When I was seven the Parkers moved next door. Ed Parker was what my mom called a man's man. You know, one of those brooding cowboy types, without the cows. Kinda like a young Clint Eastwood minus the Bridges of Madison County. The artsy, meandering sort who rolled his own cigarettes and listened to Leonard Cohen. Yeah, you know the type. In addition to being a totally unique personality Mr. P. knew it all. If you wanted to know how planes stayed in the air or how to blow bubbles through your nose, he was your guy. He had an answer and an anecdote for just about everything. Back in the day where nine to five desk jobs or working third shift in a factory were the norm, Mr. P. could not be pinned down. He would be home for days at a time, usually arriving and leaving without any notice or fanfare. He represented a whole world of creativity and imagination and thinking for yourself. He treated me like a grown up. Let me play with oil paint and power tools. Used curse words like "bull shit" in my presence. Until then, my world was white bread suburbia, Mr. P. brought pumpernickel from the city.
Although Mrs. Parker, call me Margo and I were not exactly close in age, I was comfortable enough in her presence to spend my days following her around and asking for an occasional ride to ballet class or Miss Kathy's napkin folding class. Yes, I said napkin folding class. And no, I’m not joking. Anyway, Margo was lovely. She had long thick ashy blonde hair (you know the color
It was magical.
When she married Mr. P., Margo quit working her 60 plus hour a week stint as a waitress at Jack Horner's and stayed home as a lady of leisure. She took up tennis down at the country club and watched soap operas as if it were her job. The Guiding Light was her favorite. She was never seen without lipstick and pastel pearls. Despite her new found wealth, Margo still shopped like she was living hand-to-mouth. She filled their modest home with second hand furniture and was a champion coupon clipper. She really stood out in a world of perfect housewives and beige lives, in her flashy clothes and dime store pearls, snapping gum while perfecting lipstick stains on unfiltered Pall Malls. They had a puppy named Daisy, a sheep dog, that was constantly barking and running round in circles. It was my job to brush her. She was my first puppy love. All of the neighborhood husbands gawked at Margo when she walked by and the other mom's would scowl at her outfits, and the state of her garden, but I didn’t care, she was my hero. She was different and by my standard, that meant better.
When Margo decided she needed piano lessons to “keep her edge”, she went into a flurry. She bypassed the Mason and Hamlin Upright Mr. P. picked out and rearranged her living room to accommodate a baby grand. White, of course. Every Tuesday at 4pm the piano teacher would come over for an hour of lesson time, 30 minutes of which would be spent clearing the silk flowers and photographs from the top of the piano. Margo's rendition of “Moon River” never made it past the front door. That was a shame, really. In later years, she exercised her vocal stylings at a neighborhood talent show, singing a rousing rendition of Like a Rhinestone Cowboy in spangled western wear. Tone deaf and waving the American flag, she resembled a patriotic, Texas stripper.
Margo prided herself on keeping her home and herself in pristine condition. Her tract home, which had ironically been a model, was exclusively decorated in the shades of the times. The pink tiled bathroom, turquoise kitchen with chrome and vinyl chairs paired with chrome-legged tables with Formica tops, and Scandinavian inspired furniture in the living room, inter spread with her beloved thrift store finds. Back in the pre shabby chic days, this was considered very avante gaurde. She was always having the walls repainted, and on these days she could not leave her home even for a moment, for fear the painters would steal her stem wear. So I sat with her, not wanting her to be victim to rouge painters with a penchant for Waterford crystal. Eccentric as she was, Margo appeared to have the perfect life and the perfect home. Everything other ladies were bad at, or felt insecure about, Margo had in spades. Her biggest problems were grass stains, running out of Suzy Parker red lipstick, and what snacks to serve at her next Sarah Coventry party. I worshiped her from afar in hopes I could be like that one day. Thank you Lord for letting me grow up and gain some common sense.
To my delight, Margo gave my mom a recipe for apple kuchen, which I still make to this day. That means, for 50 some years there has been a small part of her in my recipe box. Just nestled in there amongst all the other
Like a rhinestone cowboy.
Margo's Apple Kuchen
1 box of yellow cake mix
1 cup of light sour cream
1/2 stick of melted butter
1 egg + 1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Mix well and spread over the bottom of a 13"x9" pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
While that's in the oven, mix together with your fingers:
3 cups of peeled apples thinly sliced (or something around 3 cups, that's around 4 apples decent sized apples)
1/2 stick melted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of lemon zest
+2 Tbsp of brown sugar for sprinkling
After the apple mixture is tossed and the cake is in the oven 15 minutes, remove it but leave the oven on. Arrange the apples in rows across the top of the warm cake and sprinkle with 2 Tbs of brown sugar. Return it oven and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm with fresh cream or ice cream!