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Love is all around…

This week we lost one of my heroes.  Mary Tyler Moore passed away Wednesday January 25 and the world is now emptier.  Years ago, I read a biography of MTM entitled “After All”.  Her life story is riveting and we could talk about that for days.  But, as you might suspect, what I really want to mention are the two television shows that made her famous.

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As Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke show, she was everything this little girl wanted to be when I grew up.  She was a beautiful wife with a handsome husband.  They would dance and sing in the den for goodness sake!  But, as an adult, I realize how groundbreaking she really was in this role.  She fought for her character to be able to wear pants (and boy did she look good in them.)  Laura might have been a housewife but she was a feminist groundbreaker.  Rob was expected to help with housework when he got home from his job in the city and he was a partner in raising their son.  I especially love the episode in which Laura gets the opportunity to be one of the dancers on The Alan Brady Show.  She goes in every day and faces the physical demands of that full time job.  And, when Rob gets home, he still finds a clean house and dinner on the table.  He’s concerned when she is offered a permanent position (this is the 1960’s after all).  Because she’s made it look so “easy” he thinks she will jump at the chance.  However, Laura makes it clear that she had to work her butt off to make it look easy.  It wasn’t easy.  It was hard.  But women have a way of just getting it done.  There were many episodes where it was clear that Laura was the ‘strong’ one in this partnership.  (And as an aside, my husband and I have had many conversations about the differences between television back then and now.  Consider the talent that was on this show.  Almost everyone could not only act but also sing, dance and was funny as heck.  They truly don’t make them like this anymore.)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Now, the one that will make me cry.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  There has never been another show on television that could compare.  As Mary Richards, MTM was the blueprint for all future working women.  She moved to Minneapolis to start a new life when she and her fiance broke up.  But, this show wasn’t about breakups and romance.  She wasn’t desperate to find a man.  This was a show about a woman who worked her butt off in a male dominated field and was successful.  Yes, she had to fight to make as much as her male predecessor but she did it.  When there was a promotion on the table, Mary always went for it.  She showed her value with her brains and hard work.  She had SPUNK!  Yes, of course, she had to put up with some crap in the office but she never let it bring her down.  Her boss and coworkers admired her not because she was beautiful but because she was smart.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the MTM show and female friendships.  Was there ever a BFF like Rhoda Morganstern?  The relationship between these two was refreshing.  They weren’t competing over men or worried about who was prettier, made more money or had the nicer purse.  They were simply friends, soulmates and each other’s ride or die.  I intentionally included a picture with Phyllis as well (my husband hates her!)  While she could be annoying (to my husband and Rhoda), she was another example of a strong woman.  She just went about it in a different way than Mary or Rhoda.  Probably my favorite Mary and Rhoda episode is the one where Mary meets a new friend, Joanne, and they start spending time playing tennis and being quite perfect together.  Through a series of events, it appears that Mary is ditching Rhoda for Joanne.  This isn’t the case but you know how it is.  When your BFF has a new friend, you get a little jealous.  Mary wants to include Rhoda in some of their girl time but Joanne balks when she realizes that Rhoda is Jewish.  Mary, who never dreamed of this being an issue, makes it clear where her loyalty lies – with Rhoda.  The episode was named “Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda” and it was a wonderful example of how television can entertain while still making a point about the world we live in.

 

Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore, for being my hero.  You had struggles and sadness like the rest of us.  But, we are left with your legacy that will live on.  From one woman to another, thank you.  Rest In Peace.

 

Dear 2017

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Dear 2017,

I don’t ask for much but there are a few things I’d like to see this year.

First, please be more gentle than your older sister, 2016.  Losing so many of our icons was hard on us.  We need our artists to help make the world a better (and more lovely) place.

Second, take care of my friends and family.  Each year I realize more of their importance to me.  They also make the world a better place.

Lastly, give me the time and freedom to read.  Here’s what I’m hoping:

  • Read at least 100 books.
  • Finish the Wheel of Time series (I’ve read through book 6 to date).
  • Continue to work my way through the Agatha Christie library.  If I read 2 Poirot and 1 Marple each month I should finish both of those series by the end of the year.
  • Read at least one classic each month.

