There was a time not so very long ago when I had moved to Washington, that I figured out a few slick subway train transfers within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is called “WMATA” for short, which sound’s like something Tony Spaghetti’s big brother says to the pipsqueak who’s lookin’ at him funny:
“Ey, yew! Yeah, yew, kid. You keep lookin’ at me and my brotha like that, I’ma wamata ya right in ya gavone face. Capishe?”
Anyway, there I am in Washington, and I’m stepping out from the Red Line to Shady Grove to the Gallery Place/Chinatown station because I need to transfer to the Green; you can catch the Green Line there, as well as the Yellow Line. As I did that, I recalled how I know the NYC Metro 6 line pretty well and the Q, and that I used to take the 1 train up to the Upper West Side to get to The Yarn Company to sew because there was no room to sew in the tiny, tiny, I-hate-you tiny apartment I was living in with Yuri.
A few weeks after the WMATA moment, thinking deeply about two cities’ subway systems, I was in Chicago for a weekend and, wow, I know the train system here like the back of my hand, which, after at least thirty years (do two-year-olds consider the backs of their hands?) I know pretty well.
All these train maps in my head and the solid knowledge I have of navigating them came together and I felt like a monkey swinging from one big vine. Shoop! The L train in Manhattan that crosses the Lower East Side over to the west side. Shoop! Down from Cleveland Park in DC to get the Orange Line to Eastern Market. And then, that first, peaceful ride on Chicago’s Orange Line to go to Midway to catch a flight, knowing I’d be coming back on the same tracks.
The other day, though, I went down into the lower level of the Chase building because I thought there was a post office down there; I realized when I couldn’t find the post office that I was thinking of a post office in the basement of a building in Penn Quarter in DC. That was weird.
I will write about the movie theater. Until then — because I need to do some more fact-checking and get the perfect picture of the theater in the 1960s or 1970s — a photo of my mother and me. This was at QuiltCon in 2013.
Mom and I just wrapped taping the public television show we co-host, “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.”
I love you, Mam. You are really good at making quilts.
After thousands upon thousands of miles, innumerable flights, check-in counters, trains, cars, and so much shoe leather, my luggage has officially died.
My beloved silver Zero Halliburton suitcase used to have three different handles: the pulley-uppy retractable one, the grippy handle on top, and a similar grippy handle on the side. These handles were, as one might agree, useful for moving the piece of luggage through space. The pulley-uppy handle snapped off months ago. I would’ve gotten it fixed but I have this habit of needing my suitcase every other day. It wasn’t too bad; I could grip the top handle and wheel the thing along with not too much notice. I had to stoop slightly to the side but I almost looked cool with that little lean, like I was all, “Whatever. Planes.”
Well, the top handle broke off today at Midway. It’s over. My luggage is suddenly a horrible, heavy box. If that last handle snaps I will be forced to carry my suitcase like a baby, which is the exact opposite of what a piece of luggage is supposed to do for a person. The last handle — the one on the side — is what I’ve been using, which means I look like the worst casting decision in history for a production of Death of a Salesman. We don’t know what is good and what is bad, but come on.
When I told my mom that my luggage had given up on life, that the handles were off, she chirped, “Well, I could fashion you a handle.” We laughed, because how awful a fashioned luggage handle would be. Duct tape? Duct tape wrapped ’round and ’round the luggage when it was closed and twisted into some hideous, gnarled, sticky tape-handle? The thing is, my mother would not only figure out how to fashion a handle on a piece of luggage, she’d make it look pretty good and insist that the sticky side of the tape was all tucked in so you wouldn’t get sticky on your hand.
“It’s surprising I don’t like camping,” she said. “I loved The Swiss Family Robinson. They always had to make things out of what they had. They had to fashion things. I love fashioning things!” I said I knew it and I admired the quality in her. “Mom, you could fashion a hat out of a cinnamon stick,” I said, and it’s true.
“Remember when Jack was at the cottage and he had forgotten his toothbrush?” Mom said. “I told him, ‘Jack, I’ll just fashion you one!'” We all thought that was pretty hilarious at the time, but it wasn’t a serious offer; we keep extra toothbrushes at the lake house. But tonight, Mom and I tried to think how one might actually fashion a toothbrush.
“You could cut up a sponge!” I cried. “For the scrubby part!” I thought this was a rather inspired place to start.
