The other day I was in my old recipe box looking for things that might suit for summertime eating. Some of them are on index cards, some quite old, some batter spattered and some in little plastic sleeves. I stopped, though, when I came to one for bean salad. On a yellowed card with a coffee ring on it and a piece torn out of one corner. Verna Belle’s recipe. And what a memory came flooding back.
In those days we lived just outside of Trenton, New Jersey and I was the mom of three, the youngest being still a babe in arms. As it happens a whole slew of us had moved to Jersey from various parts of the country when our husband’s company, Univac, relocated. Verna Belle was a new acquaintance and almost exactly twice my age. She and her husband had married late in life and one thing she and I had in common was that we’d both been born in Minnesota. It was so nice to know someone, at last, who didn’t laugh when I talked about using the “biffy.” Yup, that’s what the toilet is called in upstate Minnesota; sometimes abbreviated to the "biff."
Anyway, one drizzly morning Verna Belle asked if I’d like to take a trip to the Farmer’s Market near Princeton. The two older boys were in school and I told her, “Sure, sounds like fun.” Now, mind you, I was a real fashion diva in those days. Because it was chilly and damp I decided to tuck my long frizzy hair up under a bandana, a black and white one. It was in the time before I had contact lenses, so I sported a nifty little pair of Ben Franklins for clear vision. Remember those? John and Yoko would. I also had my gold colored macramé bag slung over my shoulder and my baby on my hip. So cool I could hardly stand myself.
The market was under a huge canvas canopy and several people were milling around as we shopped. Did I mention it was chilly? We perused the fruits and veg and as the minutes wore on my nose began to run, just a little. Sniff. Sniff, sniff. Sniff, sniff, sniff. Okay this was getting a bit ridiculous. There’s only so many times you can try to suck that stuff back. So I rifled through my gold bag and found a tissue. I didn’t think I needed to do a big honking blow, just a tuck of the tissue end into the offending nostril, a nose tampon if you will. A little more readjusting of the kid, a delicate twist of the tissue and up it went.
Well, just then, at that exact moment, Verna Belle turned to me, thrust her hand out and said, “Feel my hand, I’m so cold.”
And here came my supreme moment of public humiliation. Did I pause a moment to think? No, I did not. Did I smile and finish the nose mop up? No I did not. Instead I let go of the tissue and felt her cold hand. I was reluctant to touch her hand with my “moist” tissue in it and I couldn’t rudely ignore her plea for me to feel her hand. So I did the only thing a decent person could do, I let go and let the tissue hang. And that valiant tissue stayed put and dangled there for all the world to see. Did I recall seeing a commercial where the "stays put" aspect of these tissues was touted? Maybe. In any case, this one did and it fluttered out of my drippy nostril, right in front of the whole graduating class of Princeton there at the Farmer’s Market.
Okay, the graduating class was NOT there, but boy, it sure felt like the world was observing this disgusting public display. In truth it lasted about ten seconds. I laughed and let go of Verna Belle’s cold hand, retrieved the tissue from my nose – real diva like – and began an intense scrutiny of a bin of tomatoes. I couldn’t bear to look around. So un-cool I could hardly stand myself.