Your friend (I hope),

Mary

P.S. If you could see fit to ensure I have plenty of tea on hand that would be great too.

It’s a sad week

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I’ve been trying to come to grips with a world that no longer includes Carrie Fisher and planned to write a post today about her impact on young girls from the 70s and 80s.  Then, I woke up this morning to the news that her mother, Debbie Reynolds, had died after a stroke.  Part of me isn’t that surprised.  It has to be one of the worst things on earth to lose a child.  But, the sadness…

It feels like this year has been especially tough with my generation losing so many icons of music and screen.  I’m sure there are those out there saying “you don’t know these people; how does it even impact you?”  It impacts me as a human being.  We are all part of this world and the loss of anyone, even someone we don’t know personally, affects us.  When it’s someone that you grew up with, someone who showed you something of what you want to be, then, yeah, it impacts you.  I read an article earlier this year that really stuck with me.  It was written by a psychologist about this very subject.  He explained that we shouldn’t feel guilty or strange for grieving someone we didn’t know (or a lion killed unnecessarily or anything else that we feel).  Empathy and compassion shouldn’t have those rules.

Maybe one day I will write more about Ms. Fisher’s impact on me but for today, I will leave you with a quote that sums up why I loved her iconic character, Princess Leia.  She is being held by the Empire and has been tortured by Darth Vader.  Most people would be cowering and unable to function.  Not Leia.  When she’s brought onto the bridge of the Death Star, she says:

“Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”

The Force will be with you.  Always.  Thank you, Carrie Fisher.

Important and Deep Thoughts

In today’s tumultuous world it’s important to think about things that really matter and not waste time on trivialities. “So, Mary, what have you been thinking about?”

Thanks for asking. I’ve debated and debated with myself and finally come up with my top 5 favorite Christmas songs.

  1. Merry Christmas Darling by The Carpenters – this is the one I probably call my absolute favorite most years.
  2. Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi – how can you be unhappy listening to anything on this soundtrack?
  3. Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra – this version makes me believe I could dance a paso doble or win a sword fight. It’s…passionate.
  4. O Holy Night by Josh Groban – chills every time.
  5. Mary Did You Know by Pentatonix – sorry, not sorry. I love it.

What are your favorites? Do you choose the classics or love the new versions?

Rain, Rain Go Away

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I own a business and spend most of the day working from my home office (which is a blessing, don’t get me wrong).  This means no co-workers and no one to talk to during the day.  And, let’s just be honest.  As adults most of our friendships are found at work so there is little opportunity to meet new people for an introvert like myself.

Today is one of those days where I really miss having coworkers.  It’s a rainy, grey day – the picture above is a view from my office window.  If the sun were out, I could go for a walk or sit on the deck for a few minutes to raise my mood.  But, instead, blah.  I’m stuck inside.

What do you do on grey days to make you happy?  Drink tea?  Listen to music?

 

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 17

As Myrtle made her way to Vera’s house Saturday night, her head was spinning.  She had learned many things during her talk with Elizabeth.  Now, she had to decide how much of it she would be willing to share with her friends.  She knew that they would expect full disclosure but she wasn’t sure.  Suddenly, she felt weary and wished that she and Vera had never stuck their noses into this business.

Pulling in front of the house, she saw Shelby turning in behind her.  At least one good thing had come out of this mess.  Shelby seemed like a new person and they were all becoming good friends.

“Hey, Myrtle, I was afraid I was late.  I’m glad you’re just getting her too.”  Shelby said breathlessly as she got out of the car.  She was carrying a small bouquet of flowers.  “I know Vera told us not to bring anything but I can’t come empty handed.  Do you think she will like these?”

Myrtle looked at the mix of yellow and purple daisies.  “She is going to love them.  Just the right colors for spring.  Come on, let’s head inside.  I’m starving.”

“Vera, don’t shoot.  It’s just me and Shelby.”  Myrtle announced as they walked into Vera’s front door.  She could already smell the chicken casserole and felt her shoulders relax for the first time in hours with the thought of the dinner to come.

