Petals Amidst the Thorns Part 7 - A Mask of an Inflexible Purpose
December 27, 1941
I know I am getting remiss in writing as regularly as I should, but life is more confused and distressing than ever and I find I am just exhausted at the end of the day. Even when I commit to writing more often than not, I fall asleep before even opening your cover. Mother is becoming quite put out with me for falling asleep in my clothing, which necessitates extra ironing. Truthfully, Dear Diary, she wouldn’t mind, likely not even noticing it, except father decided to let Virginia go. This means mother is suddenly left with the housework.
I know mother and father were arguing over it a good bit in the past week. Of course, mother fought valiantly to retain Virginia’s services. She’s not one for “common labor,” as she calls it, things like washing the dishes, mopping the floors, doing the wash. Father refused to even keep Virginia on through Christmas time, saying since we are Jewish there’s no reason that Christmas should be any different than any other time.
That’s probably the fifth time, at most, I have heard one of my parents referencing our religion in my lifetime. It’s not as if we hide it exactly, at least I don’t ever recall being taught to do so . Though when I first learned of it, I remember asking father why we have a Christmas party every year. I seem to think he blushed red at my question. I know I feared he would lose that infamous temper of his,something that anyone who knows him avoids at all costs.
I don’t have the impression he was angry, maybe embarrassed though I’m not sure why. He stumbled over the beginning of an answer. Then he sat me down and explained that it was a “Holiday” party not a Christmas Party and how his business associates expected him to have one as he’s the President of the Bank.
He added that, of course, they couldn’t throw a party and not invite our neighbors and it also served as a time for mother show off a bit to their friends. He then told me that while we are Jewish, neither he nor my mother had been brought up with much religion. They both felt that the idea of this country being a melting pot meant everyone should try to fit into mainstream society. That’s why that although they both felt “strongly Jewish,” it was more of a cultural association, not a religious one. I didn’t understand, then what that meant and thinking about it now., I still don’t. But there you have it.
Anyway, several nights ago mother was in tears, all but begging father to keep Virginia on, saying letting her go right before their big party was just out of the question and she couldn’t make do with no help, She said it was one thing to get rid of William, our cook (father let him go almost a week ago), as Virginia had made good progress cooking for us as well as cleaning. But letting Virgian go, mother argued, would set the household to chaos.
Father remarked that she should be quite adept at running the household. Mother replied she was, but the way she was raised, running a household meant communicating properly with the servants to ensure everything ran smoothly and on time. Father said neither of their parents had servants in Russia, where my grandparents were from. Mother said that she doesn’t remember a day her family didn’t have servants including during World War II and he couldn’t expect her to do entirely without them war or no war.
Virginia was gone the day after and mother refused to come out of her room all day, even at dinner time. Of course that meant the meal fell to me but I haven’t learned much about cooking so I made some sandwiches out of leftover turkey, thin slices of hard boiled egg, an avocado and stewed cranberries piled on thick, warm slices of pumpernickel bread, which turned out nicely if I do say so myself!
Luckily I had made frozen fruit mousse as an assignment for home ec class which I instead served for dessert when father said he would write a note to my teacher explaining why i didn’t have my assignment. Father actually made a joke saying instead of claiming the dog ate it, he’d say my brother ate it. This attempt at humor even won a smile from Jeremy, who said since father ate more of it he should be the one blamed. Except for mother not being there, it felt like old times, Dear Diary. They both praised my first homemade meal and father even said he was proud of me. I’ll write the mousse recipe at the bottom so I don’t forget it.
This jolly mood didn’t last long though. The next morning before Jeremy and i came down for breakfast our parents got in another argument. This just made things worse from mother’s point of view,as father announced that the party this year would be quite small with only the “necessary number” of his colleagues attending and no others.
