For the whole of our lives, my mother and I had a troubled relationship. My presence set her off, often with dire consequences for me, but the one place where we sort of got along was the kitchen. I liked to cook and bake. She was a talented cook and baker and allowed me to be her sous chef. I cut and diced and chopped and sliced and poured and pounded and wrapped and cleaned, enjoying myself despite her criticism. She loved to make elaborate meals for dinner party guests, with fancy desserts that often took days to make. When I was able to persuade her to go to the movies or see friends for dinner when my father worked, I made dinner for my sister. Often, at her request, I’d make cookies, cakes, even pies. The first time I baked cookies, when I was about seven, I learned the hard way the difference between the use of baking powder and baking soda. Too much baking soda and whatever you bake tastes awful. It was a powerful lesson. Three years later I had reason to remember what I’d learned.
In 1947 my mother and I attended a concert in Peekskill, NY where Paul Robeson sang in an outdoor setting. We were seated in the back on grass and I couldn’t see so I stood up. Suddenly there was a deep voice saying, “Folks, there’s a little girl with blonde pigtails standing up in the back. Would you mind if she came up front so she can see better?” The next thing I knew, waves of people were lifting me up and over until I was in the front, face to face with Paul Robeson, a tall handsome Black singer with a broad chest sitting on a high stool. He beckoned me to come up, sat me on his lap, and asked what song I’d like him to sing. The audience yelled, “Old Man River.” He asked if I’d like to hear that song. I was too dumbstruck to do more than nod. He sang as I rested against his huge chest, lulled by the power of his voice and the safety of his presence.
A rock heart picked up on a hike
It started with a sniffle. Since my husband was working 20 miles north in Providence, and had the car, I walked to the office of a doctor who agreed to see my 18-month-old son. “It’s nothing,” he said, dismissing my concerns, “Just a little cold. Give him lots to drink, keep him warm, and he’ll be fine tomorrow.” I wheeled the carriage home feeling embarrassed for making a fuss, for worrying about nothing.
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.