“Yes, that’s it,” my mother said, miles ahead of me. “And I’d take dental floss or twine and wrap it around the sponge square so that you’d have nubbies, you know, like bristles. And then I’d get some drinking straws — three of them, for extra support — and I’d wind those together, too, for the handle. Then wind the sponge onto it and there you go: a fashioned toothbrush!”
My broken-down, put-er-out-to-pasture suitcase might be useful for something, but I don’t know what. A planter? A swimming pool for kittens? Does that mean I would be fashioning a planter? Fashioning a kitten swimming pool?
Marianne Fons is a legendary quilt personality known coast to coast and around the world. I’ve seen people practically kiss her hem upon meeting her; I’ve seen her sign napkins.** To thousands of quilters, my mother is Friend, Neighbor, and Beloved Quilt Teacher. But in the kitchen, my mother is no star. In the kitchen, she approaches remedial. She would be the first to admit this and did admit this when, moments ago, I yelled from the living room into the kitchen,
“You wouldn’t say you’re a good cook, right? I mean, you don’t consider yourself like, a person who makes more than four things? Is that accurate? Can I ask you something for PaperGirl?”
“Okay,” yelled my mother. Loud and unsure is an interesting tone of voice.
Knowing how much she hates interroom conversations, I picked up my laptop and went to where she was: at the kitchen sink. We kids pitch in in the kitchen when we’re here, but it cannot be denied that my mother does the lion’s share of dishwasher-ing at holidays. Mom seems to like KP duty. She’s first one with her hands in the sink, after all, holiday after holiday, practically racing to scrape the plates and haul out the box of Cascade. I slouched up to the other side of the bar, ate some grapes, and asked her in a more civilized way how she viewed herself as a cook.
“I make a great cherry pie,” she said. “I make good mostaccioli. My chicken ricotta soup is good. But I’m not a person who knows how to cook, no. I’m just good at following a recipe.”
“And you would admit you’re a picky eater.” It’s not possible to be a good cook if you’re picky.
“Oh, absolutely,” my mother said. I was glad she didn’t try to argue this point. I’ve never seen a pickier eater than my mother. Actually, I did see a pickier eater, once. She was four and was wearing an Elsa costume in public on a Saturday morning while I was trying to have brunch. Either that little girl agreed to eat something her tired, weary parents offered her or she has starved by now.
“The thing is, though, I’d much rather make a quilt than a dish,” my mother sniffed, hand-drying a pie plate. “At the end of a quilt, you have something that lasts.”
This is Marianne Fons-brand snobbery; harmless (no one will ever really fight over what’s more special, grandma’s chess pie recipe or grandma’s patchwork quilt) but readily available, designed to insure she comes out on top. Maybe it’s not snobbery at all but unflagging optimism; maybe we could all do with more of it, I don’t know. But regardless, every once in awhile my mother makes a comment that belies her “who needs it” position vis a vis food arts. She’s got a daughter (me) and a soon-to-be son-in-law (Jack) who take our cooking seriously. I got down to the chicken soup business yesterday and within a few minutes there was a nutrient-rich, aromatic slurry simmering on the stove; Jack has been known to say things like, “The lemons are macerating” or “Pass the dashi.” Jack and my facility in the kitchen seems to inspire Mom to gingerly expand her repertoire every once in awhile (read: Thanksgiving.)
My stepdad, Mark, was getting his hair cut the other day and saw the good people of Good Morning America talking about pumpkin flan. He told my mom that pumpkin flan sounded pretty good to him, and Mom, seeing this as her yearly opportunity to flex a bit at the stove, proclaimed that she would be making a pumpkin flan this year for Thanksgiving. And make it she did.
It looked just the way it was supposed to. It came out of the pan beautifully and the flavor was spot-on. I know because actually ate some. Pumpkin flan is definitely not on my list of “legal” foods, but I’ve been so sick lately, I figured it couldn’t possibly get any worse. So far, I have not died.
And so, my mother’s new name is Marianne Flans. We’ve decided she needs to make pumpkin flan every year for Thanksgiving because it is delicious, but also so that she can come by her new name honestly: she needs to make multiple flans to truly be Marianne Flans, plural. But we did also decide that when used in the singular, it’s acceptable to pronounce “FLAH-hn” as “f-LAN,” with the long “A” sound, for this means we have a new word to add to our favorite game ever.
**My mother would want me to point out that I’m signing napkins, now, too; I also have a fame experience my mother likely will never have and would not want: I was asked to sign a girl’s cleavage with a tube of lipstick after performing my set at the Green Mill Uptown Poetry Slam. It was a memorable moment for all.