Yes, there's a recipe here, a traditional summer drink from England. But mostly, this is about mothers and daughters and how friendships can cross generations. I'm in a story-telling mood: many will not be interested, please feel free to scroll down to the recipe!
The story starts in the early 1950s when five girls left home from across Canada to attend the University of Manitoba's college of Home Economics. They were Margie and Shirley (my mother) and Willie and Betty and Meryl -- all those -y names, any surprise Meryl was some times called Merlie? Two were roommates but since the girls were in different graduating classes, they met but really didn't know one another.
Fast forward five years. All the girls -- women, now, of course, new grads and young professionals -- took jobs as county extension agents in rural northern Minnesota, each one 20 - 25 miles apart from one or two of the others. (Signs of the times: county extension agents were not allowed to smoke in public nor -- how funny is this? -- to shave their legs.) In 1955, the five piled into a two-door white Chevy Del Ray coupe named George with a red roof and a monstrous trunk for a two-week road trip to a home ec convention in Seattle. They were a fashionable bunch: four wore skirts and one, the Katherine Hepburn character, wore lined wool Bermuda shorts. Five was a magic number: one to drive, four free to play bridge. On two-week road trips, you either form life-time bonds or never speak again. These five, they bonded.
Fast forward five years. Four of the women married Americans, stayed in the States and eventually became American citizens; one returned to Canada to marry an Englishman. They continued their careers, raised their families and like busy people do, kept in touch with Christmas cards and very occasional visits, one family with another.
Fast forward 40 years. Retired now, the five women and their husbands come together for the first OCHER -- Old Canadian Home Ec Reunion [o-ker] -- a grand reunion, the five together for the first time in decades, some of the husbands meeting for the first time. OCHER II and III soon follow, moving from Florida to Minnesota and back to Winnipeg, home to the University of Manitoba. During OCHER III, they happen upon a wedding. For good luck, the bride and groom want their picture taken with the five OCHER couples who collectively have been married more than 225 years.
Fast forward 10 years. By now, one of the OCHERs, my mother, is gone. The four OCHERs meet in Michigan, this time sans husbands. Some time mid-cocktail, they begin to fantasize about a future weekend gathering, still all women, but two generations, they and their daughters, a sort of Ya-Ya Sisterhood gathering. None of the daughters really know each other as adults, most had never met. Could it ever happen? Surely not. Could a date be found? Surely not.
Fast forward one year to this weekend. The OCHERs and their daughters -- already dubbed the YaYas -- boarded planes, trains and automobiles to reach St. Louis from Saskatchewan, Colorado, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia. We spent three days making introductions and reminiscing, exploring St. Louis and just sitting on the patio, cocktails in hand. Because daughters do learn from mothers and women do learn from women, here's what I learned during our extraordinary gathering.
It pays to dream big. Without the OCHERs daring to dream, this weekend would never have been.
It pays to say "yes" not "maybe". If any of us had hesitated or said "yes" and then didn't act, it wouldn't have happened.
It pays to keep your friends from so many years ago. They know you in ways your newer friends simply cannot.
Women in their 70s? In the ways that count most, they're the same women as in their 20s.
Eight women with bright hats and big flowers attract attention like butterflies. Strangers stopped us to ask, "What is your group?" Strangers asked to take our photograph. Who knew that colored hats could be so much fun? (Willie did!)
During a weekend with "many highs and no lows" (Meryl), amazing moments occur almost by accident: like drinking surprise bellinis in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, the waters of the Mississippi lapping at our toes, jazz playing at the tour boat a few yards away.
It pays, when you're hosting, to ask for help.
Half of us stayed at my house, half across the street at my neighbors. Thank you, Doris and Max, for making everyone feel so at home!
Ed, Molly (my neighbors) and Skye (their dog) rescued Margie when she arrived two hours early and reached my house only to find nobody home because we were picking up the first arrivals at the airport! Thank you, Ed and Molly!
Imagine feeding eight people for four days without spending every waking hour in the kitchen. I cooked just one -- one! -- meal. After that, we were fed -- sumptuously, right here in my own home -- by the St. Louis' hot new personal chef, Karen Tedesco of DinnerStyle and her food blog FamilyStyle Food. One of the OCHERs said, "... the food was interesting and delicious and so seasonal and personal that it only added to the pleasure".
Imagine a personalized tour of St. Louis from a St. Louis native -- neighborhoods, old stories, little bits of St. Louis trivia. Thank you, Jim, for being our amazing tour guide.
It pays to 'arrange' for good weather. Bookended by cold and rain, our weekend was a spring-perfect 70 and sunny.
Hearing the women who loved your mother most talk about her -- it's humbling, it's emotional, it makes you realize all over again how much she's missed.
Wow -- good guests make hosting a complicated few days extraordinarily easy. I learned much about being a good guest: going along, no special orders, pitching in, adding to the fun. No e-mail, no long phone calls home: all of us were completely present.
Remarkable women bear remarkable women.
And okay, yes, there is a food angle, entirely unexpected, one we didn't even realize until late on the second day.
One Yaya has two connections: she is an engineer who works with water purity issues, we talked much about the question of pharmaceuticals that reach our water supply. She and her husband also farm 2000 acres in Colorado.
Another Yaya has two connections: she and her husband are the second generation to farm the prairies of Saskatchewan, wheat, cattle, sheep. She's also a physician and thus much concerned about wellness issues.
Another Yaya's husband is in the military and so they have moved often. Even so, every place, she manages to plant a small garden and now also belongs to a CSA. With two children, she is much concerned about nutrition and wellness.
And of course me, writing about food and immersed in the food blog community where we watch and talk about sustainability, local products, scratch cooking, food safety and more.
The four of us were also quite struck by how much, in our own ways, we followed our mothers' paths, how related our own work is to theirs.
To the OCHERs, it was such a pleasure and an honour to be part of your weekend, and to get to know you! (Anne) It was really neat to spend time getting to know the important women in our mothers' lives. (Kirsten) Thank you for showing us how family and career can work, how (and more importantly why) to feed and nourish the friendships of our youth. Thank you for showing us grace. Thank you for laughing, laughing, laughing ...
To the YaYas, to Kirsten, to Michelle, to Anne (and also to Heather and to Adanna who were unable to join us and were muchly missed), thank you for sharing your time, your spirits, your mothers. I'm willing to bet that thanks to our own 'road trip,' a long time from now, we will all still be friends, we will all still laugh over bright hats with big flowers and so much more. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for coming.
~ Cucumber Lemonade ~
~ Parade-Day Gin & Tonics (a Rass special) ~
~ Tomato Gazpacho ~
~ more recipes for drinks & smoothies ~
Time to table: 5 minutes
Serves as many as needed
2 parts Pimm's liqueur
2 parts ginger ale
2 parts lemonade (we just used more ginger ale)
For each glass -
1 slice lemon
1 slice orange
1 slice cucumber
1 slice strawberry (we were out)
Mix and enjoy. Mothers and daughters preferred but not required.
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