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In Memoriam

In May of 1924, Eleanor “Lori” Lyons was born. From there, things got interesting.

A devout Catholic, Eleanor had four daughters and three sons before deciding that enough was enough, although she rescinded that decree for a while in order to raise her oldest grandson herself. This bounty of children was sufficient to ensure that she had well over fifteen grandkids, and even a pair of great-grand children. She read from the Bible and the works of great theologians constantly, preached of peace and forgiveness, and nursed a feud with her own sister that lasted over thirty years. She had the instinctive and utterly unconscious racism of her time (“stay away from that area of town, it’s dangerous. That’s where the hispanics live”), and yet her best friends for two decades were the Latino neighbors next door. She was a force of nature in most ways, but she could be pulled around (literally) by a twenty pound dog. She had so many kids she tended to cycle through names when addressing someone, “Listen, Denis, I mean Tom, I mean Matt, I mean Arnold, I mean Mike.” Yes, she included the dog in her list of ‘male names’ when trying to find the right name.

She believed some fairly outrageous things, but she also believed in the capacity for people to be good, if they tried. She took an utterly screwed-up kid and turned him into an adult that is at least well-adjusted enough to fake it in society. She loved her children, even when they didn’t get along. She cried whenever she got into arguments with them. She wanted to make peace, even when she didn’t know how to reach out.

She was in poor health as long as I knew her. Some of it was psychosomatic and hypochondria at work, but much of it was not. Despite this, she kept going and going. She was a stubborn juggernaut of a woman: disease and pain might slow her down but by God it would not stop her. She went to Church as often as she could. She went to the market, even if she had to take a taxi and she walked so slowly that it took her an hour to purchase ten items. She was frail, but immortal.

For the last few years. she needed more help. She lived in a nursing home a couple of miles from her house. She struggled with the concept of the ‘cell phone’ so she could keep in contact with her kids. Advances in technology were never her strong suit: she never once used the Macintosh computer I gave her, instead preferring to write her letters on a thirty-year-old electric typewriter until they simply stopped making ink ribbons for the thing. But she gamely tried to learn the cell phone, and when she needed to, she asked others to make her calls for her. She wasn’t going to let a simple thing like lack of understanding interfere with her life.

Three days ago, they discovered that her kidneys had failed. Her children put aside squabbles and drove or flew out to be with her, although she was on morphine for pain and never really woke up for the last two days. On the second day, she stopped breathing and the nurses told everyone ‘it is time.’ Of course, that’s not how Eleanor rolled, as the saying goes. She started breathing again, just to prove the nurses wrong. Stubborn to the end.

Late last night, she opened her eyes for the first time in two days. Her daughter Theresa was holding her hand. They looked at each other, and then Eleanor passed away.

As with so many things, I think the Bard said it best. “Good night,” and “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Good-bye, Gram. I love you, and will miss you terribly.

RIP Eleanor Lyons, May 4, 1924 – December 1, 2011.

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Brats Boiled in Beer, with German mustard

Inspired by my friend Amei. Thanks!

Grandmother Lazybones looked out the window of her cottage and sighed. Not for the first time, either.

It had been a long day, and she was hungry. There was, however, nothing in the cupboard to eat. Which meant it was time to go out and get something. Being lazy, she liked to know what she was going to get before she left the house, since it made shopping easier. Thus, she withdrew her recipe book from the shelf and flipped idly through the pages, waiting for inspiration to strike.

And strike it did, like the axe of a woodsman cutting off a head. “Brats boiled in beer, with grilled onions and dark German mustard on a roll,” she muttered aloud as she gazed at the recipe there on the open page. She sucked on her teeth as she considered it for a moment before nodding firmly to herself. It was decided.

“Let us see, let us see,” she stood from the stool she was sitting on and began to wander the kitchen, pacing as she planned out her shopping trip. “There are onions in the garden, so that’s ok. I need the roll, the mustard, and of course the brats. I think I have some beer left over from last October. Let us see, let us see.” She went to the cold cellar and looked inside. Sure enough, an entire keg of good, dark German beer left from last Octoberfest. Wait, was it Octoberfest? Were they doing that yet? Well in any event, she had beer and she had onions. Time to go shopping.

She put on her best shawl and strode to the small living-room. Settling herself on her favorite chair, she commanded, “Turn your front to the village and walk and walk and walk.” The cottage lurched, as if in an earthquake, but Grandmother Lazybones was expecting that and she held on to the arms of her favorite chair tightly. The cottage swayed slightly side to side as it walked through the forest, and Grandmother Lazybones, lulled by the motion, took herself a little nap.