Vera walked out of the kitchen and quickly hugged Myrtle and Shelby.  “Myrt, dinner is almost ready.  Will you set the table?  You know where everything is.”

Shelby said, “I brought you some flowers, Vera.  Do you have a vase I can put them in?”

“These are beautiful, Shelby.  Just what the table needs.  There are some vases in the cabinet above the fridge.  Grab that step stool and find one you like.”

The women moved comfortably around the kitchen and within minutes the food was on the set table.  Vera looked at the other two women and smiled.  “I know we have some things to catch up on from today but I want us to enjoy this meal first.”  Holding out her hands to her two friends, she said, “Let’s say the blessing.”

They clasped hands around the table and Vera, who never wanted to be called on for prayer in church, began, “Dear Lord, thank you for giving us this day…”  When she finished they all squeezed hands and Vera said, “Let’s eat!”

Over the next half hour they ate and talked about nothing of consequence.  Topics ranged from the new clothing that had arrived at Casually Chic to which color of lipstick was their favorite.  Shelby surprised them all by admitting that she loved a bright pink lip.  She blushed when Vera asked if Chief White liked a pink lip too.  After cleaning the table, they moved into the den with cups of coffee.

“Myrt, why don’t Shelby and I tell you about our talk with Johnny first and then you can fill us in on what Elizabeth had to say.”

“That works for me.  How did it go with him?”

“Shelby, he seemed more comfortable talking to you so why don’t you tell Myrt about it?”  Vera said.

Shelby looked surprised for a moment and then said, “You know, you’re right.  I do think he was more comfortable talking to me.  I wonder why?”

“Because you are known as a nice person, Shelby.  People think I’m a little too, how do they put it?  Oh yeah, direct.  That’s the word.”  Vera said with a laugh.

Laughing herself, Shelby said, “I like direct.  Anyway, Johnny seemed upset about Pop’s death.  He admitted that they argued about BBQ and sauces but said he didn’t hold a grudge.  There was some jealousy on his part because his place has been struggling.  He said that after that argument at the post office, he decided to think long and hard about himself and his business.  He decided that trying to sell BBQ when there was already such a successful place in this small town was a dumb move on his part and he had to own it.  Instead, he’s decided to close down for about a month and regroup.  The Shack will be a seafood restaurant and he is completely revamping the menu.  He seemed excited about the new ideas he had but did say that if this doesn’t work out he was probably going to find a new career.”

After a few seconds, she continued, “I know I’m new to this detective business but I feel like I know people.  Johnny didn’t do this.  He’s a good man.”

“I agree, Myrt, he didn’t do this.  He was genuinely excited for his new plans.  Dang it if he didn’t win me over.”  Vera said with a wry grin.  “Now, on to your report.  What did Elizabeth have to say?  Spill.”

Myrtle looked at Vera and Shelby.  She decided that honesty was always the best policy.  “She had a lot to say.  But, I’m not going to tell you everything.”

“Ummm, excuse me?” Vera said.

“Vera, if you had been there, you would say the same.  Some of the things that she told me don’t bear repeating.  And some she asked me to keep to myself.  I’m going to honor that request.  I will tell you what I can and you’ll have to be okay with that.”  Seeing both Vera and Shelby nod, Myrtle continued.  “When I opened the door to Elizabeth, my heart stopped for a few seconds.  I always thought she looked more like Laura but, up close, I could see Paul in some of her features.  It caught me off guard…

“Hello, Elizabeth. Come on in.  You are right on time.”

“Thanks for seeing me.  I’m not sure what came over me Tuesday but my head has been spinning and I couldn’t think of anyone to talk to.”  Elizabeth looked at Myrtle and continued, “I know we’ve never really spoken but over the years I heard my Dad say what a good person you were.  I think you were friends in school.  Is that right?”

Feeling a lump in her throat, Myrtle replied, “Yes, that’s right.  We met in 2nd grade when your Dad and grandparents moved here.  We were friends through high school.”  

“I got the feeling that you might have been more than friends.  Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.  I’m getting off track and I’m sorry.”  

