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A Back to School October Dream

October 4, 2019

I love fall. If it’s autumnal bring it on. But not when it’s 95 degrees outside. The stores here have been filled with pumpkins and cinnamon brooms for over a month, like southern California is Canada. Who wants a pumpkin spice latte when you’re bathed in your own sweat?

Our weather doesn’t have the decency to change until at least October, but last night I slept with an actual blanket, so I bought pumpkins today, and can now decorate for Halloween without feeling overzealous. And real back to school weather like this, reminds me of a day in my junior year of high school when my mom surprised me, in her inimitable way.

I was in College Prep English class. Our teacher, Mrs. Meyer, was marching up and down the aisles firing off questions like bullets. She looked like a large man in an uncomfortable button front dress — her swollen ankles firmly planted into sensible, ugly, light brown, lace up shoes. She was interrogating us about Shakespeare, when there was a knock at the door.

The school secretary with the lopsided blonde ponytail stood whispering to the stone-faced Mrs. M. who looked to the back of the classroom where I sat dreamily staring at Chuck Walker’s baby soft brown hair. In her Bea Arthur voice, Mrs. M. boomed, “Frances, you have a phone call.” 

I snapped to attention. Me?” Who on earth would be calling me? I thought. And why? My mind raced to images of my mother, dead on the floor of a heart attack, or my bricklayer father killed in an accident at work. Since my parents were the age of all my friends grandparents, I’d been preparing myself for this news for years. So, I raced down the hall, through the empty wooden seats in the auditorium to the black pay phone in the main entry way. I’d never gotten a call at school before. Getting one on the pay phone seemed even more ominous.

I grabbed the receiver and said” Hello?”

“Hi, honey.” It was my mother. OK, thank God, I could rule out her death.

“Ma,” I said nervously, “What’s wrong?”

“Nading is a wrong, I just a tot I’d a call she said, as if I was on a vacation getaway. Frenzy, honey, did I distorb a you?” 

“Ma,” I whispered, not concealing my irritation, “I was in English class! What’s wrong? Is Dad okay?”

“Yeah, he’s a fine, everyting’ izza  fine,” she said, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ma, this is a pay phone, how did you get this number?”

“Hey, you know me, wen a I wanna sommating, I know how to get itta ,” she said chuckling.

(That was one of her bigger understatements.) Some poor operator is probably still suffering from PTSD after dealing with my mom on a quest.

“Oh honey, she continued, I don’d a mean to scare you, but I had a terrible dream a and I hadda to call a you and tella you so you be careful when you go to lonjah .” 

“Ma, you called me and got me out of English class ’cause you had a dream about me? I said, trying to keep my voice down so the office staff in the next room couldn’t hear.

 “Yeah honey, you ting I’m a notz don’d ju?” 

“No, Ma, I don’t think you’re nuts,” I said rolling my eyes, thinking she was nuts.  But I knew it must have been an interesting dream to move her to call me at school. Since I was already out of class I figured I may as well get lunchtime entertainment material for my friends, so I said, “So, go ahead tell me.” She jumped right in.

“Well Frenzy, you was a walkin a witta you gail a  friends down a da street, when all of a sudden dare was a dis beeg a hole inna da ground, you know… a…a.. manshole, anna a you walked a right into it!  I screamed and said, ‘No Frenzy!,’  Butta you already fell…anna den I woke up.   Itta  distorb a me so much all a morning dat I jost a hadda to call a you and tell a you to pleece a be careful when a you go to lonje today.  Don’d a go ahtside…okay?”

Trying to whisper, I said, “Ma, you called because you think I’m going to walk into a manhole at lunch time?”

“Ya, Frenzes, pleece be careful, okay?”

“Ma, don’t you think I’m pretty smart?”

“Yes, you’re a vevry smart a gal.”

“Well, then don’t you think if I was walking down the street and there was an open manhole, I’d probably step around it?”

She knew I had her, but she wouldn’t give up.  Like lightning, she turned to the old hidden meaning argument.  “Well, honey, datta could a mean odder tings a too, like a mebbe your friends a dey could a try to persuade a you to do tings datta you aren’d supposed to do…anna  you could a getta hurt.”

This was my mother’s favorite argument, my friends were always leading poor idiot me down the path to death or, even worse, loss of virginity. “De odder kids, dey might convinze a you to do tings.” It was never me, it was always these wild friends of mine.

But I had no wild friends and she knew it.  My best friend, Carolyn’s mom was tied in the paranoia department with mine, with a slight edge going to Carolyn’s mom. She was convinced we were going to be gang raped and killed by ax murderers, so we had to call her every few hours to check in.

I finally assured my mom I’d be careful at lunch and promised that if my friends started acting crazy I would avoid them, and any nearby open manholes.  She said, “Okay, Frenzy, be careful, I love a you.  Ba bye.” 

