Friday, November 14, 2008

things in my brain

My good friend Daryl came over for Sunday Supper the other night. It was a blustery day (thank you ,Winnie the Pooh) , brisk but still with enough leaves blowing around to keep thoughts of full blown Chicago winter way in the back of your head. On days like that, Daryl and I agreed, one always feels like baking or cooking big pots of soup or stew or roasting something in the oven. He brought beautiful fleurs that were still growing in his garden.When the lovely Ms. Conway and Daryl and I all used to live within blocks of each other we would often dine together during the week. One of us would make up a pot of soup or some noodle dish or a big stir fry and call the others and say “Hey! I just made this! Come on over and eat some of it!” and we’d talk about work, art, films, whatever came to mind and drink some wine. Cheryl’s was the best Sunday Supper phone call, because she knew how to roast a chicken! That might seem very basic to the uninitiated, but there are flocks of over cooked, dry, or rubbr’y skinned birds that came out of my oven until I learned the Art of Roasting. It’s actually pretty easy.
But, Cheryl always had a knack for throwin’ a chicky in the oven with some herbs and lemon and then sitting with us in her living room yakkin’ while the bird became moist and flavorful and memorable. I do not ever remember there being a sub par bird.
So, on Sunday I felt like making a meatloaf (don’t say ew-you would like it, I promise) mac-n-cheese and some roasted veg. Everything went into the oven mostly at the same time (‘cept the mac-n- cheese because I prefer to make my cheese sauce while the noodles are boiling and I don’t really bake it because that makes all the sauce go away. Sometimes I make a crumb and cheese topping and zhizh it under the broiler, but not this time.) so there was no muss or fuss.
And, as we were chatting and drinking red wine Daryl asked me something I hadn’t really thought about.
“Where do you get your interest in cooking?”
Having been friends for…let me do the math…Holy Mackerel! Twenty Three Years! Daryl knows that my mom was not a big cook. She was of the era of heating things up. And, I don’t think she liked cooking at all. Not her thing. So, we, like most other families in the ‘70’s, had convenience foods, pot pies, tv dinners, cans of hash and green beans. And when she cooked from scratch she made the stuff my dad liked. Very meat and potatoes but all except for the dog casserole! But that is a post all unto itself. So, casseroles, spaghetti, sloppy joes, roasts…those things were on the weekly rotation, unless it was Lent, then we had fish sticks or pancakes on Fridays…or noodles with butter as I sometimes demanded…
And because we lived with my grandmother and my mom worked, my grandmother would cook dinner most nights. (Dinner was on the table at 5:30 when my dad got home from work, so it was started at 3!) And while she cooked dinner, she would spout bonmots such as these…
“I guess this is all I’m good for, I’m just the maid!”
“Must be nice not to have to DO anything while old Nana does all the work!”
“Hey, you gonna SIT there all day, or are you gonna HELP me? Don’t you want to learn anything? You’re gonna need to do this one day. Woodenhead! I’m talking to you!”
“Hey, tin ears! Get over here!”
“If I knew you were going to do it THAT way, I wouldn’t have asked you to do it in the first place!”
“C’mon! C’mon! I don’t have all day! I thought you were gonna HELP me!”
“Just GET OUT of the way if you don’t know how to do it right! It’s not hard. Why don’t ya use the sense God gave you!”
“Look what you made me do! It boiled over! Dammit! If I didn’t have to watch you like a hawk! Why didn’t you tell me it was boiling!”
“You asked me to mix…”
“Oh- so it’s MY fault now? The nerve!… You kids….Do I have to do everything around here? What good are ya? GO on! Go watch TV, it’s all you’re good for! Oh, what? Ya gonna cry now? Go ahead, cry! CRY, you baby! Well, it won’t work. It wont work on ME! You try and make ME feel like the bad guy and here I am trying to make YOU dinner! Well, maybe you know how to do it better than me!” (throws pan in the sink.) “Go ahead! I’m through! You can make dinner Or your mother! She’ll have to start it when she gets home and you won’t eat until late! Or go hungry! Eat some shit out of a can ! See if I care. You think you’re so smart! Yeah, you know better than everyone! Where ya gonna get the money to make dinner for everyone? You know how much things cost? No you just sit around with your nose in a book or whatever while everyone else does all the work!”
And then you frantically apologized and slinked off back to whatever you were doing before she asked you for help. Or it has been pointed out...
SO, while one might have been eager to learn, you mostly felt inadequate or intimidated or downright scared. Perhaps cooking was best left to someone more competent. But, hmm… Catch 22…there always was an appeal for assistance but, if you helped, you failed. If you didn’t help, you also failed. No matter how hard you tried, you always were on the receiving end of her anger.