“Don’t worry about it, hon.  I don’t mind talking about it if you want.  Pop and I were high school sweethearts.  He was my first love.”  

Looking closely at Myrtle, Elizabeth finally said, “I would like to talk to you and learn more about my Dad when he was younger but today probably isn’t the day.”

With a deep breath, she continued, “Sometimes I feel like I barely knew my parents.  My mother is difficult to say the least and my father tried his best but I never felt very close to him.  His death has been a too late wake up call for me.  I should’ve tried harder when he was here.  The past several weeks I’ve been thinking about family and how you can’t take anything for granted.  So, this past weekend I decided to try to spend some time with Mother.  My hope was that she would feel the same and we could finally start to get closer.  It didn’t happen that way.”

Seeing Elizabeth start to cry, Myrtle patted her hand and got the tissue box from the side table.  Handing a handful to Elizabeth, she said, “Take your time.  I’ve got all day.”  

“I’m old enough to know better.  I think I’m crying because I can’t believe that I allowed myself hope.  Mother has never been interested in anyone except herself.”

“Elizabeth, I’ve known your Mother almost my entire life.   And I will admit that we haven’t been friends.  But, I do know that mothers and daughters have complicated relationships.  She may not know how to show it but I’m sure she cares about you.”

Composing herself, Elizabeth said, “My visit started out okay.  We talked about some updates she wanted to do to her house and places she wanted to visit over the next few years.  It was actually pleasant.  Then her attitude completely changed when I mentioned Dad.  I told her that I regretted not spending more time with him and that I was realizing the importance of family.  Her face changed and she told me that I was wasting time thinking about that and she didn’t want to talk about him anymore.  She was so hateful about it that I’m afraid she brought out the worst in me.  I told her that was selfish and that I was a child grieving for my parent.  Couldn’t she at least have a little sympathy for the man she had married and had two children with?”

Elizabeth paused and Myrtle gave her a few moments before saying, “Everyone grieves in their own way.”  

“Oh but, Miss Myrtle, she wasn’t grieving.  She was angry.  Plain and simple anger.  After that she started saying that all people wanted to talk about was Pop.  Paul this, Paul that.  She brought up your visit and said you basically accused her of killing him.”

“We did no such thing!”  Myrtle said angrily.  

“I know you didn’t.  She was in a tirade, though, saying that you and Miss Vera were amateur detectives thinking you could solve his murder.  I just watched and listened to her.  Honestly, I’d never seen her like that.  After a few minutes, she huffed and said, ‘Your Daddy wasn’t Mr. Perfect.  Those women were asking me about his affairs and his love child. They couldn’t even figure that out.’”  Elizabeth looked at Myrtle and said, “I always knew that my Dad had affairs.  But, I never knew he had another child.  Mother said it like it was old news.  How could I not know?  Does everyone think I’m an idiot with my head in the sand?”

Myrtle responded, “It wasn’t common knowledge.  I found out very recently and, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who it is.”

“Well, as of last weekend, I do.”  Elizabeth announced.  

“Wait a dang minute, Elizabeth knows?  How the heck?”  Vera interrupted.

“She does know.  Her mother told her and said that if she wanted some family time maybe she should look up her sister,” Myrtle said sadly.

“Oh my goodness.”  Shelby said.  “Did she tell you?”

“She did.”  Myrtle sighed, “and I’m not ready to tell you.  Elizabeth asked me to keep it to myself for now.  I think she’s still trying to come to grips with it and doesn’t want to risk someone asking her about it before she is ready.  She asked if I would help her contact her sister.  I didn’t know what to say.  I really don’t want to get in the middle of such a personal family matter but I understand that she doesn’t want to just call this girl up out of the blue and say, ‘I’m your sister.  Let’s go get pedicures.’  I agreed to call the sister and just feel her out to see if she gave any indication of knowing the situation.  I made it clear to Elizabeth that I won’t be the one to tell the girl but if she already knows I will see what I can do to put the two of them together.”

“Are you sure you want to do that alone Myrt?  You know as well as anybody that I can keep a secret,” Vera said.

