In the mornings when it was time to go to school, it was up to me to get my sister and I there. The walk to school was only about two blocks from Bertha's house, but it required darting across a very busy street at lightning speed, during morning rush hour, after waiting until there was enough of a break in the traffic from both directions to make it across... an experience very reminiscent of the Atari game Frogger that was popular at the time. This was done without the help of the elderly crossing guard who was usually napping in his car, completely unaware of the goings on at his post. So every morning, I metaphorically put on my big girl pants and bravely got my sister and I to school - a trek which always left me winded and slightly queasy from the adrenaline rush. But also proud because I was in charge of my little sister and I had done a good job of taking care of her!
Back at Bertha's house in the afternoon, we were required to take a nap... in separate rooms. Rooms that were locked with a bolt on the outside top of the doors (where was the Fire Marshall when I needed him?!) - a daily routine that I abhorred because it separated me from my sister for at least an hour. How was I going to make sure that she was okay, if I couldn't even get to her? How would I protect her if something bad were to happen? I think that most days, she fell asleep fairly easily in her own room, but I rarely did. Some days I would cry and pound on the door for awhile, sure that Bertha would eventually take pity on me and let me out of my prison, though she never did. Other days I laid on the bed, eyes wide open, counting the minutes until naptime was over. And then finally one day, as I lay brooding on top of the covers, I spotted the perfect way to get back at that old meanie. In a pint-sized fit of rage, I took a tube of lipstick that I found lying on the dresser, and after carefully pulling the dresser far enough away from the wall to squeeze part way in, I wrote my name in bright pink capital letters on the wall. I was tickled by my naughtiness and my ingenuity... until naptime was over and Bertha discovered my artwork on her bedroom wall. My plan, though admittedly not well thought out, was that she wouldn't discover my handiwork until after we had gone home for the day. But alas, I had not done a very good job of shimmying the dresser back into its proper place. Also, in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to have written something other than my own name.... it's hard to defend yourself with the standard, "It wasn't me!" when you have that kind of evidence staring you in the face.
As you can imagine, Bertha was not happy with my antics, and when my mother came to pick us up that day, Bertha marched her back to the bedroom to see firsthand just how naughty I had been. But I was secretly pleased with myself. After all, separating me from my sister was no small transgression in my eyes, and she deserved that lipstick signature and a whole lot more, as far as I was concerned. Looking back, I don't think my mom was a huge fan of Bertha or her babysitting techniques either, because I don't remember ever getting into trouble for that incident. I'd like to think that my mom was secretly proud of my scrappiness as well.
To this day, one of my go-to comfort foods is bread and butter... and I have a theory that this is directly related to the time I spent at Bertha's house. Bread and butter was one of the only constants there. The home I shared with my sister and parents was as silent as a nunnery compared to Bertha's house with all those kids running around, but amidst the chaos and confusion, there was always an abundance of Wonder Bread and Blue Bonnet margarine to be had. I'm sure that I must have eaten other things there, but I only truly remember the snacks of bread and butter... the brief reprieves from the stressful environment, when for a few moments all I was focused on was the taste of salty butter and toast in my mouth. Then, it was back to work as my sister's "ultimate defender".
Bread and butter is still one of my favorite foods, though thankfully, my taste has matured beyond the likes of Wonder Bread and Blue Bonnet. Most recently when I had a craving for bread and butter, I whipped up a batch of Beer Bread - really, one of the easiest kinds of bread out there to make. The basic recipe only has a handful of ingredients and you can experiment with whatever kind of beer suits your fancy (different beers add slightly different flavors - though I find that a lighter ale tastes better than a darker ale or stout). It makes the perfect accompaniment to lots of different winter soups, and because I make my beer bread with one part wheat flour to two parts white flour, it is fairly dense and hearty.
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sugar (some recipes use as little as 2 Tbs, some omit it altogether)
- 1 12-oz can of beer
- 2 Tablespoons melted butter
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease or spray a 9x5x3 in loaf pan.
- Mix dry ingredients and beer in medium mixing bowl. (1-2 Tbs of water can be added to mixture if needed.)
- Pour into greased loaf pan and spread melted butter over top of mixture.
- Bake for 1 hour (start checking for doneness around 50 minutes). Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on rack for another 10 minutes before eating.