For the past twenty-five years, my two sisters and I have lived within the drop-in zone and lunch together frequently. Most of the time, at Nikki’s insistence, it was someplace that served sandwiches. She was not an adventuresome eater, seldom turned on her stove, and subsisted on deli-sliced turkey, coffee with Mocha Mix, and good chocolate. We once ate at at a Korean restaurant and ordered bibimbap, which came with a whole anchovy, a raw egg, a mysterious domed stone bowl, small dishes of pickled vegetables and no written instructions. Ginny and I never heard the end of that one and paid penance by eating at Subway for the next six months.
We were children of the Fifties, growing up in a series of small Midwestern towns, with typical parents of that era, and a large dose of personal freedom. In the summer, we left the house in the morning with the admonition to, “Be home when the street lights come on.” We were separated in age by five or more years, so we had our own friends, our own routines, and our own lives. We met up every night at the dinner table, on a Sunday morning church pew, or in the back seat of the family coupe, usually wielding sharp elbows and whispering veiled threats. But by the time we were in our twenties and thirties, we were good friends, easily set off into loud hoots and gales of laughter that embarrassed the more delicate.
Muth met our boisterous behavior in public places with mild disapproval and, “Oh, you girls.” If the pitch got too high or continued too long, we would be shushed into snorting silence. When we were young and confined to a small space, hilarity was not the norm. Nikki (the ruling elder) kept me (the neglected middler) and Ginny (the spoiled baby) in check and out of her way. I spent many an hour leaning against the wall, listening to the Four Lads, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley through the crack in her slammed bedroom door. “Mom, make her get away from my room!” Long vacation drives from Nebraska to Minnesota resulted in pinch marks given as punishment for drifting over an imaginary line on the seat of the car. “Mom, she’s on my side again!” “Mom, she’s looking out of my window again!”
At sixteen Nikki jumped on the back of a Harley, drove across the border into South Dakota, (which, along with beer drinking and dog racing, allowed underage marriage), honeymooned in Sturgis, and was a single mom raising two toddlers by the time she was twenty-one. She wanted to become an architect, but reality knocked and she spent the next thirty years working as a secretary.
She loved animals, especially cats, maybe a bit too much. No matter the urgency of a mission, she would pull her car over to the side of the road to rescue a confused dog, brake for an indecisive cat, or stop to watch a raccoon family saunter into the woods. If I was driving, she constantly nattered at me to, “Slow down, this is where that mother deer and her babies cross.” Geez! She eventually gave up trying to make me a pet owner. She once looked at me with pity, and said, “What happened to you?” She felt that if, at thirty, her kids were not in jail and were kind to animals, she would consider herself a success as a parent: she more than met her goal.
She was pie lady at family gatherings (perhaps not without a small, burdened moan and certainly not on time), eventually arriving for dessert with delicious grasshopper, pumpkin chiffon, and pecan pies. In her non-religious way, she was the family Christmas fairy painstakingly building a frosty wonderland complete with intricate dioramas, five decorated trees, Santa outfits for the cats, twinkling lights, and a festooned bathroom sink.
She could garden the socks off a cat and planted herself into gorgeous, high-maintenance, country gardens at least four times, freeing boulders with a crowbar, removing stumps with her pickup and a chain, planting large trees, tweezing miniature fairy dwellings, manicuring mossy frog retreats, and creating bowling ball yard art. Her backyard was a bird sanctuary with dozens of zooming, clicking hummingbirds, dirt-digging juncoes, feisty woodpeckers, darting nuthatches, and cheeky chickadees.
Anyways, she died last Sunday without a cat on her lap or a bird on the wing. So find those diamond earrings you hid in that flower pot, dust off your red cowboy boots, put on a Waylon and Willie tune, join the line dance, and lift a glass of Cook’s champagne to Nikki and a life well-lived.
1 1⁄2 cups (one box Anna’s Chocolate Cookies)
3 Tbs. sugar
4 Tbs. butter
1⁄2 cup milk
4 Tbs. Crème de Menthe or 2 tsp. mint flavoring and a few drops green food coloring
2 Tbs. Crème de Cacao or 2 Tbs. chocolate syrup
1 cup heavy cream
Grind cookies in food processor. Combine crumbs with sugar. Mix in melted butter. Pat into pie crust and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Melt marshmallows in milk, cool. Stir in Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao.
Whip heavy cream to soft peak. Fold whipped cream into marshmallow mixture. Refrigerate until serving.