-nots, some sweet peas, three branches of oncidium orchids, and three branches of white, double lilacs.

I want one basket of new mown hay to smell, one basket of dried leaves to smell, a bowl of freshly dug earth to feel, and a lump of fresh bread dough to knead.

I want someone very fine playing the piano softly but loud enough that I can hear Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Schubert's "Piano Sonata in B flat major". I'd also like to hear "Stardust", "Away in a Manger", Oh Canada", and "Four Strong Winds"-- this last song because Ian Tyson sang it at my husband Hu's funeral.

Before dinner I want one very small glass of single malt Scotch whisky with water and no ice. Then two tablespoons of Beluga caviar with half a glass of the best champagne. Then one cup of very strong, hot chicken broth with cold chopped green onions in it and enough salt, one quarter slice of home-made herb bread with real butter (if such a thing still exists) and a warm baked custard that's not overcooked and watery with fresh ripe apricots poached in sugar, water and vanilla bean, served with a double thimbleful of Chateau d'Yquem -- unless British Columbia produces something close by the year 2033, which I would prefer, out of loyalty to the Canadian wine industry.

I don't want a birthday cake but we will drink a toast to me, and all my relatives and friends alive and dead, with Krug Grande Cuvee champagne.

If all this celebrating kills me, please put my ashes with my first son Tommy and my husband Hu, except for one teaspoon of me which I would like dropped in a good second-hand bookstore.

Memoir is when you put down the good things you ought to have done and leave out the bad ones you did do - Will Rogers (1879-1935)

 

I Musn't:

You know I can't. I mustn't even think about whose husbands are the most attractive. Don't get me wrong -- I don't have eyes for any of them. I only have eyes for men in general, just like my Aunt Doris though she had eyes for men in particular. She always wore red and poured a drink for the T.V. repair man. When I went to visit they were laughing and having a great old time and even in the nursing home she always had a man. When I visited with cousins she would giggle if they were male but we females didn't even get a smile. So what am I doing alone? Maybe I'm not like my Aunt Doris -- maybe I'm like my Aunt Ruby. God I hope not. She was the old maid.

"Too fussy." my mother said. "Way too fussy." She was asked, but the men were never good enough, so she ended up dressed all in black in the millinery department at Johnston Walkers 'till she had to retire because she was cranky with the customers. I used to watch her and when she said, "Madam it's lovely," even I could tell that it was a lie dribbling from her lips. Aunt Ruby's eyes would be cold and madam would leave hatless. No beflowered beribboned creation on her head and my aunt, a sneer on her face would turn on her heel, look in a mirror, smooth her hair, see me, and smile. Then we would go to Picardy's on Jasper Avenue for lunch.

 

Old Skin:

A tiny grandchild strokes the back of my hand
lifting
skin with feather fingers

I think of blue-veined chickens ready for the oven

The warm raised wrinkle
inelastic as flattened welting on a slipcover
slowly subsides as though exhausted

Not so long ago skin coated my bones like drizzled icing on a cake

It happened overnight
one day young
the next
old

But the child laughs and says it's funny

Does it do that on your feet?

 

A Lemon Lover Remembers:

Pay no attention to the idiomatic uses of the word "lemon ," including a "sourpuss" and a "car that's defective," but think of the lemon's long history in our world. Lemons were first grown by ancient Greeks, then Romans. The Moors planted lemon orchards in Spain in the 8th century, and in the 16th century, Spaniards introduced them to the New World. By the 18th century, lemons were almost as popular in Europe as tulip bulbs and conservatories called "orangaries" were built in France and Britain to contain these most glorious of tree fruits. Near the end of that century, Spanish missions in California were planted with lemon, orange, olive, pomegranate and fig trees. In individuals' personal histories, the lemon's sour citrus taste of its sharp flavour will cause an event to immediately flood into our minds.

