SENIOR POWER: Food as metaphor

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:13:00 PM

When my parents separated in 1931, my mother moved to a suburban apartment. Some of the furniture and I accompanied her. Shanin the landlord was busy with his principal business— collecting and shipping boatloads of scrap metal to Japan. On the first of each month, his agent, an amiable woman with a withered arm, knocked on his buildings’ apartment doors to collect the rents and to chat. 

Most of the tenants were newly-wed couples who moved on after the first baby. From them, I learned go schlofin. Mrs. Berman kept a kosher kitchen in the next-door apartment. Mr. B was the Fuller Brush man. Whenever I was sick, she would ask my mother for a bowl in which she’d share some of her chicken soup. But later on, Mrs. B. and my mother got into loud fights. One had something to do with her putting Marvin and his tricycle out into the first floor hall to play. 

Respite months in the city hospital provided me with memorable experiences of security and consistency having to do with people and food. I was encouraged to eat, and most of the food was novel. At first I hadn’t wanted to eat. A blue-and-white sat by the bed and coaxed me to eat food from a child’s dish heated with hot water inside. Later, in the ward, I ate from regular dishes, sitting up. I was familiar with hot cereal but not yellow cornmeal. It was probably donated, Depression Era stuff. With the cereal, hot cocoa was likely. And toast with margarine already on it. Occasional bacon, even scrambled eggs. (I still prefer scrambled eggs made with powdered-eggs.) Mid-morning juice was accompanied by a small glass of fish oil. Dinner was mid-day, Sunday especially special included mashed potatoes and a scoop of ice cream. A glass of milk with everything. Following visiting hours, temperature-taking and a snack, early supper was milk-toast –- warm milk over pieces of toasted, thrifty stale bread. Or macaroni and cheese. And fruit. I no longer needed coaxing or help to eat. 

My mother still had her high school cooking class notebook, and there were several dishes that I especially liked and asked for, but they were infrequent: smoked pork butt cooked in pea soup, baked scalloped potatoes, custard with nutmeg on top, beef stew with gravy. She could make tasty foods and meals, but they became fewer and fewer. She was angry and depressed. If the apartment “we” were renting at the time had a refrigerator, I knew not to open it. She listened to the radio and followed Doctor Gaylord Hauser’s vegetable soup recipe. Not a physician, he was said to be Greta Garbo’s latest swain. And there were grimacing exercises advocated by cosmetician Rose Laird to deal with middle-age chins. 

The five K-6 grade schools fed into an old building down town where a creaky second floor housed all of grade seven. Junior high school was our introduction to men teachers, individual subjects taught separately, and smelly toilets. Miss Vivian Wells, an acknowledged absolute darling, introduced eighth grade girls to cooking. Our class was the last period in the afternoon, and we had time to eat what we made — including cream of tomato soup and chocolate pudding made from scratchwhile the boys got mechanical drawing. (Later, after December 1941, they were taught to rivet aluminum in industrial arts classes and were able to get summer jobs building Navy planes.) 

It was my good fortune to have Miss Mabel Skinner for three years of high school Spanish and a year of homeroom. She was middle-aged, and some students took advantage of her slight hearing problem. One Saturday she took two other students and me to Manhattan to the Spanish movie theater, the Belmont, near Times Square. Admission 30 cents until noon. She wore a black Persian lamb coat and her Mexican silver jewelry. We saw Un Ave Sin Nido -– A Bird Without a Nest — a weepy black and white film from Mexico. When we returned and got off the train, she invited us to have dinner with her at an eatery near the station. We failed to realize that she was lonely and not eager to return to her apartment. She ordered steaks and ice cream sundaes for everyone and ate slowly. I’d never had condiments, dressings or seasoned foods. The steak came with French fries and pickled beets and was my introduction to these delectables. 


“Personal Health: Lifelines for People with Hearing Loss” by Jane E. Brody. New York Times, January 17, 2012. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 


Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Bring items with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 


Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book into Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Free. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a You Tube Video. Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to You Tube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series. 

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital.
Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Gogol's The Overcoat. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. The Occupiers: Why We Demonstrate. Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Ruth Maguire of the Gray Panthers, and activist photographer Anna Graves will tell about their experiences with the Occupations of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and why this movement is so important in changing today's political dialogue. 

Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+. Taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required); $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only, to AARP. 510-747-7510 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15, 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 7 P.M. Behind the Music of Bustan & Ben Goldberg. Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut, Berkeley. Come hear two of the movers and shakers behind the world-class music to be heard at this year’s Jewish Music Festival. Free. 510-848-0237. Also March 22.  

Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 

Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler immigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 

Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 

Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043. 


Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100.