When I was thirteen, my family moved from Minnesota to Southern California. Even though that was many years ago, the culture shock for a thirteen-year-old was immense. Whereas I had barely finished playing with dolls back in Minnesota, now the girls in my new school were all smoking cigarettes.
I felt like a stranger and outsider for a long time, but after a couple of years of adjusting, I finally met some kids who became friends. One of them introduced me to a boy (Mickey) and I started dating him and he, in turn, introduced me to his family. His sister Jeanie was my age and we soon became very good friends, a friendship that lasted through all these years and miles apart; but the person who had the most impact on my life was their mother, Mrs. Bishop– as I called her all of her life.
The first time Mickey took me to his house to introduce me to his mom, I was very nervous. I had heard a lot about her and I was also very curious. Her rapport with the kids at school was legend; everyone hung out at their house (there was a Mr. Bishop, too). Although she was a first grade teacher, she really knew how to relate to teenagers.
When I arrived I met this rather heavy, white-haired lady with crinkles around her eyes when she smiled, wearing a moo-moo dress and smoking a cigarette held in a rhinestone-studded cigarette holder. After being introduced, she said “So you’re the girl I’m not supposed to say “shit” around .” Thus I entered a new phase of life.
Although Mickey and I broke up I had become a member of the “gang” that hung out at Bishop’s house. Every day after school we walked the three blocks to their house and just hung around, talking, getting advice and food. Mrs. Bishop was like the Queen holding court. We all loved her– I think it was because she loved us. Most of us had parents who had high expectations of us and were sometimes somewhat critical. Mrs. B just listened and welcomed us.
A few years later as a newlywed still living in California, and far away from my Minnesota family, the Bishops became our second family. We were very poor college students, working part-time, living in a trailer, and we often ran out of food. We would stop by the Bishop’s and look hungry. We not only got fed, but were encouraged to open their bottom-drawer freezer and help ourselves to whatever we needed to take home.
Speaking of getting fed–Mrs. B was a fabulous cook. My mother was too, but in a very different way. I still make some of the food that I had at the Bishop’s, i.e., bacon toast, macaroni salad, green salad with blue cheese dressing (not an ordinary type), quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, the best potato salad I’ve ever tasted. Most of her dishes were savory– I don’t remember a lot of sweets or desserts. Her weaknesses were the same as mine: butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, bacon.
I have no specific recipes for her food–and she’s been gone a long time now. So is my dear friend Jeanie. But I still make some of these dishes as best as I can remember
Toast white bread and spread with a lot of butter–the kind that when you bite it, the butter oozes up–Top with crisply fried bacon strips. This is better than you might think and you can’t get much easier than that.
Cook elbow macaroni until al dente (about 7 minutes). When cool, spoon Best Foods mayonnaise (known as Hellman’s in the midwest) until creamy but not soupy. Cut up tomatoes into bite side pieces, add sliced green onions, diced cucumbers and diced avocado. Salt and pepper to taste. That’s all!
chopped iceberg or Romaine lettuce, tomato bites, avocado, blue cheese chunks, mixed together with lots of Best Foods mayonnaise, salt and pepper. You can add some vinegar to the mayonnaise. This is delicious.
All of these simple recipes–are the home-spun, make-it-up style but they really rely on certain brands of the ingredients, and high quality produce, so easy to come by in California. The Best Foods mayonnaise was a must. Real butter was a must. Good tomatoes; ripe, but not over-ripe avocados were a must, I think she used Hormel bacon and there was always lots of delicious coffee–always Folger’s. And the coffee was made in an electric percolator, not a Mr. Coffee-style drip machine. I use that type of percolator today, even though they are not easy to find. The coffee is strong, but not harsh and acid-y.
I loved my California family and I think of them often and miss them still.