Wait! Don’t Go! Here’s the happy part!

Enter my neighbor Kathy. She first hired me to babysit for her infant son, Corey. She needed me to watch him while she was out with her husband or when she had errands to run or to keep him occupied while she prepared for a party.
Kathy was always having gatherings at her house. Open houses on Christmas day, communions for friends’ children, backyard barbeques, holiday celebrations there was not a month that went by without Kath having something going on at her house.
So when Corey was down for a nap, or watching tv, I’d go in the kitchen and see what she was doing. I stood back because I knew from my home experience that ‘If I didn’t know how to do it right, I should stay out of the way’-- but I was curious. I really liked the home arts.
“Jill, grab that cabbage and hollow it out for me. I’m making this dip for vegetables and it will look pretty in there.”
“!!!” I was nervous. I didn’t want to ruin anything.
”I’ve never done that before.”
“Oh, well, cut the top off and then take enough out of the center until it looks like a bowl. Don’t cut through the bottom, though. Whatever looks good to you.”
I didn’t know what to say. This woman trusted me with her cabbage! I cut the top off of the vegetable and started chipping away until I had a fair receptical. It wasn’t Martha Stewart perfect, but it looked pretty good.
“Great!” said Kathy. “Fill this to the top, then put the ‘lid’ back on it- and could you cut up those carrots and peppers and celery into sticks? Put them all around the dip and then I need you to make some artichoke dip. You never made artichoke dip? Here’s what you do…””
I kept waiting to hear how the veg was cut wrong, or I was too slow, or I was making a mess, or how I was not using the sense God gave me…but Kathy never said any of those things. She was grateful for my help. She complimented me on my hors d’oeuvres execution and she educated me about cooking in a way that made me want to do it again and again. She asked my opinion about what I thought her menu was lacking and never lashed out at me when I gave her my answer. “There are no potatoes…”
“You’re right! Potatoes it is, then! How about tiny baked potatoes?”
She laughed with me, talked with me as an equal even though I was over 10 years her junior. She entrusted me with the care of her son!
More often than not in the years that followed, Kathy would call on me to help her with her parties even when she did not need me to babysit. I learned how to peel and devein shrimp the same afternoon that a fisherman had caught them and then how to sauté them quickly in a pan with garlic and olive oil and toss them with pasta. I was astounded to learn that this was 3 year old Corey’s favorite dish!
I learned how to make a mimosa and a bloody mary for the brunch buffet tables that were a wonderful Christmas day tradition.
Savory bread puddings, fruit salad baskets made out of watermelons, cheese biscuits,in the summer, burgers and hot dogs and barbequed chicken on the grill. And I was always asked (as well as my family and all of the neighbors) to come and join the fun. Kathy was nothing if not gracious. Her philosophy was all are welcome. And she was always happy to see you. She had a smile on her face and a hug for you and she wanted to hear all of your news.
I never felt so loved and accepted and competent as when I helped Kathy. She instilled a love for cooking and entertaining in me that I still hold to this day. It makes me feel incredible inside to be able to create delicious things for my family and friends. To open my home and heart up to them. To create shared memories to look back on fondly. Good times to make us smile and laugh. Kathy was gracious and strong and funny and kind and generous. She was my first real role model and someone who I think of as an older sister.
I took the excitement for entertaining with me when I went to art school and helped my pal Dave throw a 21st birthday surprise party for his girlfriend/now wife in his super tiny studio apartment. I made many of the ‘party foods’ that Kathy had served at her parties. Man, we crammed so many people in that tiny apartment!
I threw myself something similar for my own 21st birthday. Nice outfits 1980’s! And any other occasion I could get a chance to cater- I’d go for it. It took some thought, but it wasn’t hard! You make time for the things that are important to you. And the payoff is so worth it. I mean, if you spend time cooking for yourself on a daily basis, there really ain't much difference if there 's one person at the table, two people or four! (Unless I'm just grabbing a sandwich, or eating something in front of the fridge! Which is sometimes a meal when Brian is not around.)
Craig Russell throws the best dinner parties and I was lucky enough to learn so much more from him when I lived in Kent, Ohio. There were Halloween parties and New Year’s parties and traveling dinner clubs…
One of the things that clinched it for me with my husband, Brian, was his enthusiasm for life and his amazing entertainment skills. He and Lux threw some legendary parties in their giant loft, there were football Sundays with homemade pizza and big submarine sandwiches for his friends, rooftop barbeques so you could see the fireworks downtown on the fourth of July… we held our Wedding Reception/my birthday party in my tiny Chicago apartment- we made all of the food ourselves and filled the bathtub with ice and beers and champagne, we hosted a small dinner gathering at least every two weeks for a wild mix of friends, and we had cocktail parties where everyone had to dress foxy like you should at a cocktail part…and wonderful Christmas open houses!
If you ask me what I want to do for my birthday, the answer has always been (for the most part)- I want to have people over! (however, if you want to throw me a surprise party- I’d love that! But you can’t throw yourself a surprise can you? But the party part is there, see?!)
I like to make food for a bunch of people. I’m inspired by the thought of a theme. We got a bunch of brats in the freezer from the Northwoods? Leaf raking party! Or a Pumpkin carving party- or Big Football Sunday! Let’s do a cowboy Christmas! Or celebrate Chinese New Years! Get a lacquered duck from the Chinese market and make a stir fry- you don’t always have to make everything yourself. It’s about the community you create.

