Thursday, May 28, 2015


This battered Boston Cooking School Cook Book, published in 1942, was the only cookbook I remember seeing in my grandmother’s kitchen; it was the only cookbook that Annie Sagan ever used.
          My mother used to talk about other cooks my grandparents hired in their Eliot Street house:
There was Mary, who cooked and cleaned during the 1920s with such fervor that she exhausted everybody in the house! Mary won my grandparents’ devotion when she rescued my mother, who had gone down the street to attend a wake (she was about seven years old) because she heard there was a “boddy” there and she’d never seen one…
“At least she left a note,” Mary said to my grandmother!

And there was Kathleen, who was there through the 1930s and whistled all the time; drove my grandfather nuts, my mother said, but he let it slide because she made the best pudding he ever had, and a good pudding was worth a few tunes.

And then there was Annie Sagan, who arrived when my mother was away at college and stayed until the late 1950s, when my grandmother died and the house was closed up and, eventually, sold, marking the end of an era, the end of a way of life.

I remember Annie Sagan.
I remember visiting my grandparents – the long drive down from Maine, the crunch of gravel under the tires in their driveway, the hugs from my grandparents on the front porch. And I remember tearing down the hallway, past the sitting room, then the dining room and around the corner into the kitchen to hug Mrs. Sagan, who smelled like flour and hot bread!

And, best of all, she had a wen, a big one, right on her face near her nose! I was absolutely fascinated by it—it had a hair growing out of it, for goodness sake!—and she tolerated my examination of it with great patience. She wore flowered dresses, an apron (always an apron!), and sturdy, sensible shoes. She cooked and cleaned for my grandparents, did the laundry, helped my grandmother in the gardens.

She used to run the carpet sweeper (remember those?) every day; would let me sit on the top of it, wrap my legs around the pile and hang on for dear life as she worked over the rugs -- boy, what I ride that was!

I sat on the steps down to the laundry room and listened to her tell stories of her childhood -- she used big bars of yellow soap and a scrub board for stubborn dirt and stains, then ran it all through the electric washing machine.

I was allowed to turn the crank for the wringer…

Those days are long gone, but I still have Mrs. Sagan’s cookbook, her rolling pin and her pie crust recipe, written in her own hand and glued to a larger piece of paper my mother kept for years.
“Mrs. Sagan made the best pie crust on the planet,” everybody said; it’s still the truth today, but my brother finishes a very close Second Place!

Friday, May 8, 2015


It’s a Ward Flexible Album; a 7x5 black leather book with “steel gray leaves,” made from Ward’s “puro” paper, and is “guaranteed not to discolor the photographs.”
It belonged to my grandfather, Gardner Sabin Gould (1886), and it’s full of wonderful old family photos, some taken at the family summer home in East Boothbay, Maine: Gould kids on sailboats, on the public dock in East Boothbay, lined up on the back steps of the summer house, paddling around in the icy waters of Linekin Bay.
          There are shots of picnics on the rocks, pine woods in the evening, two of the older boys in a small rowboat, the two youngest—Margaret and Howard—sitting on a boulder near the house, proudly displaying their new shoes!

And then there’s this damaged shot – sunstruck, ripped at the edges – of my grandfather, walking barefoot along the pathway beside the seawall...

...wearing a dress!

I wasn’t quite sure I was seeing it correctly, so I rummaged around in a desk drawer for my magnifying glass and took a good solid peek.
          It’s a dress, all right.
          Plain as day.
          It’s below knee level, but not as long as I thought it might be for the turn of the century; it’s belted – it’s actually quite classy, but not so classy on best guess is that it belonged to his cousin Jessie; she had quite a sense of humor and might very well have dared him to wear it.

Jessie’s or not, here he is, striding right along, skirts swinging—my grandfather, in 1900s drag!