1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 6 of 8)

Perhaps that keeps it from being gluttony … not according to the dictionaries, bu tin my own lexicon of taste. I do not know.

H is for Happy…

… and for what kind of dinner most often is just that evanescent, unpredictable, and purely heaven-sent thing.

In general, I think, human beings are happiest at table when they are very young, very much in love, or very lone. It is rare to be happy in a group: a man can be merry, gay, keenly excited, but not happy in the sense of being free … free from life's cluttering and clutching.

When I was a child, my Aunt Gwen, who was not an aunt at all but a largeboned and enormous-hearted woman who, thank God, lived next door to us, used to walk my little sister Anne and me up into the hills at sundown. She insisted on pockets. We must have at least two apiece when we were with her. In one of them, on these twilight promenades, would be some cookies. In the other, oh deep, sensuous delight, would be a fried-egg sandwich!

Nobody but Aunt Gwen ever made fried-egg sandwiches for us. Grandmother was carefully protected from the fact that we had ever even heard the term, and as for Mother, preoccupied with a second set of children, she shuddered away from the thought of such grease-bound proteins with a thoroughness which should have made us regretful but instead succeeded in satisfying not only our hunger but our human need for secrets.

The three of us, Aunt Gwen, weighing a good four times what Anne and I did put together, would sneak out of the family ken whenever we could, into the bluing air, our pockets sagging and our spirits spiraling in a kind of intoxication of freedom, breathlessness, fatigue, and delicious anticipation. We would climb high above other mortals, onto a far rock or a fallen eucalyptus tree and sit there, sometimes close as burrs and sometimes apart, singing straight through Pinafore and the Episcopal Hymm Book (Aunt Gwen was both British and everything from contralto to basso profundo in the Whittier church choir), and biting voluptuously into our tough, soggy, indigestible, and luscious suppers. We flourished on them, both physically and in our tenacious spirits.

Lone meals, which can be happy too, are perhaps the hardest to put on paper, with a drop of cyanide on their noses and a pin through their guts. They are the fleetingest of the gastronomical butterflies. I have known some. We all have. They are compounded in almost equal parts of peace, nostalgia, and good digestion, with sometimes an amenable touch of alcohol thrown in gratis … and gratefully.

As for dining-in-love, I am blessed among women to find the subject limitless! Today I think of a luncheon at the Lafayette in New York, in the front café with the glass pushed back and the May air flowing almost visibly over the marble table tops, and a waiter named Pons, and a bottle of California Folle Blanche and moules-more-or-less-marinière but delicious, and then a walk, in new, black, high-heeled shoes with white stitching on them, beside a man I had just met and a week later was to marry, in spite of my obdurate resolve never to marry again and my cynical recognition of his supersalesmanship. Anyone in the world could dream as well, being blessed….

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