My grandmother served deliciously prepared food on a plate of contempt and anger. With a side of oppression and obligation! It was not a delight to sit at her table. It was a requirement. Whether that was her intention, I have no clue. For a woman who always said “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar…” she seemed to have forgotten to buy the honey! And she wondered why everyone walked on eggshells around her. You never knew what was going to set her off! And something always did. Discussing other cuisines you might be interested in trying meant you did not like her cooking! Mentioning your good time at Kathy’s led to “You like it so much over there why don’t you go live there!” Having seconds meant you were a hog and selfish. But not eating enough could result in her threatening to never cooking again because you obviously did not like her food!
Kathy served you love that tasted like food. With a side of self-esteem and quality time sprinkled with fun and memories. It encouraged my creative side, made me interested in the process of cooking and made Martha Stewart a bit richer with my subscription habit to her magazine.
And it is not a party for me without Kathy’s artichoke dip on the table.


Hector Zayas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Some people find reasons why they're happy; other people find reasons why they aren't. Takeaway is, they were happy/unhappy to begin with, and let the reasons appear afterwards

Jill Thompson said...

I'm not sure I understand your meaning. I'm a happy person and I like to lend a hand. I think it is an act of love and a choice to respond to a request whether it is from a loved one or a neighbor. The only reason they have asked is because they need something that you can provide.
I look back and I try to think what it was my grandmother was really asking for. Because we always stepped up. But our follow through did not give her what whe was yearning for. She seemed to be sending out mixed signals. Do what I ask, but then get attacked for doing what I asked. And that was not just with cooking. My autobiographical comic willo be a doozy.

Anonymous said...

I think your grandmother was clearly the unhappy one.
Strangely enough I got the same mixed signals from my dad when I was helping as a youngster -- why didn't I know a Phillips from a screwdriver? Well, I finally realized he never taught me!
(I learned later his Dad was probably the same way to him...and then there was the whole thing about how he treated me during his always hurt the ones you love?)
Ah still vexes me but it is always good to read your descriptions. Thank goodness for our families...found or genetic!

Nice metaphors and great photos. Needs a dash more Daryl....

Jill Thompson said...

I shall post more Daryl photos as I dig them up!

cheryl said...

Where would we be if there weren't any Cathys in the world, eh? Angels and lifesavers they are. Jill, my old brain knows that guy pouring in the wine to the punch at Dave's but WHAT is his name?! I can see him talking and hear his voice but I do not know his name...most disturbing.

Jill Thompson said...

That was at our apartment Miz C, for my 21. And that's Joel Biske, of Joel and Tammy. And there's Michael Bricis, and you can just make out Karen Cassin and...I think his name was Eric from that Comedy Group Department of Works...that the now famous Matt Walsh hailed from...if only I had a picture of SlinkyMan...

Anonymous said...

Mary explained the point I was trying to make. Your GM was basically unhappy. At that point, anything you'd do could (and would) be blamed as the reason for the unhappiness.

piwackit said...

Well it's obvious you came out on the winning end with a love of entertaining & gatherings.
Keep up the great work with the food. I'll make sure to send tins of goodies now & again. ;)

Anonymous said...