“Of course you can keep a secret and I trust you with my life, Vera.  But, I don’t want to scare this girl off and I want to try to help Elizabeth if I can.  As soon as things settle down and Elizabeth tells me it’s okay, I will tell you both.  I promise.”

“Okay then.  What’s your plan?”  Vera asked.

“I’m going to call the sister tomorrow to see if I can meet with her.  From there, I will just have to play it by ear, I guess.”

“Did Elizabeth have anything else to say, Myrtle?” Shelby asked quietly.

“She talked a little more about her Mom, Dad and brother.  I think she just needed to talk, period.  She seemed to feel better as she was leaving.  Of course, that’s when I started worrying.  I hope this all turns out well.”

After a few moments silence, Shelby said, “I thought this would be more like an Agatha Christie mystery and instead it’s like The Days of our Lives.”

With a laugh, Vera said, “Like sands through the hourglass.”

 

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 16

Tuesday evening, Myrtle met Vera at La Página de Tierras for Taco Tuesday.  Both of them chose the trio of beef, chicken and fish.  With the unlimited chips and salsa, they were stuffed after dinner.  It was a beautiful March night that hinted of the spring to come; so they decided to walk down McGregor Street to see if they could make room for some dessert.  Vera tucked her arm into Myrtle’s and they strolled quietly.  None of the retail stores were open but they both enjoyed window shopping almost as much as the real thing.  They walked along one side and then turned to make their way back to their cars.

As they neared the parking lot, Myrtle said, “Do you think you’ve got room for a piece of pie?  I’ve got one of Miss Freeman’s chocolate lovers delight.  Can I tempt you?”

“You had me at ‘Miss Freeman’ and you know it.  I’ll meet you at your house”,  Vera replied.

When they arrived, Myrtle unlocked the door and heard the phone ringing.  She rushed to reach it and answered breathlessly, “Hello.”

“Hello.  Is this Myrtle Mills?”

“Yes it is.  Who is calling?”

“My name is Elizabeth Jordan.  I’m the daughter of Paul and Laura Jordan.”

“I know who you are, sweetheart.  What can I do for you?” Myrtle asked

“I was hoping that you might be available this coming Saturday for a few minutes.  If so, I can come by your house.”

“Oh, okay.  I’m supposed to go to Columbia for the day but that can be rearranged.  Please come.”

“If you are sure?”  Elizabeth asked tentatively.

“Of course.  Of course.”

“I’ll be there at 11:00 if that works.”

“That is absolutely fine.  I will see you then.”  Myrtle hung up the phone and said “huh”.

“Who the heck was that, Myrt?  You have a very confused look on your face.”

“That was Elizabeth, Pop’s daughter.  She wants to come see me on Saturday.  I guess we no longer need to make that trip to Columbia.  The mountain is coming to Muhammad.”

“That’s interesting…or something.  Have you ever spoken with her before?”  Vera asked.

“Nope.  It’s strange; especially given the timing.  But she sounded sad on the phone so how could I say no.  Plus we were planning to try to go see her anyway.”

“Don’t furrow your brow Myrtle Mills.  The years have given us enough wrinkles without you adding more over this.  We will just see what she has to say when she gets here.”  Vera said in a matter-of-fact fashion.

“You can’t get angry with me, Vera, but I don’t think you should be here.  She called me and might not be willing to talk about whatever it is that she wants with someone else.  There was something guarded in her voice on the phone and I can imagine it will only be worse face-to-face.”  Myrtle glanced at her friend who didn’t seemed surprised by the request.

“That’s fine.  That’s fine.  You’re probably right anyway.  What if I call up Shelby and see if she wants to go over to Johnny’s shack that day and we will talk to him?”

Myrtle felt a slight pang and realized that she was jealous of Vera and Shelby hanging out again this weekend.  Shaking her head, she reminded herself that she and Vera had been friends their entire lives and she was being silly.  “That sounds like a great idea, Vera.  What if y’all do that and then we all meet here for dinner Saturday night?”

“You cooked dinner last time.  Let’s meet at my house instead and I will make my famous chicken casserole with all the side dishes we love.”  Vera said.

