One day in 1958 a hapless door-to-door salesman came to 48 Biscayne Bay to show our mum an Atomic Age precursor to the Me Generation food processor. When you’re five, a mother is just an old person who’s not quite as old as a grandmother, and it didn’t occur to me then that she was in fact a fairly young person with a pretty good line in childish mischief. The guy never had a hope of selling her that machine, but that didn’t stop her allowing him the best part of an hour to put it (and himself) through its paces. He made us kids some quite lush and tasty and ever so slightly crunchy milkshakes which included “… raw eggs, ma’am, shells and all!” Then he produced a bag full of pattypan squash from his magician’s case. I don’t remember what he promised to do with them, or why such a cute, unassuming and easily managed little vegetable required the full force of Atomic Power to be unleashed upon it. I do remember that he “…musta pushed the wrong button, ma’am!” and suddenly globs of tepid gelatinous yellow matter were flying everywhere, all over the kitchen. Some of it got me smack in the mouth. If you don’t count Libby’s canned pumpkin pie filling, it was my first encounter with squash of any variety, and left me with an aversion I didn’t shake until some time in my thirties. Mum managed to keep a straight face as the salesman wiped down various kitchen surfaces as best he could while offering assurances that “This almost never happens, ma’am!” and in her fun-loving spirit she allowed him his finale, which was a perfectly passable take on French Canadian pea soup. She even held the straight face as she said, “Well, not today, thanks. Maybe I’ll order one sometime from Eaton’s on my Revolving Credit Plan [which I understood to mean at no charge].” Cruelly, she omitted to mention that his next prospect, Mrs Tucker at number 46, was an actual French Canadian, an unusually fiery one at that, and that perhaps minestrone or simple tomato soup would be a safer offering if he indeed got as far as her kitchen.
I’d intended that at this point I’d segue into something about ghosts, and then remembered I don’t believe in ghosts. Not yet. The great storyteller Stephen King is moving me in that direction; thus far we converge on something I’ve been calling “domestic patina” and which Mr King in his deceptive simplicity calls “leavings”. In both cases we are talking not just about fossilized puréed food (me) or decayed human brain tissue and bodily fluids (him), but also about some sort of long-lasting (vibrational?) imprint on a place, left by stuff people did and said— maybe even felt— when they were the inhabitants. Walls, ceilings, floors…maybe even the air. In my dotage I’m coming to feel that if there are no leavings then perhaps equally there was no point.
When I move back to Winnipegland, as I plan to do next year, I think I’ll invest in a deerstalker hat, a magnifying glass and an ear-trumpet, and go a-hunting. I will start by knocking on the door of 48 Biscayne Bay, wheedling my way in with a gift of pattypan squash (and my recipe*) and finding what may be there to be found.
*Drop these little beauties whole into boiling water for a minute and a half, then arrest cooking with a cold water rinse. Snip off the green stems, halve or quarter, and gently sauté in butter with red and/or green (or even purple!) bell peppers. Sprinkle to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. The nutmeg makes this. Serve alongside any sort of fish you like.