When she awoke, it was late afternoon and a village was seen through the window. She slowly rose to her feet, trying to ignore the popping of her joints. “I’m getting old,” she thought. Not for the first time, either.

Slipping out the door, she turned to her cottage and said, “Turn your back to me, and your face to the forest.” As she turned to begin the short trip into the village, the door vanished behind her. With the ease of long practice, she stepped aside just as three riders thundered past: one on a white horse, one on a red, and one on a horse as black as pitch. “Hooligans,” she muttered irritably.

Arriving at the village, she paused and sniffed deeply. The smell of bread, baked that morning but still fresh enough, drifted to her from a bakery in the center of town, and so there she trudged, a-grumbling all the way. The bell over the door jingled merrily as she pushed her way inside. The baker’s wife was a plump, cheerful woman with red, round cheeks and a pleasant smile. “Welcome, Grandmother,” she said politely in German, and Grandmother Lazybones smiled that she was in the right place. “What can I get you this fine afternoon?”

“Two rolls, if you please,” Grandmother Lazybones asked in her old voice like the creaking of a door in an abandoned house. “Nice, plump rolls for some nice plump brats I intend to boil in beer and eat with onions and mustard.”

“Ooh, I have just the thing,” the baker’s wife smiled as she stood on a small stool to reach the high shelf. “And we have mustard too, if you need some.”

“I do,” Grandmother Lazybones smiled, her sharp, rotting teeth visible for a moment before she hid them away again. “I will have a pot of that also. I don’t suppose you have any brats?”

The baker’s wife set the rolls on the counter and began wrapping them in paper. “Oh no,” she said with a shake of her head, “We’re a bakers, not a butchers. You can try up the road, Herr Sweinbaur has been known to make bratwurst from time to time.” She set the pot of mustard next to the paper-wrapped bundle and said, “That will be 2 coins, if you please.”

“That’s not what I…” the old crone trailed off with a shake of her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Here are your coins,” she handed the baker’s wife two bits of rock from the road outside. The baker’s wife smiled and thanked her, and wished her well. The bell over the door jingled merrily as Grandmother Lazybones left the shop.

“Now, about those brats,” she sucked on her teeth for a moment. “Well, no help for it. I’m too tired and too old to be wandering all over town, I’ll just have to make my meat come to me.” She began to trundle back to her cottage, dropping bits of dirt as she walked and each bit of dirt became a glazed cookie when it hit the ground.

Arriving at her cottage again, she told it firmly, “Turn your back to the forest and your face to me!”  Grudgingly the door appeared and she smacked the the jamb as she stepped through. The cottage shook slightly in response. Grandmother Lazybones stood for a moment, her hand on the wall, and she muttered to herself. “Walls of gingerbread, shingles of icing. Windows of sugared glass and frost of peppermint creme. House of wonder, childhood’s dream.” Then she went inside the gingerbread walls and set her bundle on the table. She looked out the sugared glass windows with their dusting of peppermint creme ice, and waited for her meat to come to her.

“Oh, goodness me,” Grandmother Lazybones shook her head in annoyance at her forgetful ways. “I almost forgot to put the beer on to warm.” Down into the cold cellar she went to bring back the keg of beer. She poured a couple of gallons into the big cauldron over the fire, and banked the blaze to keep the beer warm but not yet boiling. Soon, the house smelled pleasantly of hops and barley.

Voices from outside distracted her from her musings, and Grandmother Lazybones glanced out the rock sugar window. Two children, blond of hair and blue of eye and red of cheek, came skipping up the road towards her cottage. They would stop every few yards, alternating as they bent over to pick up this bit of cookie or that sweetmeat, and pop them between their fleshy lips. Fingers were sucked noisily as they skipped onto the next treat.

Suddenly one, the girl, saw the cottage and gasped. “Hans, look!” she cried, pointing at the fairy-tale confection house. They turned to look at each other and desire shone in their eyes. They darted forward as one and began to rip pieces of the house off with their greedy, grubby little hands. Grandmother Lazybones smiled inside and waited.

Soon, the voices of the two children grew sluggish. The children, stuffed to the gills on sweets, leaned against the wall under the window to take a nap.

Later still, as Grandmother Lazybones stirred the cauldron filled with beer and two plump brats, she sucked on her teeth and thought about the wonderful meal to come. Soon, she would suck the succulent flesh from bones and wash it down with good, dark beer.

Not for the first time, either.

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