summer memories: a dubious gardening hint, a dubious recipe adaptation, and why the daycamp carpool was late

The name of the little village in which Flintstone Manor is located is derived from the ancient Algonquian language of the First Townies. Because it's on Long Island, known for its inept railroad service, for its surfeit of shopping opportunities, and for the number of electric company executives currently participating in Witness Relocation - because, as I say, we are on Long Island, I translate the name of our village to "Place Where There Is No Mall," or PWTINM.

We chose the town because what's the point of having a weekend/summer place if you can't get to it? Other towns, other beach communities, have more facilities, more stores, more nightlife, even restaurants. We have the joy of not having to take planes, not having to spend an extra hour and a half in traffic each way, being able to run out of a snowy night to make sure the electricity is still working (points to second sentence of this paragraph). And we have a few friends who also have places, if not right down the street, then nearby.

Some of these friends hadn't lived in a house before. In apartments, generally, if you have a problem, you call the super, and if you garden at all, it's in a container or a terrarium. If, indeed, a live plant is even involved. So when our friends Jake and Thelma (not their real names) moved in to their new little house (with pool! with fireplace! with deck! with skylights!), each discovery of a new Person Who Must Be Paid was, well, an event. In a house, you pay people to bring things - oil, gas, TV service - and you pay people to take things away - trash, recycling, dead leaves, fallen trees. You pay people because you can't or won't do what they do. You also pay people to keep the house from getting overgrown by random vines and malicious tree roots, and so on. "Fair enough, I guess," Jake said, "I come out here to relax, and dealing with butane tanks and septic tanks and anything else with tank in its name is outside my comfort level." But we all have our limits, and one day Jake learned that the strange lumps and bumps in the "lawn" were not some floral experiment of Thelma's gone wrong, but were mole habitats. He hopefully inquired if moles are seasonal migrators. "I love to come here," said the gardener, "you have such a dry sophisticated sense of humor. Are you English?" Then he quoted a price for mole work, and Jake knew he had reached his limit.

Jake's next-door neighbor advised Thelma that she should drop Ex-Lax tablets down the mole holes, 5 or 6 tablets per hole. Thelma counted up the holes and sent Jake over to the drugstore in the next town to pick up 2 dozen packages. The lady at the counter asked if he was sure if he really wanted that much. "Oh," said he, noticing the stares of other customers, "they're not for me, they're for my wife." He told this to Thelma when he came back from his mission, and she has since refused to enter that drugstore. She has also insisted that the remaining supply of chocolate-flavored laxative be kept in the basement in a covered box.

Some summers you get enough pleasant days in a row to feel like cooking. This has not been one, so far. But when I do make a dinner that includes a made dessert, a favorite is a lime chiffon pie. This is not difficult to assemble, it's very pretty and cool-looking, not too sweet, indeed a little tangy, and I no longer give the recipe. This is why:

Himself's cousin Bryony (not her real name) was desperate to meet a guy and get married. Clocks were ticking, wives were not being left (that hiss you heard was the ghost of my mother who upon meeting Bryony for the first time told me "nice enough girl, you need to tell her he won't leave his wife, they never do" and Bryony had arrived alone). So I was making dinner for - oh, some relative or other, and I made the pie, and honestly you would think this crowd had never been fed pie before. And the next day I had four phone calls - the recipe? Three people lost interest when it turned out the pie is not based in green jello. Bryony was more insistent, she was having a guy over for dinner and needed a lovely dessert. 

I began with the crust - you grind up enough almonds to make a cup and a half and you mix in melted butter.

I use margarine, said Bryony, and almonds are very expensive, a can of mixed nuts would be just as good, wouldn't it?

Every step, every ingredient - she put up a fight. Using only half a teaspoon of gelatin was wasteful. Heavy cream was expensive. Fresh limes were expensive. Four eggs - expensive, two would do, and she wouldn't bother getting her electric mixer dirty, she'd just use the egg beater. And since she wasn't buying limes, she'd use green sprinkles left over from cookie-baking instead of grated lime rind as the final decoration. "Bri, I really don't think it will taste or look like the one you liked at my house," I said. She assured me she knew how to substitute.

She was very angry when the pie was unservable and was dank and inedible even when spooned into little dishes. No proposal, naturally. She held a grudge for years. 

