Since I did a blog about a Camden City morning, I thought I’d do a Camden City evening… Tonight, Saturday night…
It started when my husband, Carlos, arrived home from Nery’s Restaurant at Lois and River Avenue in Cramer Hill with a big brown paper bag of Dominican food–roast chicken, salad, yuca (yuca is something like a potato) and white rice with red beans. We didn’t get the tostones (fried plantain slices) or the plantanos maduros (sweet fried plantains) because my mom and my brothers were coming over for dinner and they wouldn’t eat them. We’ve tried.
My husband is Cuban and he likes the Dominican food because it is quite similar to Cuban food. I am American and I like all food. Is there a food that I don’t like? Oh! I’m allergic to nuts and I don’t eat much red meat.
I opened a can of French string beans and creamed corn because I knew that my mom and brothers would appreciate those back in the day American foods.
My brother, Bill, arrived with extra ice cubes and we talked about his friend who had lost a family member. I finished putting out the plates and the silverware and my brother, Ken, arrived with a jug of sweet iced tea from Popeye’s–made with real cane sugar. I put the cubes in the glasses and sliced a lemon for the iced tea.
Bello, our big cat, watched everything from the dining room windowsill. He knew that he might be put upstairs so he tried to be discreet so he could stay there as long as possible.
My husband, Carlos, walked my mom very slowly from her house to mine–we live next door. When you’re going to be ninety next month, you walk slowly and carefully. My mom walks extra slowly because she wants to talk and to look around with each step.
Mom wore her new pink Phillies shirt and a pretty bejeweled barrette in her white hair. She sat down in her favorite chair and noticed my new white teapot that’s covered with birds and flowers. I collect teapots. “Do I see a new teapot? Where did you get it?”
“Christmas Tree Shoppe. We could shop there, Mom, if you’d let us get you a wheelchair to go around the store.”
Silence. She can barely walk and she is not strong enough to go around an entire store with her walker. However, she doesn’t want to sit in a wheelchair even temporarily.
Carlos opened up a folding table and we set out the boxes of food–not enough room on our postage-sized countertop. I dished out the food and everyone “ordered” a different assortment of foods on their plate.
Some wouldn’t eat yuca which is too bad because Nery’s prepares it to perfection with little rings of onion. Some wouldn’t eat creamed corn. Some didn’t want salad. Some turned down rice.
“I don’t want those red beans.”
Someone wanted bread and butter. Everyone wanted the chicken and canned green beans. I wanted a little of everything. Finally, all of us had what we wanted on our plates.
Reina, the smallest cat, our moody tortoiseshell, decided to jump on my shoulder so she was put upstairs and Bello smirked from his perch on the windowsill. Our other cat, Lovey, didn’t even come downstairs because she is our shy girl.
We ate and talked about Gray, the cat of Bill and Ken. They rescued him from last year’s harsh winter and he’s becoming more tame every day. Our Bello jumped to the floor and took a nap, secure that he had been able to stay and to enjoy the sound of our voices.
Mom pointed to her grandmother’s teapot that was on my dining room shelf and asked to see it. She inspected the bottom and found a stamped label that said HAND PAINTED JAPAN and T-T in two diamond shapes.
Now that we have phones with access to the Internet, we found that T/T stood for a Japanese pottery firm, Takito. We guessed that the teapot and its matching sugar bowl had to be a hundred years or older since Mom is almost ninety and they belonged to her grandmother.
Mom told us about how the U.S. government told American citizens not to buy things made in Japan during World War Two, but the teapot and the sugar bowl were made before the war. She looked carefully at the painted pink roses and the lines of gold.
“I wonder if there are any other pieces of this set,” she said. Her memory is not perfect and none of us knew. Our memories are not perfect!
My mom talked about her large and beautiful childhood home in North Camden and how her grandmother had two glass china cabinets. Then, she remembered other stories about people from that time and shared them with us.
“My grandmother belonged to a ladies’ lodge and its ceremonies were secret. I witnessed a lodge meeting as a kid and saw the women parading around carrying crooks–I guess crooks that a shepherdess would use. I wished that I could join, but when I became old enough to join, I no longer had that interest.”
When the conversation lagged for a moment or two, I brought down a watercolor of a vase of flowers that one of my bilingual third-graders had painted and had given to me. Carlos and I had framed it a few weeks ago and my folks admired it, especially Ken, who is an artist and professional photographer.
Thinking about my former students and knowing that I’d never see them again almost made me cry, but I did not. I said, “It was great that my last year of students were so super. I retired at a good time.” And I meant it, but I had a sad moment there at the table and I turned my face from my family.
Before we knew it, it was past nine o’clock. So much food had been eaten. So much iced tea had been drunk. So many topics of conversation had been covered.
It was a night where the moon was bright and big and neighbors were sitting outside with the kids and Dominican music was playing. The neighbors waved and said hi as we took my Mom home. I heard them say, “La abuela.” The grandmother. We’re in a family-oriented neighborhood and the families are close-knit. They loved to see us with my mom.
Now it’s late, almost midnight. The neighborhood is quiet. That was our Saturday evening in the Cramer Hill section of Camden.
Written by Marguerite Ferra, Cramer Hill