Mother actually gasped, then became angrier demanding that he reconsider as their reputation would be ruined among the neighbors and her social standing would plummet if they didn’t invite any of their friends. Father said that the country was at war, and there would be many who would be quite critical of people throwing expansive parties with a personal cook making the food, a uniformed maid serving, a liveried servant to park the cars and at least half a dozen others to make sure drinks remained filled and the rooms were kept spotless.
Mother tried to bargain him down to just Thomas and Virginia, saying she’d make do without the rest, if need be. He replied she’d have to make do without those two either, as servants gave the wrong impression when the country was at war and the government was already discussing rationing. Mother remarked he’d better plan on cooking himself then, because she wouldn’t be put to work in the kitchen like common help, and that she was no scullery maid - I actually looked that phrase up - it means a female servant who is responsible for everyday chores like washing the dishes and other household work.
Of course, mother gave in and tried to prepare some simple dishes to serve as hor d’oeuvres. I think she was hoping to get father to keep William and Virginia on, but he just said that was perfectly fine and exactly right for wartime. Unfortunately, it was an absolute disaster. Mother trying her hand at cooking. It would `have been quite funny had mother and father not kept yelling at each other, which ended in a huge fight after mother baked an eggless sponge cake. It probably weighed more than the barbells Jeremy used to keep his physique, “trim and muscled to catch every girl’s eye.” His words not mine.
Mother ended up throwing the bunt pan out into the yard almost killing the neighbor’s cat and father stormed off to his study, shutting his door quite soundly,. Father spent the whole night alone, but apparently put the time to good use, He put together letters to send to all the guests invited to the party. This is an example of father’s letters.
Dear John and Myra,
Sophia and I were so pleased when you accepted the invitation to our annual holiday party. You both always add so much to the celebration, We couldn’t possibly imagine ever holding it without you in attendance. We always look forward to your presence at our party and appreciate your presence in our lives.
I regret to have to inform you that Sophia and I have decided not to hold our annual party this year. With the outbreak of the war, we feel that it would be in bad taste to throw a lavish affair when our troops are already being sent far away from their homes and loved ones. Additionally, while you and I may not be feeling the economic strain beginning to affect our wallets, many Americans are starting to feel the pinch of higher prices and the limited availability of food. I’m sure you are aware they are already discussing the possibility of rationing.
For these reasons Sophia and I will be foregoing our usual holiday event as our nation is set to sacrifice for our boys in uniform. We hope to perhaps have a small dinner party or two in order to enjoy the company of our closest friends and celebrate together all that for which we are thankful. If we indeed, find it acceptable to do so, you and Myra will of course be the first we invite.
We wish you and yours a happy holiday season and hope that this time next year the war will have been won so we can welcome you into our home once more to celebration a bold new year. Best Wishes for a Peaceful and Happy Holiday Season and a Wonderful New Year.
Alexander and Myra Sobel
How do I know the contents of the letters father sent, Dear Diary? Well, when father had drafted the letter and called for Mother to type them, she refused! Yes, I wrote that correctly - mother, who constantly criticized my every doing as something that is not befitting a wife, who is ever lecturing me on the ways to make one’s husband's home happy and peaceful, and abode to which he will always desire to return.
She refused to type father’s letters. She replied it hadn’t been her idea to cancel the party, hadn’t been her idea to fire the help making it impossible to hold the party. She said she wouldn’t be a hypocrite, typing up a bunch of letters which falsely claimed that the party had been canceled for far more honorable reasons.
Imagine that, Dear Diary. I don’t ever recall mention of words such as those being included in one of mother’s lectures on responses given by a well-bred wife. I can tell you, her words did not create a happy or a peaceful home for several days.
The other consequence of her refusal was that father pressed me into service, typing all the letters. I was up until the sky lightened in the morning, and mother and father made me go to school anyway! I know I looked a right fright, with dark circles under my eyes and my skin lackluster.
I wonder if the war is causing such conflicts in other homes, Dear Diary? I can’t say this is something anyone would speak of even to friends but I can’t imagine the war isn’t breeding problems in other families even though we have only been involved for a scant few weeks. I am fearful at how things might worsen as the months go on.
