Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Michelle & Marie

I watched the movie "Julie & Julia" for the first time a few weeks ago. It's a nice little movie based on the true stories of both Julia Child (world famous chef) and Julie Powell (self-absorbed urbanite), the latter of which blogs about her triumphs and trials while making all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year (synopsis provided in case you've been living in a cave for the past few years).

In the vaguest of senses, there are some parallels between the plot of that movie and with Rational Living. Yes, we are blogging about our own unique, self-imposed, life-changing food challenges. But there are things that I'm quite happy are different. I'd like to think that I'm at least a little kinder than Julie (especially to my husband) and I'm glad that rationing cookbooks don't include a chicken-liver mousse recipe that's a must.

But there is one thing Julie had that I long for (besides a book deal): she had an intimate, explorative relationship with a historical counterpart (Julia Child) during her project. Granted, it was through books, magazines and old episodes of Julia's cooking shows, but it helped Julie feel like she wasn't going through it alone, that she had a friend who knew exactly what it was like to be exasperated by a burnt beef bourguignon.

I don't have that. We don't have that.

As you know, I love to research. Love, love, love it. And I haven't been able to find the memoirs or published diaries of any home front housewife that mentions rationing beyond an obligatory paragraph. This has been quite a disappointment to me - I've done enough research before and know what it's like to make that goose-pimple connection with an individual across time and space. I've done that - made that connection - with a Civil War soldier, a frontier doctor, and a widowed boarding house operator from the early 20th century.

I wish I had that same connection with a 1940's housewife.

The closest I've come to it is with my great-grandmother, Marie. She is probably the most amazing person I've ever known. She was adventurous, silly and exuded a warmth and love I can still feel today, over six years since she passed away.

Marie was born in rural south-central Kansas in 1902 (or, nineteen-two, as she would say). She was the only girl of six surviving children.

(Marie on the left, c. 1906)

(Marie in the back middle, holding her own with all the boys, c. 1916)

She married her sweetie (the boy from the next farm over) at the age of 16, after his service in WWI was over. She had her ups and her downs. She drove motorcycles, had children, and filled in at oil-field jobs during the Depression when her husband was too sick. She lost children, made friends, volunteered at the local YMCA and so on. And it seems that she never lost her optimism, her love, nor her faith.

In 1943 Marie would have been a 41 year old housewife with multiple young mouths (and a husband) to feed at home. She was a gardener and a canner and I'm sure that was no different during the War. She continued to can produce well into her 80's; it was in her cellar that I first learned the magical allure of rows upon rows of home preserved jars, shiny and promising. When we came to visit she would let us pick out any jar we wanted (I always chose a jar of pickled okra).

Marie was was not to be surpassed as cook and I always suspected that she could whip up anything from scratch with only basic supplies and the knowledge in her head. She could probably creat a white sauce dish with her eyes closed. She could play the organ, crocheted, loved to watch women's wrestling on t.v. and had the largest collection of salt and pepper shakers I've ever seen. She always had a Kleenex tucked in her sleeve next to the dollar bill she'd tried to slip you when your parents weren't looking.

(Stylin' Marie, with her brothers, 1967)

She had the best laugh, and used it often.

Marie was love, unconditional. I consider myself very lucky to have known her for the last 29 years of her life. I wish the scanner was working properly so I could insert my favorite picture - the one of her holding a four month old Eowyn while a two and a half year old Sissy leans in next to her great-great-grandmother.

And as trying at times as this year of rationing may get (or any of life, for that matter), I can't help but think of everything she went through and the fact that she somehow managed to keep her sanity, her smile, and her faith in humanity.

And so on this day, which would have been her 108th birthday, I salute my Julia...Great-grandma Marie.

May I never forget her lessons.

--Rational Mama


  1. Ahhh, beautiful. I love the connection you made. Us edumacators love that kind of thing! Wonderfully written, I might add! My grandma was born in 1910 and went through so many of those same things. It amazes me that she was born before cars were really in the hands of the average family, and lived to see the internet and 9/11. All the history she was a part of... just boggles my mind. She would have turned 100 the day after my 28th birthday last week. And when I was canning today, I thought about her and you. I think I totally messed up, but I'm gonna stick with these tomatoes and see if I make us all sick this winter! BTW, I think that's really neat that your daughters got to meet their great-great grandmother. Do you have a picture of all 5 generations?

  2. Thanks, Lara. We have a picture of all five generations from when Sissy was a baby. BTW, e-mail about your tomato problem - there still might be time to make it right. :)