Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon

The cover was what first attracted me to Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon.  For some reason, I immediately thought of my mother and her signature lipstick, Cherries in the Snow.  Turns out, the author's grandmother and my mother (who were of an age) had something in common as they both advised, "Never go without lipstick; it only makes you look washed out."

From Cover Flap
When Suzan Colon was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back--and that meant home cooking.  Her mother suggested, "Why don't you look in Nana's recipe folder?"  In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda's commentary in the margins.  Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes--she had found the key to her family's survival through hard times.

Notes and Quotes
First reactions:
Put up soup; that's what my family says when times get tough. Some people batten down the hatches, others go to the mattresses--whatever your family's code phrase is, it means bracing yourself and doing whatever will sustain you through rough going until things get better. In my family, we put up soup.

When your known world is shaken:
Being in this recession feels like watching a nature film about the disintegration of a major polar ice shelf:  Huge chunks of everything we thought was solid keep breaking apart and disappearing into an abyss, the depth of which no one knows.  Fear is palpable, and worry about how much worse it's going to get is the main topic of conversation.

On Nana's love of words and writing:
Nana was in love with words.  In school she read the dictionary, a page a day, and she bought new, updated dictionaries the way some people buy novels.  In the box with the recipe file I find envelopes and folders full of papers--some related to her work as a secretary for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Coliseum, a convention center in New York.  But most of it is her personal writing.  She didn't keep a diary but wrote about her life in a series of essays and articles she hoped to send to magazines, and her Everywoman subject matter was ahead of its time.

The cherries:
One night in the middle of December, the fruit vendor had the winter cherries.  They were pricey all right, but Matilda didn't hesitate.  It wasn't that cold out, so mother and daughter walked to the park and sat on a bench to enjoy their extravagance.  "Is there anything better in the world," Matilda said, "than being in Manhattan in Central Park and eating cherries in winter?"

The rationalization for the cherries:
The women in my family have certain traits:  height, prominent noses, and the ability to rationalize spending extra, just once in a while, when there is no extra to be spent.  Because.  I got some of their height and all of the nose, but I thought that last characteristic was missing in me.  It wasn't; I just didn't realize that it only wakes up when we begin to measure ourselves by money, or the lack of it.  It's not a reflexive kick of denial about having less.  It's a deep breath reminding us not to become miserly in spirit.  We may be broke, but we're not poor.

You're unemployed, you need a trip to the hairdresser (you no longer go to a "hair stylist"), you need to make decisions:
Of course, there's no decision to be made.  I'd give up my hair appointments forever and become the Wild Woman of Borneo before I'd let my cat be in pain or even have to forgo the cruncy kibble she likes so much.  Nor will I repurpose my monthly donations to the ASPCA and the local food bank for this expense.  I've have to cut down on the amount I give, but I refuse to cut charitable donations out completely.  There have been too many stories of pets left behid in abandoned homes and last year's food bank donors becoming this year's recipients.  Not giving while I still have something to give, no matter how little, is an inner beauty routine I won't do without.

I've never in my life had a $300 hair cut or shopped in stores as exclusive as those Ms. Colon frequented, so my adjustment to unemployment has been on a lesser scale.  However, the reality of unemployment is a blow to ego and psyche; and the adjustment, whether large- or small-scale, is daunting and a bit scary.  Many of the thoughts and fears expressed by Ms. Colon rang true.  I didn't put up soup, but there was a pot of beef stew to lend comfort on that first day of imposed leisure.

And--as my daughter reminded me--when you're feeling bad, there isn't a better picker-upper than a new tube of lipstick.  Do you think Revlon still sells Cherries in the Snow?

Rating:  3.5/5 (Non-fiction scale)

Dedication:  For Mom, Dad, and Nathan

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