What an amazing and in depth post. Thank you.
Grandmother's, well people for that matter, are mysterious beasts. I have found they never fully reveal their pasts you never find out what made them who they are. Perhaps she suffered a great hurt or disappointment when she was younger and resorted to resenting other people for the rest of her life. Interesting though how someone like that teaches us the value of patience and compassion. Would you have appreciated your neighbour as much if your Grandmother had been more tender with you?

Jill Thompson said...

You know, I learned a ton from my grandmother. That's what makes the feelings so hard. I think she had a very hard life growing up...I heard some stories. She taught me much and was a very strong woman. But at some point she started to deteriorate into someone who was so hard to interact with. Very volatile. It's hard to have someone who says they love you everyday who you want to please and make happy violently lash out, raise their hand to you, throw stuff, scream...and over little things that other people shrugged off. Lots of that happened when she was alone with us kids. Then, when others were around she was all sweetness and light. I think she might have been manic depressive. Her mood swings were out of this world. I wish I could have figured out a way to make her feel loved or secure or whatever. As I look back, her behavior became more and more intense as we got older and had more of our own opinions, interests and friends. Maybe the only way she felt needed was if she had someone to take care of who would look to her for everything.
I think I would have appreciated my neighbor just as much if my grandmother was more tender with me because I had other people in my life who were kind to me. Friend's parents, teachers, other relatives...they were very nice to us under the same circumstances that set my grandmother off. I mean, that's what made me understand the difference. Kathy was a great neighbor but she also was nurturing. She made you believe in your own validity. She made me trust myself. My grandmother made me doubt myself because it seemed that every way you did something-it was wrong, or irritating or a waste of time. And, that's not because I felt that way when I was by myself or at school, but because she went out of her way to tell you. And if she hurt your feelings, she blamed you for being too sensitive. Or accused you of trying to manipulate her. Or called you a baby or- laughed in your face. I appreciated all the strong,capable,competent things she did for the family, but I don't know what the put downs were supposed to accomplish...except for, it made us fear her and eventually resent her.
I've read a whole buncha books trying to figure it out, because, of course, it effects me in some way every day. The only positive I can get out of it is,I know I did not ever want anyone I knew to feel the same way as I did growing up. I've always tried to be gracious and helpful and generous with myself and my time. I don't think it's hard to do. It makes me feel good knowing that something I did made someone else feel good. Or that I could make someone's day easier, or share myself and my time. I hope I am succeeding. I think it's reflected in the relationships my characters have with each other. They are people you can request things of and they will be happy to comply because they do it out of love. Whether it is Scary Godmother and her friends or Magic Trixie and her extended family. I didn't set out to do it on purpose, but someone pointed it out to me once, so I am quite aware of it now. Not a bad example to set. They all work out their differences in a way that is usually satisfactory to all. (except maybe, Harry...)
hey look, i blogged within a blog! Sorry!

Anonymous said...

boy! don't apologise.
Its a dark, fascinating and scary topic - people's relationships. I am glad that through all of it you have resolved to be who you are... and looking at all of your food, friends and party hosting posts... wow! I'm inspired
and...We can all learn a lot from Scary Godmother and Magic Trixie.

Jill Thompson said...

Yeah, I don't mean to purge out here in happy artblog land, but, bleargh! Sometimes it all builds up and something triggers it and you just gotta talk about it! And, typing about it seemed to make it feel not like a secret. Which it was supposed to be. You did not talk about it. But, I know that you can't bury it down or compartmentalize it and think that it's gone. You have to work through it, or it bubbles up where you least expect it. There's anger in here, too. I've never been good at expressing that. That I turned on myself. Cuz you were not supposed to be anything but happy. But I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of displaced anger. You can be pissed off about a situation And you can vent your anger but when you start taking it out on those around you, you aren't making the situation're alienating those who could possible help you with the situation!

Anonymous said...

No, I agree, don't bury these things, they are a part of what makes you you. To keep things a secret just continues the unpleasant cycle.

I thoroughly enjoy seeing what you do and how you do your work (how artists work and question their world is a ceaseless well of fascination for me and this is all a part of it ).

Tomás said...

Hi Jill
I'm Tomás Morón and we met some years ago in a comic convetion in Spain, Aviles rightly. I'm a great fan of your work and I like to invite you to see my blog with some of my works.
Thanks for your time and I'm glad to see the things go well for you.
Tomás Morón
Comic, illustration, cartoons, concept art, storyboard and many more.
You can see more of my works: