ON BEING ENTOMBED.

ON BEING ENTOMBED.

Living in isolation, I find myself with time on my hands.  There are all kinds of projects — like clearing my closets, the pantry, my office.  While important, these tasks are what some may call “non-starters.”  I settled on going through my office credenza, which is filled with old photographs.

Among the pictures were photos of a holiday taken long-ago in Capri, the idyllic island off the southern coast of Italy.  As my mind traveled back in time, I recalled an incident that gave a whole new meaning to the term “isolation.”

I was sitting in the lounge of the hotel with my parents when I realized I’d left something in my room.  I rushed off to retrieve it.  Upon entering the elevator, I pushed the floor number and headed up.  Suddenly there was a jolt, and the elevator stopped.

I pushed the floor number again.  Nothing.  Once again.  Nothing.  I pushed every floor number.  Nothing.  There was a little button with a bell on it.  I pushed it.  In the distance, I heard ringing, then NOTHING.   Anxiety was building. I pushed the bell button again, determined to keep it ringing until I made contact with a human being.

From afar,  I heard, “Pronto, pronto, Qual e il problema?”

Oh hell, my Italian is not all that good, and, with panic just around the corner, it’s not good at all.  “Help!”

In very broken English (he was on the verge of hysteria, and his English was about as good as my Italian), he asked, “Where are you?”

Where did he think I was? “I’m in the elevator.”

“Si signorina, a che piano?”

“What?”

“On what floor?”

“I don’t know.  The elevator just stopped.”

“I need for you to open the door.”

There was more than one set of doors in the elevator.  I went to one and pressed my hands against the door and attempted to drag it to an open position.  This is not an easy thing to do when the lift isn’t functioning.  Finally, the door was open.  I faced a wall.

“What do you see?”

“A brick wall.”

“I need for you to open the other door.”

Again, drag and pull– another brick wall.

“What do you see?”

“Oh my God, I’m entombed!”

“Che cosa?

“It’s another wall!”

“Solo un momento.”  And then there was “the sound of silence.

I recalled a movie where an elevator crashed.  Someone remarked, if the people hadn’t been standing, they might have survived, but their spinal columns were shattered when the elevator jolted to the bottom of the shaft.

“Signorina? I am going to pull you up.”

With that, using what I guess was some kind of pulley system, he tugged, then tugged again.  After each tug, the lift would move upward then settle down with a jarring bump.   As I fell to the floor in an effort to save my spinal column, I prayed.  “Please, God, I don’t want to die in an elevator crash.”

Finally, I saw a bit of light, then more and then the head of the man pulling me up.  I have no idea what he thought when he saw me lying on the floor.  Perhaps he believed I fainted.  A few more pulls and I was free!

Yes, there are different types of isolation — some dramatic, others seemingly never-ending.  We all hope this time of seclusion draws to a close, sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

Cooking 101

Cooking 101

In these days of pandemic and self-isolation, I received an email from a friend, suggesting we add a twist to an old idea — the recipe exchange.  It’s called the #QuarantineCooking recipe exchange.  What fun!

The most saved shows on my DVR are cooking shows.  I love to cook, and for a “home cook,”  I’m not so bad.  However, looking back on my initial kitchen encounters, I wasn’t adept when it came to food preparation.

One of my first attempts involved surprising my parents – and I must admit, they were surprised.  I came up with a plan to fix “breakfast in bed” for mom and dad.  The menu wasn’t complicated.  It consisted of toast with jam, coffee, and juice.  I was old enough to manage the toaster, and pouring juice was no particular problem.  It was the coffee that got me!  I didn’t know how to work the electric coffee pot.  How many grounds should I put in?  How much water?  Does it really have to heat up?  My parents were grateful for the attempt, but it was their first taste of chewable coffee.

My second foray into cooking involved baking.  Baking requires precision.  One must have exact measurements, cooking times, and temperatures.  I loved Toll House cookies, and the instructions were on the side of the package of chocolate chips.  The recipe called for 1 tsp baking soda.  I looked in the cabinet with mom’s pantry items and found baking powder.  I couldn’t find baking soda, but I’d seen it before.  It was a white powdery substance.  I opened the Baking Powder.  It was white and a powder (hence the name).  I figured they must be the same.  Of course, I was wrong.

It’s also helpful to understand the terms used in recipes.  Why do they call it “creaming” the butter?  How much cream should you add?

But I digress.  What was I going to use for #QuarantineCooking?   When you’re isolating and limiting trips to the grocery store, you hopefully have a pantry filled with staples and spices.  I generally have some meats or fish in the freezer.

A couple of weeks ago, on the Food Network show, “The Kitchen,” the cast did a segment on Quarantine Cooking.  Jeff Mauro presented his recipe for Crispy Skin  Salmon Provencal with a Red Cabbage Salad.  https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/crispy-skin-salmon-provencal-with-charred-red-cabbage-salad-8553405

It looked outstanding.  The salmon part of the recipe had a total of six ingredients:  salmon, olive oil, butter, herbes de Provence, Dijon Mustard, and lemon.  I had everything for the salmon.  I didn’t have cabbage in the house, but I did have brussels sprouts (aren’t they like little cabbages?).

Check out Jeff’s recipe.  If you aren’t interested in the crispy skin, remove it.  You don’t have herbes de Provence.  Try using dried thyme or Italian seasoning — you can rename it, Salmon Italiano.  My sister-in-law doesn’t like mustard.  If I would fix it for her, I’d simply swap mayonnaise for mustard.

Brussels Sprouts do very well when roasted.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut off the woody ends of the sprouts, and tear off any dried outer leaves.  Drizzle with olive oil, making sure the oil is on all of the sprouts.  Place on a sheet tray (cover the bottom with foil for easier cleanup), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them once about halfway through.

So there you have it with suggestions for “swaps” if required.  Follow Jeff’s recipe for the salmon and mine for the side dish.  Voila — you have dinner.  If you’re doing the Provencal version, “Bon appetit,” or the Italiano version, “Buon appetito.”  Whatever.  ENJOY!

 

 

 

THE GOLDEN BOY

THE GOLDEN BOY

What follows is a slightly edited post from June 23, 2018.  It was my brother’s birthday. On Sunday, March 22, Harlley Ellsworth McKean passed peacefully.

When he was young, he would tag after his big brother to a vacant field, where the neighborhood boys played softball. A towhead, he always seemed to end up playing outfield. Inevitably a long drive would head to the outer reaches of the park, and he would race after it. That is until he suddenly vanished.

Face it! It wasn’t the best ballpark in the world, and the “outfield” was a composite of high grass and deep holes. The last anyone would see of the boy as he raced after the fly ball, arms outstretched, was his blond hair literally disappearing from view. It was no accident; he played outfield. Yes, it’s tough being the younger sibling.

Years later, as Ted told this tale of his brother’s softball prowess, he bestowed upon him the moniker, “Golden Boy.” It stuck.

Good things happen to those who wait. As Har was about to enter his teens, along came a younger sister, and the Golden Boy began to nurture a wicked side he had never displayed before. Now, he was the oldest, and teasing his younger sister was a right of passage. While at the movies watching “The Wizard of Oz, he pestered her, pretending he was a winged monkey ready to fly her away. The theater was filled with a child’s voice yelling, “Stop it, Harlley!”

On another occasion, he enlisted a pal to pull dollars off our elm tree. The two insisted that it was a “money tree.”  At first, I didn’t believe it, stating, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  But the guys persisted,  “this particular tree is magic.”  They even let me find $1.00.  Do you have any idea how disappointing it was to find out that was not true? I’m still suffering.

Our lives were woven together loosely as many years were spent apart. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Har was at Cornell College, followed by attending graduate school at Purdue University. I was in high school, then college, and later working in downtown Chicago.

However, our lives intersected again in 1968. We both moved to California, he was up in Berkeley, and I was down in Palo Alto. While in the Bay Area, we often visited. Sometimes we were sailing in San Francisco Bay, on other occasions we enjoyed the pool at my apartment, and of course, there were visits to the wine country. We relished the freer culture that was northern California. Even after he moved back to Purdue, we managed to meet up for the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena.

Over the years, we’ve lived both near and far apart, having many adventures, and we’ve always remained close. It’s been a long road from childhood to today. There have been joyful times, and as life would have it, times of sorrow as well. Through it all, we’ve been each other’s support and may not have physically carried one another, but we did indeed lift one another emotionally.

With our long journey in mind, I’m reminded of Bob Russell’s lyrics.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

REST IN PEACE BRO’

TWO WOMEN

TWO WOMEN

Editor’s Note:  This was first published on April 18, 2017.  Sunday is Mother’s Day, and feeling a little nostalgic, I thought it appropriate to post it again.

I had a birthday last week, and it brought to mind two important women in my life.  The first was my mother.  The second was my mom.

“Huh?” you say.  “I thought you said two, women.”

I was born in a very conservative Midwest.   At that time, a stigma existed about pregnancy without the benefit of marriage.  Judgment and criticism had not evolved much beyond the puritanical beliefs noted in “The Scarlet Letter.”

