No Apple Betty!

My parents teased one another in rotation.  The same little pokes and jabs arose mischievously, and their banter became grooves of a record, more familiar and loved upon repetition.   One of the ol’ favorites was from Dad.

“I think I’ll make an apple betty this weekend,” Dad would tease, winking.  Sometimes Dad exaggerated his wink and his jaw would crack.

“Who’s kitchen will you use for that?”  Mom assumed an aristocratic inflection.

or

“Edmund, what would you like me to make for dessert?”

“I’ll make it!  I’ll make an apple betty,” Dad’s eyes would sparkle.

Mom would tell Dad she didn’t know how to make apple betty, which I suspect meant that Grandma B must have made a great apple betty and Mom didn’t want to compete. Such was the case with homemade tomato soup and yeast breads.

This raillery continued in all forms.

“You know what would be really good?  Apple betty.”  Dad feigned spontaneity.

“Maybe if I had that new pants suit…”  Mom would parry.

Homemaking had been Mom’s dedication since she quit her job at the phone company in the fall of 1953.  Her co-workers had a nice send off for her.  They were all sorry to see her go.

“It was a nice little job,” Mom recounted, “They wanted to make me a supervisor some day.  And I could have been.  I was a stenographer, took fast shorthand, and was a good typist.  I made hardly any errors and always checked my work.”

Dad concurred that accuracy was invaluable.  “Juanita at work is that same way,” Dad remarked.  “It’s so important.  You can give her something to do and feel confident will be done right.”

Mom aspired to be among the new generation of working Mothers.  Inspired by Rosie the Riveter, Mom had enjoyed the independence of earning her own paycheck. Her own Mother had brought home a decent wage and raised a family, but relied heavily on Mom to do so.  Now it was Mom’s turn to ask for the village to help raise the child.  In this case, the village Grandmothers.

Grandma B would have none of it.  She had cautioned Dad that Mom was marrying him simply to have a large, Catholic family.  She offered to whisk Dad off to Mexico when he returned from Korea.  The three of them would move south of the border together. That way he could avoid paying alimony.  Such accusations hurt.  Luckily, Dad knew that Mom loved him for more than his ability to provide a family.  When Dad returned from Korea, it wasn’t long before they began planning for Steve.  Mid-century nesting began.

When Steve arrived, Mom loved him too much to leave him with just anyone.  Looking to the Grandmothers was coming up short.  Grandma A had a heart condition.  In the event of a heart attack, she might drop the baby.  Somewhat uneasily, Mom decided to ask Grandma B.

“You know what she told me?  She said, ‘I waited nine years to have my baby, and I raised him myself.  I have no intention of raising your children.  I’m done raising babies.”

Mom was staggeringly hurt.  But this was the kind of thing she had learned to tolerate from Dad’s family, who accepted her in a limited way, with great reservation.

In the end, Grandma A tried babysitting but was nervous.  Plagued by panic attacks, doctors assumed she had heart troubles.  The episodes were presumed to be small heart attacks.

“Your Grandmother would call the priest,” Mom remembered.  “She had the last rites more times than I can remember.  She had heart trouble and kidney trouble.  She would get a poultice to apply,  a mustard plaster, and lay down. Sometimes she would take an episode in the grocery store where she couldn’t breathe, and she’d need to leave her basket.  It would be full of groceries, and she would just leave it and run for her car.  Other times she would call and tell me, ‘Mary, I’m having a heart attack.’  I’d tell her to come over, quick.  She would drive to my house and tell me, ‘as soon as I saw your house, I began to feel better.  I don’t know what it is, but I feel better now.’ ”

“See, I couldn’t leave Steve with your Grandma A.  And Grandma B wouldn’t take him.  So I asked your father.  He was a produce inspector, inspecting fruits at night in the boxcars.  We thought he could watch Steve during the day, and I returned to work.  One day I came home to find Steve there in his little bouncy seat in the backyard, crying bloody murder,”  Mom looked skyward and raised her hand to heaven.  “Your father was hanging up laundry on the line, and he was actually pale.  He was pale as a sheet, and his upper lip had beads of sweat on it.  He told me, ‘Mary, I can’t do it.  I can’t watch the baby. You are going to have to quit your job.’  And that was it. It was decided.”