Now the thing about carpooling your kids is this: not every parent in the car pool is going to be your friend. There are times, however, when you need to carpool the little darlings for x days a week and you have x minus 1 drivers. Civilized people might consider having everyone do an extra day once a month, but that's not always possible, and so someone knows someone who's "maybe a little [ambiguous but unfavorable adjective of your choice] but her car is big enough." And you know there will be trouble. The thrifty mom will run out of gas, the casual lady will confuse Tuesday with Thursday, and there you are, dealing with a woman who has a kidnapping phobia. Why is her kid the one being kidnapped and not any of the others? Quite reasonable, she explains that anyone can tell at a glance that little Andrew comes from wealth, his father is a surgeon, and therefore his parents would be able to pay the ransom. Whereas Bam-Bam, Richie, Douglass and VanDyke would have to wait to be dropped off at home until their kidnappers could no longer afford to feed them, I guess. 

But everyone had a busy summer lined up, and so we asked Susan if she cared to be part of our carpool, and after discussing it with her husband the surgeon, she agreed. I have to say that she was prompt, if a little fussy about dirty tennis shoes and wet towels. I mean, it was a daycamp carpool. It worked like this: you drove up a long one-way street, were checked in at the foot of the driveway, continued driving to the your assigned drop-off point, were checked again by a second clipboard lady, at which point the children were allowed out of the car and into a fun fun fun experience. At the end of the day, the process was reversed: first clipboard lady checked you in and gave you the number of your pickup spot, you crept up the drive to your spot, and second clipboard lady had your group ready. Sounds like a bit much, but at another program, I once found 2 strange kids in my car. Someone had hollered "Faster! Get in the car!" and they did. I gave the extra kids back, of course. I already had Bam-Bam, Pebbles, the Boy of the Jungle, Dino the Olde Englishe Sheepdogue, and Himself to feed. Like Jake, I know my limits.

So one day Himself needed the Real Car for work, and I was left with the Station Car - bought used, elderly, unfashionable, but with a reliable starter and killer acceleration. I always thought one of its previous owners had used it as a getaway car.  No big deal, I was used to the car and expected to make no great demands on it. Then a little before Daycamp Pickup Time, Clarissa called - she was stuck in traffic and would do anything I asked forever if I would make her pickup run. She was lying, but very pitifully.

The Station Car did not like surprises, but in fairness it tried. The first clipboard lady asked for ID, because she didn't have the Station Car on her Approved List. I complied, and we proceeded to the second clipboard lady at our pickup spot. She hustled the small group of tired boys toward me. Bam-Bam was excited to ride in Dad's Station Car, Douglass, Richie and VanDyke were curious, and little Andrew announced that he was not getting in THAT CAR. Everyone explained that our regular car was not available and this was the Station Car. Andrew explained that his father was a surgeon and therefore he did not have to ride in old cars. The car chose that moment to backfire (it accelerated, right, but didn't like idling.) Andrew burst into tears. The other boys behaved like 5-year-old boys behave when someone they don't like very much anyway acts like a baby. The second clipboard lady told me I had exceeded my time at the pickup spot and would have to drive around and get on the end of the line and try again.

This is where I might mention that Andrew's mother had not given us her phone number because her husband was a surgeon and had strong feelings about privacy.

By the time I had come around again, the other boys were singing a song about Sturgeons and Andrew was weeping quietly. The camp director told me he'd been calling Andrew's home, but the number was busy. "C'mon, Andrew, let's get you home," I said, and he set his jaw and got into the car beside me. His house was not the first stop in the normal course, but that's where we went. As we turned into his street, he recovered his aplomb and said he hoped the neighbors wouldn't see him getting out of this car. No problem, the neighbors were busy looking at the three police cars and the group of officers trying to calm Andrew's mother. It turned out she had called her husband the surgeon, who was operating. She became hysterical and the hospital connected her to the operating room. When her husband the surgeon learned that she was upset because the carpool was late, he brusquely instructed her to call the police if she thought the kid had been kidnapped.

"Licence, registration and insurance, ma'am," said the tallest policeman.
"Howya, Tony, just a minute," I said.
"Hey, howaya! Didn't recognize the car!"
"It's Himself's Station Car."
"Yeah, I know, I was just messin with ya. Is this the missing kid?"
"He wasn't missing, he just didn't want to ride in the Station Car."
"Well," said Tony the Cop, "after all, his father's a surgeon."


