October 28, 2014

Fixing Charlie Dinner

A portion of Charles Kassler’s mural, “Pastoral California,” 1939.  Painted over as politically incorrect in 1939; restored in 1997.

In the mid 1960’s, I found myself out of work.  One day at the exact moment the phone man was disconnecting the phone line, I was answering an ad for a cook.  Part time, temporary hourly.  I put on my coat – which happened to be a muskrat, and jumped in my car – a little red sports car, and I drove all the way across the city from Imperial Beach to Ocean Beach to apply.

They hired me, and for years I drove every day from one side of the city to the other to shop and layout meals for Joan and Phil.  Sometimes, I would only work three days a week cooking two meals a day for two or three days at a time.  Marking the containers, labeling them: Wednesday lunch, salad Joan. Friday dinner, Phil, microwave 4 minutes.  That sort of thing.

I was always grateful that they lived in an unusual cottage high above the ocean on Sunset Cliffs.  Imagine snapping beans or taking peas from a pod while sitting on a rough wooden step in the sun.  Gulls wheeled by.  Pelicans swooped below in line with the surf.  The sound of the sea surrounding you and the warmth of the sun on your shoulders was a true gift.

Perhaps it was in the early 70’s when Joan asked if I would mind cooking for a neighbor on a very part time basis.   I went down the alley to met Barbara and Charlie.  She went to England several times a year, she told me, and could I cook Charlie’s dinners while she was gone.  Simple stuff.  Sweetbreads in a crème sauce.  That sort of thing.  So I’d go from the light airy rooms facing the sea to a magical, tiny art filled home that had the first plant filled atrium with a waterfall I’d ever seen. 

Charlie was a painter.  His was a really impressive portfolio with a degree from Princeton, his Masters from the Chicago Art Institute, and years of travel with brushes in his hand.  I didn’t notice much as I stired something in the tiny kitchen.  I’d view his paintings from Paris…painted with the expatriates of the 20’s, his work from North Africa, the beauty and power of New Mexico color, Mexico color and light, and magic from Italy. 

I didn’t think much of it.  Too tight, I couldn’t see beyond the surface.  I thought that perhaps they needed me because Charlie had only one hand.  Perhaps they needed me to fix dinners because Charlie drank.  I’d fix the one meal, talk a bit, and head south on the freeway to my kids and maybe my husband if he wasn’t at work.

Today I would have hired someone else to fix Charlie’s dinners, and I would have sat down to listen to his stories.  Not only did he paint with the expatriates in Paris, he was a WPA mural artist, and he taught at the Chouinard Art Institute at its peak.  Later worked as a designer in the aerospace industry.  Today I am in awe.  I’m ashamed of the youthful me.  This was a brilliant and creative man, and I hurried away home every night.

  • Himself:  His bug is still with him, but he is better and back at the gym as of today.  He only gave up part of one day to this virus. 

  • Herself:  Today is the day I try driving one handed for the first time.  I need to be pretty good at it by Thursday noon when I take Schmidley to lunch in old town. 

  • Reading:  Finished a McCaffrey, a Lockridge, and have started another Lockridge.

  • Balance:  is keeping my hand in the air.


    1. Perhaps you're right, but you are judging young Mage with today's Mage's maturity and insight and one who has time to reflect.

      Such an interesting life you've had, Mage.

    2. That is a truly amazing story. You are so precious!

    3. We all had a myopic focus in our youth. Everything interesting and important was happening elsewhere while we were working through the days focusing on our distant future.

    4. Still it sounds like a delightful job with wonderful people. Sometimes I'd like to give my young self a boot in the bootie, but we were how we were, and we changed, good on us.

    5. I have many such regrets which I look back upon with a more mature outlook. And it's frustrating that we can't usually instill that kind of focus in our kids so that they need not look back with these same feelings.

    6. A lovely story of youth and our haste, being so self-minded. Obviously there were still some great memories created from these jobs.

    7. My husband captured me with his tales of the sea. After we married our life got busy and now that he is gone I wish I had sat down to listen more often.

    8. I think at a certain age many of us wish we could have a chance to talk to that younger self of being more aware of the unique and momentous opportunities that we let slide right by us.

      Happy healing, driving and lunching.

    9. Such an interesting tale, and I am sitting her in my son's lovely home in San Diego and listening to Spanish guitar music on Pandora while I read your post, the last bit of sunset is shining on a hill in the distance and tiny hummingbirds are feeding on the lavender plants on view through the kitchen window.

      I have my aching legs elevated, and am drinking a cup of tea. Perfect.

      See you soon and we can reminisce about lost opportunities.

    10. Add to my list of all time favorite Mage posts.

    11. Has to be one of mine too - you paint such a vivid picture with your words Mage, I love reading them.
      You'll sayy hello to Dianne for us when you see her won't you?
      Take care

      Oh and thanks for your comments during the trip - I'll get some posts up soon

    12. I really enjoyed reading this. Ah! Regrets.

    13. I took one look at that picture and thought, that looks like the WPA paintings that were in our high school!

      I always liked those. I heard that they were removed but that they were not destroyed. Maybe they'll be displayed again.

    14. What a great story! I, too, would have sat with him and listened to him chat about his fabulous past.

    15. We aren't very smart in our youth. I wouldn't kick myself too much. But, I would be sad for the stories I didn't really hear. I've always been able to multi-task so I might have been able to do the cooking and the listening. But, my cooking was never good enough to be hired out.

    16. Youth wouldn't be youth without frittering it away. But, you still have some great stories.


    What a delight to get a note from you. Thanks for leaving one.


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