What else has happened this week, Dear Diary? It seems that the Prime Minister of England, Mr. WInston Churchill addressed Congress yesterday. He was the first English, sorry - British - Prime Minister ever to be invited to address the Joint Houses of Congress.
I tried to hear the radio address which summarized his speech but father left the family room suddenly and caught me eavesdropping, He sent me to my room. It’s like I’m suddenly a toddler again, Dear Diary! Both Mother and Father have taken to issuing orders and expecting them to be followed without any discussion at all.
I remarked that I thought this country was supposed to be a democracy. Father replied that the country is a democracy but this house is a dictatorship! I do so feel as if I am aging backwards since this war broke out, Dear Diary.
Anyway, I didn’t manage to hear much of the Prime Minister at all and only remember him saying that the Axis powers, “would stop at nothing”. I’m not sure what he meant by this, but I am sure whatever he meant it wasn’t good .There was one other phrase of his I managed to hear before my banishment to my room.
I think Mr. Churchill was describing the attitude of Americans regarding the war which very much impressed him. He said that instead of the complacency many might expect to find as the American response to war, he instead found that our attitude reflected, “the mask of an inflexible purpose and the proof of a sure, well grounded confidence in the outcome.” Isn’t that stupendous, Dear Diary?
Though it did make me wonder exactly what England (yes, I know - Great Britain), and other countries in Europe think of us. I’ve never considered such a thing before, figuring that America was the biggest, strongest power on the Earth so why wouldn’t everyone look at us with admiration? Yet, perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps the sophisticated nations of Europe see us as spoiled and lacking in maturity. After all, we are so much younger than they are.
I don’t know who I can ask about this, and it keeps coming to mind. I don’t know why I should care so much about what the inhabitants thousands of miles away, none of which I am ever likely to meet, think, in general, about Americans. But I do, Dear Diary, strange as that might sound, especially with so many things to worry about now.
A quick update on Ginny - It seems as of now they aren't going to put her mother so she won’t likely be coming to live with us. I am disappointed as I’d gotten quite used to the idea of having a best friend sleeping just just a few feet from me. But I am happy for her as they won’t take both parents away and only hope they decide not to prosecute her father either.
That’s it for tonight, Dear Diary. I’ll be back before the New Year.
Frozen Fruit Mousse
Mixing fruits gives this recipe a unique taste. Try pears and apples. Pulp a peach and a banana. Most fruits can be pulped with a hand juicer. If you like citrus try lemon and lime or orange mixed with just about anything. Apple is naturally sweet so I make it a practice of pulping a half of apple no matter what other fruit I decide to use. Grapes are also always included for sweetness. With lemon and limes I add an extra heaping tablespoon of corn syrup. Raisins, left whole and softened by pouring boiling water over them are another great fruit to add to this. If using raisins you can add two tablespoons of rum to the recipe
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 cup fruit pulp or grated fruit
- 6 grapes pulped (white or red) -
- 1/2 cup corn syrup (+ 1 tablespoon if using lemons and limes or other tart fruits)
- 2 egg whites
- 1/8 Tbsp. salt
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. zested orange peel
- 2 tsp. finely grated cinnamon
- Using a juicer, squeeze the fruit retaining the juice and pulp. If you choose to use bananas mash them well until they form a paste.
- In the same bowl press the grapes well and scoop out the pulp, discard the skins, retaining the juice and pulp
- Add the corn syrup to the fruit and mix well
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream according to directions
- Fold the fruit mixture into the cream.
- Beat the egg whites with the salt until it forms peaks
- Fold the eggs into the cream mixture.
- Freeze until solid.
- Scoop into decorative glasses and serve solo orr slice and use to top cake slices.
- This dessert can be topped with chopped nuts or sliced strawberries or other seasonal fruit. It is also delicious on it’s own.
© 2017 Natalie Frank