“That would be wonderful; I haven’t had your chicken casserole in ages.  Now, before it gets too late, let’s have that chocolate pie.”

****

The remainder of the week was uneventful for Myrtle.  She spent her days working and her nights doing her bible study homework, watching television and reading.  When she got home Friday after work, she decided to take a walk and head over to Vivian and Steve’s house.  She was thankful that her daughter and family lived just a few blocks away.  When she arrived, she was greeted at the door by Vivian’s youngest, Cindy.  Full of energy, the child never seemed to run out of steam.  Everyone loved her infectious laugh and sweet disposition.  Mary walked in the room shortly after that.  While she was more reserved, she still had the sparkle in her eye that hinted of mischief.

“Girls, I swear you grow bigger every day.  What is your Mama feeding you?  And where is that daughter of mine?”  She hugged both girls as she talked and felt her heart swell with love for them.

“Mama’s in the kitchen making dinner.  It’s witches stew* tonight.  Will you stay?”  Mary said.

“If Vivian is okay with it, I just may do that.” Myrtle answered.

Walking into the kitchen, Myrtle saw her daughter at the stove.  She could smell the onions browning on the stovetop.  Beans and cooked hamburger meat were on the counter waiting to be added in.  Turning around, Vivian exclaimed, “Where did you come from Mama?  I didn’t know you were here.”

“Sorry, after I got home from work, I decided to walk over and see what you all were doing.  The girls asked me to stay for dinner but I don’t want to impose.”

“Mama, you housed and fed me for 18 years, you are welcome here to dinner anytime.  And, you know that witch’s stew serves as many as it needs to.  Will you help me mix up the cornbread?  I’ve already got the salad ready and in the fridge.”

Mary and Cindy had been standing off to the side to see if their Granny was staying.  Mary said, “I’m going into my room to read until dinner.  Is that okay?”

“Of course, Mary.  Cindy, you go play in your room and I’ll call you both when everything is on the table.  And, don’t forget the rules – I made dinner, so you two rascals are responsible for cleaning the kitchen after dinner.”  Vivian said with a smile.

Both girls rolled their eyes (a family trait) but smiled and said in unison, “Of course, dear Mother.”  They laughed and ran off to their rooms knowing that their Mama wasn’t angry.

Myrtle laughed as she grabbed an apron.  “Those girls are so much like you.  It’s payback, you know.”  She started pulling the ingredients for the cornbread and grabbed a mixing bowl.

Vivian was slowly working on mixing everything together for the stew.  She said with a wry grin, “Well, I’ve always been told that I take after you so I guess it runs in the family.”  Turning to her mother she added, “You mentioned that you and Vera were asking some questions about Pop’s death but I haven’t had much time to talk to you about it.  How is it going?”

With a sigh Myrtle proceeded to tell Vivian about the details she and Vera had been able to find.  Because she trusted Vivian implicitly, she shared Rhonda’s story about Pop’s married lover and illegitimate child.  She could see the wheels turning in Vivian’s head and decided to give her a few quiet moments and some space to think about the things she had just learned.  Myrtle knew of her daughter’s ability to solve puzzles.  Combine that with her inherited love of mysteries and she just might think of an angle that she and Vera had missed.

Vivian continued to stir the stew as Myrtle put the cornbread in the oven.  With a furrowed brow, Vivian asked, “I know Rhonda said she didn’t know the year that Pop’s other daughter was born, but did she have any idea as to when or who it could have been?”

“If she did, she didn’t tell me.  It was obviously after his divorce from Laura but before his marriage to Rhonda.  That leaves a pretty wide open window.”  Myrtle said with a sigh.

“It does but let’s think about things.  He did eventually start sending money to the mother so maybe that’s an angle to investigate.  Another thing is that if he told Rhonda this story, chances are he told other people he was close to.  Who was his best friend?”  Vivian asked.

“Honestly, I’m not sure he had a best friend.” Myrtle said sadly. “He worked and was friendly with his customers but it’s not like he went out and played golf or poker with buddies.  From what I saw, he kept to himself when he wasn’t working.  The only thing I can think of is that he might have told one of his children.  After all, they had another sibling and he may have felt an obligation to let them know.  I’m actually supposed to see Elizabeth this weekend.  I will try to find a way to ask her about it.”

