Chapter 19. Green Glop

The week had flown by. Liz was grateful that the meds had stabilized Kevin, and that he was feeling better. But as Dr. Baker had advised, Liz accepted the fact that it was going to take a while for his body to fully recover. She had spoken to Sr. Kathleen who had contacted Los Angeles Unified to arrange for a teacher to come to the house three times a week to tutor Kevin in the five main subjects he was studying. She and Brian would help him keep up with his other subjects.

Liz was stirring a large pot of green gunk on the stovetop on Friday afternoon when Anna came home. She plopped her backpack down on the kitchen floor and sighed,

“I am so glad this week is over. You know that Sr. Maura has very poor eyesight, right? Well, she asked me to stay after class to go over my grades—and she did it again! She mixed up my grades with Susan O’Brien’s—on the line above in her grade book. Sue is having problems in math, and Sr. Maura just wouldn’t believe that I am Anna O’Connell, and not Susan O’Brien!”

Liz laughed, then caught herself.

“I’m sorry, dear, it really isn’t funny. I’ll call Mrs. McDonald tomorrow in the school office and have her straighten it out. She sighed. Maybe they can get a college education major or a retired teacher to sit in on her classes with her.”

“No, Mom,” Anna protested. “Please do not call the office. That will make things worse. I’ll talk to Sr. Maura again. She really is a nice lady. I don’t want to get her into trouble, and besides, I think she is retiring at the end of the year.”

“Okay. I respect your wanting to handle it yourself.”

She looked at her sixteen-year-old daughter. When had she become such a wonderfully competent and independent young woman? When she wasn’t looking, that’s when.

“I made some ginger crisps this afternoon.” She pointed to the cookie jar on the kitchen counter.

By the way, can you take care of Sean tomorrow morning until dad gets back from golf?” She asked. “I have to go to a law seminar and will be gone all day.”

“Well, I have to be at work at 2 o’clock at the yogurt shop,” Anna replied.

“I’ll make sure that dad knows to be home from golf by 1:30, Hon.”

“Ok. I just don’t want to be late. It’s my second Saturday on the job and it’s so hard to find part time jobs.”

“You won’t be. You’re working until 6?”

“Right, I’ll be home for dinner.”

The green gunk was getting thicker. Liz had to hold onto one side of the pot with a potholder while stirring with the other hand.

“Where did you get this playdough recipe, mom?” Anna asked.

Liz replied, smiling, “From my grandmother Anna– your namesake. Or at least a version of this recipe. My grandmother used to make a flour and salt dough that hardened—but I add oil to the mixture, which keeps it pliable so that it can be used for a long time.”

Looking at the thickened dough in the pot, she gave it a few more stirs, turned the heat off, scraped the warm ball of dough onto the butcher block, and continued the story as she began to knead.

“My grandmother used to make it for us kids. She added, laughing, “It’s a great playdough for little ones. Made from flour, salt, water, and a few other ingredients, it is non-toxic in case a three-year old has mind to taste her playdough ‘cookies.’”

“She was really special to you–your grandmother– wasn’t she?” Anna asked thoughtfully.

“She really was . . . you know she took care of me while my mother worked in my father’s business until I was old enough to go to kindergarten. We formed a really close bond,” Liz’s voice trailed off as she reminisced.

She turned abruptly, and hugged Anna, “And that’s why I named my favorite daughter after her!”

Anna retorted, “You mean your only daughter!”

“Indeed. And the best daughter anyone could have.”

Liz left the dough on the butcher block to cool before putting it away.

“A couple of years after we moved from Ohio to California, she flew out to the desert to visit us. She came in late October and stayed until a few days before Christmas. Every day when I came home from school, there was something wonderful that she had baked or cooked during the day– a loaf of freshly baked bread, a pot of soup, or warm donuts on the kitchen table. She put them on brown paper bags to sop up the excess oil after removing them from the pot of boiling oil.

One day in early December, I came home to find Grandma Anna fashioning animals, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a manger, the wise men, and angels from a salt and flour dough. When she finished, my mom put the little figures on an old plastic tray and left them outside in the sun until they were baked through by the hot desert sun. She painted them when they were thoroughly dry. Then she glued some straw to a piece of cardboard, and displayed them on her hutch. We didn’t have many Christmas decorations, so it was very special. It was our family’s treasured creche for many years.”

Liz added, “My grandmother was a real artist. The figures were amazing. She didn’t have clay in the old country, so they grew up using the flour and salt mixture. It wasn’t as strong as clay, but the figures she made were beautiful. After Christmas, my mom brushed the figures with some kind of epoxy so that they wouldn’t break.”

“Whatever happened to them?” asked Anna.

“It’s a mystery,” replied her mother, slowly shaking her head. My mother kept the pieces wrapped in tissue paper in a box, but they disappeared when she moved from that house.”

“Aww . . . that’s sad. I would have liked to have seen them,” Anna replied.

“That makes three of us. My mom is very sad about their disappearance, and so am I. But they might turn up one day” Liz said brightly. “A lot of Grandma Emily’s things are kept in a storage unit, because she doesn’t have room for them in the apartment she moved to.”

In my grandmother’s later years, her children kept her supplied with a good quality modeling clay that she used for her figures.

“My older cousin, Eva, talked a lot about my grandmother’s artistic talent. She said that Grandma could have made a business of it in her later years—kind of like Grandma Moses did– but Grandma just gave her homemade figures away. Creches were her specialty, but she made models of all kinds of animals, birds, and fish. Eva said that our Uncle Louis built a wood model of Noah’s ark for her, and Grandma made many clay animals for it . . . her voice trailed off . . . “but no one knows what happened to it.”

Liz took off her apron, and said briskly, and “Now, about tomorrow. Liam is staying over at Tommy’s tonight, and probably won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon, so you don’t have to worry about him. Tommy’s mom will bring him home. I’ll make sure that Kevin takes his medication before I leave, and he will probably be playing with his legos and reading Harry Potter all morning, so just keep a general eye on him.”

She bent down to pluck a plastic container and lid from the cabinet under the sink and put the cooled playdough into it. She patted it to fit into the plastic container, secured the lid, and put it into the craft drawer. “Sean can play with this if you run out of things to do. Green is his favorite color.”

She continued, “You know, Sean was really upset that he didn’t win the class quilt with his ladybug block. He had his heart set on getting that quilt, so I told him that I would sew him a quilt from blocks that he made.”

Anna looked at her skeptically. “Right. How is Sean going to make quilt blocks? The mothers in the class can hardly make their children’s blocks for the class quilt. And I don’t sew, so I hope you’re not thinking that I can help.”

“Well, actually, you can help. I prepared some white cotton blocks by ironing them onto freezer paper to stabilize them.

She pulled a set of markers from the craft drawer and continued. “Using this set of fabric markers, he can draw his ladybug on it, or anything he wants. Maybe you can draw around his hand for one block, and his foot for another. I prepared nine large blocks. I’m sure that the two of you can think of things for him to draw on the blocks. That should occupy him for most of the morning.”

She opened the refrigerator, “There’s leftover taco meat in the deli drawer from last night that you can heat up in the microwave to make them tacos for lunch.”

And if you need another activity for Sean, there’s the playdough. The small toy rolling pins and cookie cutters are in the craft drawer.

“Dad will be home by about 1:30 and can take over. My seminar goes until 4, so I’ll be home around 4:30.”

Liz reached into her purse for her wallet and pulled out two twenties. “This is for your time and special talents in taking care of your brothers.”