Many years passed, and occasionally Mom would ask Dad if he thought she might be able to return to work.

“I did everything I could think of meanwhile.  I cleaned the churches.  I drove the nuns.  I volunteered on the election boards.”  Mom had so much energy, and a tremendous intellect.  She was sharp-witted and conscientious.  There was a part of her which needed more challenge than the walls of a home could contain.

“I loved making a home for you kids: cooking, cleaning, sewing.  It was my life.  But when the time came, I also wanted to succeed in the work world.”

In 1978, a new, indoor mall debuted in Thousand Oaks.  The Oaks Mall was the first indoor mall in the area, and was highly anticipated. Mom asked Dad if she might be able to apply for a position at the new Broadway department store. I was twelve, and Mom felt I could get by at home with Dad. John was 17. The extra money would be nice for the family.  Dad agreed, and Mom applied, interviewed, and landed a job as a floater.  Floaters filled gaps in all departments, thereby learning the ins and outs of the whole store.  It was a good position, and one that could align Mom for management.

I missed Mom on Saturdays.  Every other weekend Mom worked, in sync with Dad’s Saturday hours at Sears.  Dad knew I missed Mom terribly, and he set out to make our time together count.

“We’ll go to a new park each weekend together,” he suggested.  And we did.  Some parks we frequented were neighborhood parks.  I’d swing and the two of us would chat, or walk around exploring.  Other times we hiked.  Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks seemed magical.  We took several lovely and memorable walks there.  Some Saturdays Dad and I would go to the mall and get Hot Dog on a Stick together.  We both liked being in Mom’s proximity. “Look!  We’re close to your Mom here now,” he’d offer, smiling.  “She’s almost off work,” he’d say, even if there were several hours to go.

Then, one weekend, Dad made a suggestion to do something new.  “I have an idea,” he winked.  “Let’s stay home and surprise your Mother.  Let’s make apple betty!”  I laughed!  That would be brilliant!

Dad began paging through Mom’s recipe books, but couldn’t easily locate a recipe for apple betty.  Instead, he settled on apple pie.  It was close enough.  He explained apple betty is like an apple pie without a crust.

“Should we leave the crust off?”  I suggested.

“No, we better follow the recipe.  It’ll be just as good!”

Dad and I had so much fun and tremendous laughs making that pie.  Once he got the crust rolled out on wax paper, he didn’t know how to flip it into the pie plate.  There was a ton of flour under the dough, and when he tried to flip, flour went in a six-foot diameter!  We both laughed!  There was flour all over drawer fronts, knobs, the kitchen floor.  Dad cooked differently than Mom did.  Mom measured everything exactly, whereas Dad guessed.  “That looks about right!” Dad didn’t level measurements off or carefully pour like Mom.  Dad stirred with a careless vigor and had an enjoyable distractibility in the kitchen.

Once the pie was in the oven, Dad used the vacuum to clean up the flour.  I thought that was daring!  Mom would never use a vacuum for that!  I don’t know how she would do it, but not that way!  By the time Mom came home, the kitchen was spotless and there was a pie on the counter as beautiful as can be.

“Oh, you didn’t?!”  Mom laughed.  “And my kitchen is even in one piece!” She looked around approvingly.

When Mom tasted the pie, she teased, “There’s no way you two made this.  This has to have been made professionally.”  Dad and I beamed at one another.  Mom didn’t find out about the vacuum full of flour for a few days.  When Dad confessed, Mom teased him mercilessly.  Leaving on a Saturday she’d quip, “Shall I call a cleaning crew in today?  Are we baking?”

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