Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Remembering Katie

This is a picture of a treasure. Not just because of the publication date -- that being the 1919 edition of a book first published in 1887. It is a fat collection about "cooking, toilet and household recipes, menus, dinner-giving, table etiquette, care of the sick, health suggestions, facts worth knowing, etc." by Hugo Ziemann, Steward of the White House and Mrs. F.L. Gillette. The dedication reads: "To the wives of our presidents, those noble women who have graced the White House, and whose names and memories are dear to all Americans, this volume is affectionately dedicated by the author." It contains, throughout the pages, pictures of each of the First Ladies, from Martha Washington through Frances Folsom Cleveland. And I would like to mention Mrs. James Monroe was a hottie.

This particular book was in Mom's collection but even that is not what makes it a treasure. The neat thing about it is that it originally belonged to Katie Adolphsen, who was "sorta kinda" an aunt by marriage once removed -- or something like that. It doesn't really matter. She and her brother Fred were considered family and that is that.

Spinster and bachelor, they lived in an old house a few miles down the road. Fred was tall and gangly, an Ichabod Crane kind of figure. I don't remember ever seeing him in anything but his black pea coat and black canvas pants, with high top clodhopper shoes and always -- always -- there was a camera dangling from his neck. Fred was a photo hound, first class. He must have taken thousands of pictures over the years and many families owe him for the photographic memories he preserved of this area and the people who live here. When I graduated from the eighth grade, Fred gave me my very first camera, a little Kodak Brownie Reflex with a flip top. You looked down into a little 2 x 2 window to take the picture -- and that's the size that came out when the film was developed.

Katie was a great one for jigsaw puzzles. There was one room in their house where she stored great stacks of jigsaw puzzle boxes. Each time we went to visit, I was allowed to select a few and borrow them. She was my jigsaw lending library.

If Fred reminded me of Ichabod Crane, Katie very much resembled the woman in that famous painting by Grant Wood titled "American Gothic." Except Katie had less chin and a far more serene expression. I can't say I knew her well. She was a "grown up" and I was a mere child. We treated each other with friendly courtesy but there wasn't really any bond.

Still, I think about them and wonder about their lives. Fred got out and about a lot but I think Katie stayed pretty much at the house -- by her own choice, I'm fairly sure. She was not so much shy as self-contained. At least that's how I see her over the gulf of years gone by. Unfortunately, I don't have Mom around any more to ply with questions. But I think about those stacks of jigsaw puzzle boxes, some of them taller than my ten-year old self, and I have to wonder if she was often terribly lonely. But maybe not. She always seemed to me like one of those quietly strong people who enjoy the company of others but don't really need it.

Going through that cook book today, I smiled to remember those long ago visits. I read the recipes she had carefully penciled onto blank pages in the back of the book -- something called Fairy Pudding and a simple fruit cake and a boiled salad dressing -- and I could picture her moving efficiently and quietly about her spotless kitchen, preparing, cooking, serving.

And I think she, too, was one of those noble ladies who graced a white house in the woods and though I wasn't able to know her well, I remember her fondly. And I'll bet she's a whiz at the jigsaw puzzle selection in heaven.


Wolfie said...

That's the best kinda cookbook. My Mom has several like that. I'm gonna have to ask to borrow them while she's still here for me to ask questions of, huh?

John Bailey said...

That piece is better even than a photograph for seeing people and the world, Dee -- well penned!

b said...

What a treasure! I would loved to have had my Grandma's cookbook that had their medical information in the back. Somewhere along the line of family it has disappeared. I do have her diaries though.

Mage And George said...

Well, loook at that familiar old face. My mother had her mother's copy....put together with the old fashioned brown tape. High acid paper made the pages more than fragile, but she loved that cook book. When I married my first husband, she got together with my grandma and wrote out by hand all the family recipes and put them into a 5x7 3 ring binder for me. I now have five of those.....including the origonal one.....and they keep those two ladies alive in my memory every day.