I still remember her strained goodbye. She sounded like this would be the last time she’d ever talk to me. To this day, I still avoid metal sidewalk doors because…you just never know. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a video where a three-year-old actually did fall in a manhole in China, so see, it does happen! Click that link to see.

And in keeping with this Back to School October theme, I’m giving you a recipe I found in the LA Times Food section years ago for Monastery Pumpkin Bread. I think it’s still made locally by some nuns in a former monastery.

I changed it a little, adding more cinnamon. The original Monastery recipe calls for just 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. nutmeg and that was how the bread pictured here was baked. I just shared it with the people at work and they swallowed it whole, so they seemed to be OK with the nutmeg.

But, I like it with 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp.of ginger and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cloves. It’s really good and I heartily recommend that spice variation. The nuns say it’s best served warm, spread with butter..but then again, what isn’t? It’s ridiculously easy, so go ahead, make it and dip it in that pumpkin spice latte you’re probably enjoying while I sit here praying for a cold front.

Autumnal Pumpkin Bread

Yields1 Serving

 3 ½ cups flour
 3 cups sugar
 2 tsp baking soda
 2 tsp cinnamon
 1 tsp ginger
 ¼ tsp cloves
 1 ½ tsp salt
 4 eggs, beaten
 1 cup oil
  cup water
 2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
 walnut halves or pieces

1

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Combine the eggs, oil, water and pumpkin, mixing them well. Stir the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients.

Turn the batter into three greased 9X5 inch loaf pans and top them with 3 to 4 walnut halves, or smaller walnut pieces. Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Start checking them at 45 minutes. Cool before slicing. Makes 3 one pound loaves.

The nuns say the bread freezes well and tastes best when slightly warm, spread with butter.

Ingredients

 3 ½ cups flour
 3 cups sugar
 2 tsp baking soda
 2 tsp cinnamon
 1 tsp ginger
 ¼ tsp cloves
 1 ½ tsp salt
 4 eggs, beaten
 1 cup oil
  cup water
 2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
 walnut halves or pieces

Directions

1

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Combine the eggs, oil, water and pumpkin, mixing them well. Stir the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients.

Turn the batter into three greased 9X5 inch loaf pans and top them with 3 to 4 walnut halves, or smaller walnut pieces. Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Start checking them at 45 minutes. Cool before slicing. Makes 3 one pound loaves.

The nuns say the bread freezes well and tastes best when slightly warm, spread with butter.

Autumnal Pumpkin Bread
  • Reply
    Mary J. Tunno
    October 7, 2019 at 8:32 am

    I don’t remember that one. Pretty funny, Fran. Worth reviving, LOL! Happy Fall!!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 17, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks, and it’s absolutely true!

  • Reply
    Theresa
    October 4, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I’ve had your pumpkin bread and it is delish!!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 5, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks Theresa, wish I had made up the recipe totally, but I’ll take whatever credit I can get! Hope all’s well. xoxoxo

  • Reply
    Dawn Wilkins
    October 4, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    I laughed the whole way through this wonderful story!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 5, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      Thank you Dahlink! It’s absolutely true, as you would know. I can’t make this stuff up. xoxoxo

  • Reply
    George A. "Tony" Maupin
    October 4, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    I feel I am just beginning to learn about your mom. Wow.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 4, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Hey Tony, thanks for reading and taking the time to respond! I have tons of stories about my mom on this blog. If you go to the top of the page and click on About Fran, there is a list of what I think are my best MOM stories. Pretty funny stuff. Trust me, I couldn’t make this up. If you have any Italian friends, they’ll probably identify.

  • Reply
    Monica
    October 4, 2019 at 10:57 am

    I am amazed at your memory, Fran! Such a great story about your mom with so much detail. I can’t believe I have that very same pumpkin bread recipe and plan to make it this weeknd. It just cooled down in PA as well, so it’s time. Hope it stays cool for you there until March 🙂

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 4, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      I am not sure why I have such complete recall of small moments, but can’t remember where I left my keys on a weekly basis. Thanks Monica. I love that recipe. I only changed the spices to the traditional cinnamon, ginger and cloves –the holy trinity of pumpkin spice.

  • Reply
    Chas Madonio
    October 4, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Since you haven’t fallen in a manhole, at least not that I know of, you must have taken your mother’s advice to heart. And this has become a problem of epidemic proportions. Keep avoiding them !!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 4, 2019 at 9:26 am

      I don’t know Chas, she was a pretty powerful prognosticator, so it could still happen. I’m not taking any chances, I will definitely keep avoiding them! Thanks for reading, as always!!!!! xo

  • Reply
    Nicol Z
    October 4, 2019 at 6:48 am

    Oh, this might just go up there as one of my very favorite of your mom stories! And I am with you on the fall feelings. Happy October, Fran xo

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