My mother, Florence, was a self-reliant woman who supported two young children from a previous marriage.  There was no place to hide when she found herself pregnant.

A relative and close friend, Bonnie, approached her regarding her pregnancy.  What could she do to help?  After some conversation, Bonnie had a suggestion.  She said, “I’ve always wanted a girl, and I can’t have more children.  If you have a girl, would you consider letting us adopt her?”

I don’t know how long the two considered this proposal before they agreed.  And, that is how my “mom” came into the picture.

I was raised in a family of four — my mom, dad, and two older brothers.  I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I was.  Despite a decade and more age difference between my brothers and I, we’ve always been incredibly close.  My parents were encouraging and supportive of my efforts.  I never questioned the love that surrounded me.  From the beginning, I knew I was adopted, but never knew the circumstances.  Nor did I have a clue Aunt Flo was actually my birth mother.  She did not want me to know, and that fact remained undisclosed until her death when I was eighteen.

My mother gave me life.  My personality is a lot like hers, as is my independent nature.  In many ways I think, as strong as I am, she was so much stronger.  I’ve often wondered how difficult it would be to see your child and never be able to acknowledge the relationship.

My mom brought me into a fantastic loving family.  She was a great parent and as we grew older became my best friend.   She introduced me to the theater, opera, and writing — things I still love.  Who I am today is due primarily to her.

Many years ago two women set forth a plan for my future.  What they decided has affected every aspect of who I am.  There are no words to adequately express my love for them both.

 

My Cousin Bob

My Cousin Bob

After his parents’ divorce, my mom continued a relationship with Bob’s mother.  Bonnibel believed strongly in maintaining family connections.  I’m sure she loved her brother, Louis, but I’m also sure she had many periods when she did not particularly like him.  Louis’ behavior towards Bob and his mother was at the very least deplorable.  So, thanks Mom, for giving me the opportunity me to know Bob Child.

At the age of ten, I was unaware of our many “family secrets,” and was prone to blurt something out when I should have been quiet.  An occasion in 1953 highlights this tendency.  Bob wrote about it in his tome, “Scraps.”

“Sharon Filitti…remarked, ‘You don’t look at all like your brother.'”  That was quite a surprise to Bob, who was unaware of a brother, an adopted sibling from Louis’ second marriage.

There were two things I enjoyed growing up.  One was acting or performing, the other was writing.  As I entered the business world, while writing was not the primary focus of a job, it always became integral to what I was trying to achieve.  As a result, I’ve written advertising copy, resumes for clients, newsletters, scripts, technical material, and training manuals.

During the last decade of the 20th century,  I worked for a company based in Memphis and had to attend meetings at least once a year in Tennessee.  This presented an excellent opportunity to visit Bob and Fran.  There were a few occasions when my brother Ted would drive down from Chicago, while I’d head North from Tennessee, meeting at Cherry Street in Carbondale.  These visits were punctuated by hearty laughter and visits to wineries and various haunts that Bob and Fran enjoyed.

During this time, Bob was getting his book, “Scraps,” published — an overwhelming task at best.  How he had time, I will never know, but he discovered my interest in writing and offered assistance.  I’d found a mentor.

Seeing the flyer for his book revealed Bob’s humor.  There he was in London, with his book in hand, standing in front of Big Ben.  The words said it all, “Point Reached.  Scraps Is Published!  Big Ben Boomed.”

As much as Bob was anti-internet, I found the web a way to start writing.  In 2009, I started a blog.  The title came from my human resources days.  One of my colleagues was continually saying, “Let me share this with you.”  Sharon Share Alike was born.  It lasted only one year.  My all-consuming job interfered, and then there was another website.  Spelled somewhat differently, but getting much more traffic, was Sharon ShareAlike, a website for “a drag queen, entertainer, and emcee, and the creator of BoobsforQueens…”  Oh my God, if Bob had seen that he would have been rolling on the floor in laughter.

My copy of “Scraps,” comes with an inscription:

For Sharon,

In fond encouragement of your writing habit already underway; ignore my copyright using anything you wish, but spell my name right and send me 20% of the gross.  Bob

I’ll always spell your name right, Bob, but where do I send the 20%?

I miss Bob’s way of telling a story and recounting happenings.  He made life interesting, entertaining, and even joyful.  He recognized people’s shortcomings but didn’t dwell on them.

In remembering him, I’ll especially miss his laughter.  Someone said that laughter is the sound of angels singing.   OK, that’s a bit much.  Bob’s laugh was boisterous and loud lending itself more to the irreverent.  On the other hand, it was infectious and fun.

Miss you, dear cousin.