May/June 2007


The Mother of All Folklore Columns

Dear Brother Dan,

I've just received Mom's email wondering where this month's folklore column is. In my defense, I have to point out that I did not ask for the Dodgers/Padres game to last for 17 innings. It's just not fair. Anyway, if you talk to mom tell her I owe her another jacuzzi or something...

Now let's see — we need a column for May, and I need to appease my mother. Think, think — what to do? What do mothers and May have in common?

Oh yeah.

Welcome, dear friends, to our special Mother's Day column! I am reminded of my father's mother's mother, who I actually knew, and who passed from this mortal stage in the early 1960's while raising a glass of champagne in toast.

Now, I have always thought that that was just about the coolest possible way to go, and in her memory let us therefore raise our own glasses, at whatever Mother's Day celebration we find ourselves.

(I should point out that the jacuzzi comment goes back to the late seventies, when I had a band and frequently needed use either of Mom's car, or of Mom's 15 year old son David, who was our bass player. When once I needed such a favor from my sainted, long suffering mother, I promised to buy her a house the very instant we became millionaires. The next time I needed something, having already promised said house, I offered to add a swimming pool. The next time, now owing her both house and pool, I threw in a jacuzzi. It escalated from there.)

At any rate, a toast to mothers everywhere! They carry with them the great secrets and mysteries of Life Itself, they nurture and mold us, they loan us cars and little brothers — and they rarely demand anything in return outside of the occasional folklore column.

Another toast — this one to Mary Towles (Mamie) Sasseen, a schoolteacher from Kentucky, who began pushing for a national Mother's Day celebration as early as the mid 1880's. Inspired by a successful (and presumably local) event known as "Author's Day", she explained herself in a pamphlet published in 1893:

"Having by experience learned how much one can teach a child regarding the lives and works of the poets, by our system of Author's Day, it suggested itself to me that by celebrating Mother's Day once a year, much of the veneration, love and respect due to parents might, by song, verse and story, be inculcated in the next generation."

Then, of course, a toast to another schoolteacher, Anna M. Jarvis, who in 1907 began a new movement to set up a national Mother's Day. Unlike her lesser known predecessor, Jarvis was ultimately successful, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday of May as Mother's Day.

Now, presumably we are all at a Brunch somewhere while we make these toasts. In that spirit, let us turn to Jolly England in the 1890's, a particularly exciting and bohemian time to be young, and an era most conducive to collegiate frivolities, such as the creation of new slang words. One such word originating at this time was — you guessed it — "brunch", which had become a deliberately silly appelation for the "High Breakfasts" that the English Upper Classes had been enjoying for decades. A toast, therefore, to Guy Beringer, who in 1895 shared this silly little word with the world in England's "Hunter's Weekly" magazine. (Needless to say, the word was absolutely frowned upon until the 1920's and 30's, when the custom of late morning Sunday feasts began to catch on in the States.)

In that spirit, a second culinary toast: this one to Mrs. LeGrand Benedict and Lemuel Benedict. Mrs. Benedict supposedly created Eggs Benedict by suggesting the combination of muffins, ham, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce to a chef at Delmonico's Restaurant in New York. Lemuel, on the other hand, claimed to have originated the concoction by suggesting the combination of buttered toast, bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce to a chef at New York's Waldorf, as a hangover cure.

It is reasonable to assume that the former is the true author, since our Delmonico's chef (Charles Ranhofer) actually included the recipe (as "Eggs ala Benedick) in a cookbook published in 1894, the very year that Lemuel is supposed to have originated his own concoction. Still, neither claim has ever been completely substantiated, so a toast to them both!

Moving along to the more important toasts, here's a special toast to every mother reading this, and if you're not one, then a toast to your own mother!

And I must toast my father's mother — a Wild Irish Rose from Iowa who came of age in Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties — and my mother's mother, born in Hawaii and not a little wild herself as she grew to adulthood in Los Angeles. Both women were extraordinarily loving and supportive, and both defied great odds (and parents) to marry the men they wanted to — a very good thing, since there would otherwise be no Me to type these very words!

A very special toast to my mother-in-law, Gloria, who has not only given me many ancestors I would not otherwise know about, but also of course produced my wife!

And a very very special toast — the one you all saw coming — to Mom, my own Mom, Sheryl Anderson, owner of Book Again for an astonishing number of years, to whom by my own calculations I now owe 79 swimming pools and 186 jacuzzis.

Lastly, the Toast of Toasts to my wife Lisa, who later this year will become...

A Mother.

—Joe Nolte