Can you remember the lemonade stands of your childhood? In years past, the stand was set on a wooden apple box, small cheese glasses awaited the buyers, real fresh-squeezed lemon juice was mixed with sugar and water, ice was chipped from a block delivered to your mother's ice box from a horse-drawn wagon and the cool nectar was poured from a big white enamel pitcher with a chipped dark blue rim. Now, lemonade stands are set in plastic toy wagons, tippy throw-away foam cups are used, and either neon-coloured kool-aid or a frozen pink lump is mixed with water. Ice cubes from the fridge are added, and the cool concoction is poured from plastic juice containers with flip-top lids. Then, and now, more product was consumed by the stand's proprietors than customers, and no one got rich - it was just something to do on a lazy-hazy summer day when you were very young.

Hot lemonade made with real lemon juice had to have honey, not sugar, as its sweetener, and was a mother's medicine for colds severe enough to keep children home from school. I remember drinking it after being allowed to get out of bed, sniffling and coughing, wrapped in a pink wool blanket in front of the fire, while a howling blizzard blew crazily around our little home. Now, powdered lemon drinks in packages and containing sleep-inducing medicine, come from the drugstore to help children recover.

A happy ending for an old fashioned Sunday dinner in my childhood home used to be lemon meringue pie - my mother had a light touch with pastry - made with lard in those days before cholesterol was feared. The ruffle edged, flaky crust held a clear, satin- smooth puckery lemon filling on which balanced the beige- tipped cloud of meringue we squelched against the roof of our mouths till it melted into a sweet-sour lemon memory.

My grandmother made lemon curd to go in tiny tart shells.I ate them with two bites, though the soft sensuous substance squirted all over and I would then eat the second one whole. Lemon curd is very easily made (see p. 110). Now I spoon it on packaged gingersnaps.

Tea, on a cold winter day will "hit the spot," if properly made in a pot first swilled with boiling water. Rapidly boiling water is poured over good Indian tea leaves, it's covered with a tea cozy, steeped then poured into handsome china cups, with a thin slice of fresh lemon slipped into the fragrant brew just before drinking in front of an open fire, or at the kitchen table.
Good lemon squares - the ultimate in sweet and sour, addictive confections - are sprinkled with powdered sugar and eaten at any time of the day or night. There are never enough lemon squares (see recipe, p. 109).

On a cold winter day, a thin slice of fresh lemon is a great addition to a sip of hot tea drunk in front of an open fire or at the kitchen table. Iced tea, on a hot summer day, made from well prepared, strong tea, poured into tall glasses half-filled with ice, added sugar, a wedge of lemon and a fresh mint leaf is a perfect summer beverage for sitting on the back porch. An icy martini, with its glass rim wiped with lemon zest and a twist of zest in its clear depths is a sophisticated time-honoured tongue-loosener. A tall frosted glass of gin and tonic with a wedge of lemon is the drink to swill at a summer barbecue.

A most versatile herb is lemon thyme - my favourite of all herbs. I pick it from pots on my patio, my fingers squeezing the lovely lemon-ness and wonder if I'll get my poundcakes made with it for the freezer. I paper-bag some of this herb to dry from a hook above my kitchen table, and I use it fresh, in gazpacho, salads, roast chicken, and every summer pasta dish, and wonder why I didn't plant a field of it and just forget about basil. Lemon balm is another favourite herb. Its handsome mint-like dark green leaves give off a thick lemony scent mixed with the beautiful fragrance of the tomato plants towering above them. I chiffonade the balm leaves into fruit salads, or chop finely for including in pound cakes and muffins.

A whole cut-up lemon with onions, in the cavity of a chicken not only flavours the roasting bird, but is a most welcoming perfume in my home. Sprinkle lemon juice on fish, clams, oysters, caviar, avocado, bananas, cantaloupe and salads and you will find that the lemon enhances the foods' flavours. If you've squeezed too much lemon juice - freeze it - it's much better than bottled juice. A slice of lemon in ordinary tap water makes it more palatable. Get a zester - a small utensil which quickly shreds zest off your lemon rind in longish threads. Squeeze lemon in broccoli and asparagus cooking water, and they'll stay green. Squeeze lemon in the cooking water of cauliflower or rice and they'll be whiter.

Lemon-lovers - rejoice: as yet there are no dire health warnings against using lemons in our food.