“I think you should do that, Mama.  Unless the killing was random, my gut is telling me that this other child plays a part in this drama.  But, be careful.  I don’t want to see you pulled into something dangerous.”

Hugging her daughter, Myrtle assured her, “I will be careful.  Don’t you worry, sweet pea.”

“Alright then.  Let’s eat dinner.”  Vivian went to get Steve, who was outside, working in the yard, and her daughters.  Myrtle set the table and retrieved the cornbread from the oven.  Transferring the stew to a serving bowl and getting the salad from the fridge, the food was ready as everyone else filed into the kitchen.

Steve washed his hands at the sink and then sat down.  “Cindy Lou, why don’t you say the blessing.”

Blushing, she said, “Okay Daddy.”  She closed her eyes and clasped her hands as she recited, “God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank him for our food.  By his hands, we all are fed.  Thank you for this daily bread.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhmeeeeeeeen.”  She opened her eyes to see the adults smiling at her and Mary rolling her eyes (again).  Cindy was infamous in the family for adding her personality to any blessing or song that she sang.  This time she had chosen to sing “Amen” in the Gregorian chant style she heard on PBS earlier in the day during one of the boring documentaries her Mama was watching.

The family started filling their plates and the food was quickly consumed.  Myrtle looked at the witches stew and remembered the day that she taught her daughter to make this simple dish that became a staple in their growing family.  She smiled at Vivian and then thought of Pop’s daughter, hoping that she had grown up with all the love that was evidenced around the table this night.

After dinner, Myrtle spent several hours at Vivian’s house.  Most of the time, they just all sat around and talked.  That was all that a family needed.  When it was time to go home, Steve insisted on driving her back even though it was only two blocks away.  Myrtle was secretly pleased to have a son-in-law who was so attentive.  Once home and ready for bed, she said a quick prayer of thanks for her family and that the next day’s meeting with Elizabeth would go smoothly.  ‘Ahhhhhhhhhmeeeeeen.’  She thought to herself with a smile right before she fell asleep.

*See recipe below

Vivian’s Witches Stew

1 1/2 pounds hamburger meat (80% fat)

1 medium yellow onion

2 cans pork and beans (do not drain)

1/2-1 cup of ketchup (more or less to taste)*

Salt and pepper

In a large pan, cook the hamburger meat over medium heat.  Season with salt and pepper before browning but do not add oil.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the hamburger meat from the pan.  Drain off excess fat – leaving only about a tablespoon in the bottom of the pan (any small pieces of hamburger left behind are just fine).

Rough chop the onion and place into the pan.  Season lightly with salt.  Cook over medium heat until the pieces are soft and slightly brown.  Don’t overcook.

Reduce heat to medium low.  Add hamburger meat back to pan along with both cans of pork and beans and ketchup.  Stir to mix and allow to simmer for at least ten minutes.

Serve with cornbread and a simple salad.

*The ‘best’ brand of ketchup is a running joke in our household.  We girls always preferred Heinz but would use Hunts in a pinch.  One day my Daddy went to the store and brought home Del Monte.  We were relentless in telling him what a bad choice it was and that we didn’t like it.  To this day, I check the labels in restaurants to make sure they are using the right ketchup.  (As an adult, I now see that Daddy probably bought the one that was on sale and I feel slightly bad that we gave him such a hard time.  But, it was all in fun and we still laugh about it so that’s okay.)

**P.S.  In many ways, Witches Stew is similar to a basic, inexpensive chili without the extra spices.  In our family, this was a quicker and easier alternative that worked for two young kids who wouldn’t want the spiciness of chili powder or the smokiness of cumin.  Plus, we almost always had the simple ingredients on hand.  You can add things that you like (jalapeños, sour cream, cheddar cheese, etc.) and make it your own.  Think about using fresh cooked beans to save even more money or a homemade tomato sauce for a different flavor.  Either way – Enjoy!  (P.S. Don’t throw away those leftovers.  It’s even better the next day with some cornbread broken up over the top.)