  1. Huge smiles today. Rueful ones, but smiles nonetheless.
    One of my mother's friends loved to give her recipes - but always left out a key ingredient, thereby ensuring that no-one could out perform her (on that level).
    And years back our car was old, tired and battered. The people I worked with asked if we could park in another car park - because we were lowering the tone of the work car park.

  2. hi, Elephant's Child, my grandmother was very protective of her recipes, she'd always manage to leave out a step or a technique. It took us years to figure out that she took the crepe pan off the fire before pouring in the batter, them put the pan back on the fire. Makes all the difference.

    And a tone-y car par! Now that's impressive.

  3. Thanks WFF, totally entertaining! Sometimes carpools don't turn out to be all that helpful, I agree!

  4. Teeheehee! Chortling away here!

    It makes me laugh when people expect to make delicious dishes with crap ingredients!
    Car snobbery also amuses me greatly. We used to have an elderly Volvo station that drew a lot of snide comments from the upwardly mobile types of our 'hood. Then it died and *shock horror* we no longer have a car at all! We do a car share thing or cycle or walk or get the bus.
    As a Londoner, I don't even have a licence, so it doesn't bother me one iota, but you should see the consternation it causes some people. You'd have thought not driving was akin to being a member of Al Qaeda!!

  5. Hi, Ruth, I learned to drive out of desperation when stuck in a suburb with a very young family. Because of the schools, that's why. In my own school years, I was chauffeured around by teenage boys, so never bothered to learn, and in NYC a car is an expensive and generally non-deductible dependent. I love public transportation - with of course the exception of the Long Island RailRoad, a/k/a the Joke on Rails.

  6. Is Susan her real name? Andrew sounds like a real weiner...I know, couldn't help myself.

    1. oops I forgot to add the parenthetical.

  7. bwahahha @ the pie story - and now, i'd like a pie...

  8. This is hilarious! Well there's so much material here, lovely pie turned hideous! Haha! That kid Andrew, hmmm I hope he turned out okay and not too anxious.
    Fred you've outdone yourself!

    1. hi, Dani, well, I had to get my head out of shopping - glad you had a laugh!

  9. Oh too funny! I do not have a prideful bone in my body about cars nor am I impressed with better or worse versions of ours - I think I must have missed that gene for some reason - and never ceased to be amazed!

    On my 2nd day of kindergarten the mother who was to carpool us got sick and sent her husband instead. My best friend Alton would NOT get in - screamed and ran the other way. We left our man behind that day...

    1. hi, Wendy, Himself has had that effect on little kids at times, too.

  10. Excellent! I don't drive but I do know that you need iced water running in your veins to help you cope with carpool frustrations.

  11. Love these tales! Margarine and mixed nuts-- hope you weren't present at that feast. Do you have Lee Bailey's Key Lime Pie recipe? Wouldn't be published now b/o uncooked eggwhites, but it's also very easy and good. Can email it if needed; the chiffon sounds yummy.

    Geez, can some people be more pompous? We always had the oldest cars in the doctors' lot and often bought them from the orthopods! And always in the phonebook. Wonder how entitled Andrew is today...

    1. hi, Lane, well, since Mrs Wife-of-Surgeon would have nothing to do with the carpool group after Son-of-Sturgeon's narrow escape from kidnapping, I'll never know.

  12. I'm chuckling like a crazy person. Thank you so much for the hilarious stories to cheer up a crummy Monday!

    1. hi, shopalot, you are most welcome.

  13. Wonderful stories WFF. I didn't know there was a Bam-Bam, let alone a Pebbles or Boy of the jungle. Delightful. Your travel stories and meals always seem so sophisticated. Your car pool story brings to mind a visit from a Very Important nephew, scion of a corporate president. I overheard him talking when he was visiting me years ago. He was about 6ish and was wondering around my bathroom musing-"Oh, oh, so this is what shabby look like." I suppose it was a matter of comfort to all in your village, that your children were safe from miscreants, and that only Andrew needed care.

  14. "her husband was a surgeon and had strong feelings about privacy" keyboard is glad there was no coffee present for the reading of this delightful homage to the Hamptons. Thank you Fred.


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