From earliest childhood, I slipped into books when the going got rough.
My older sister noticed that as a child, I got a lot of shoutings and whippings for being a 'pest'. Although she was only eleven years old herself, she realized that an energetic three-year-old needed something to keep busy. I had no playmates. My parents had no interest in finding me any, and scorned the idea of pre-school even though it was free. My sister, annoyed with the backward ways of my family, tried to include me in her activities to keep me out of trouble. She devised an ingenious method of study using waxed paper, a pencil and the few Little Golden Books we had in the house. Every day when she came home from school, we sat at the den table using her method. With her as my teacher, I was able to read before I was old enough to enter kindergarten.
She showed me that there were lots of people just waiting to play in the pages of books. Weekly, she brought home a few picture books with her novels and LP Albums, sometimes letting me walk the mile to the library with her so that I could pick out my own companions for the week.
Books were great friends. Small. Portable. Non-jugdemental. They didn't yell like my parents did. They didn't hit me or tell me that I was stupid like my middle sister. Books were never mad at me for not being able to keep up with the big kids. They were willing to wait as long as it took for me to come back and finish them.
Of course, it never took long. Once I learned that I could disappear into a book, I began to devour them as quickly as they arrived. As I grew into school age, I found that books never cared about the reader's tax bracket. Books didn't care what kind of house the reader lived in or if anybody else liked her. Books always liked their reader. To this day, I cringe away from ugly realities like bills and empty bank accounts and chronic illness and looming deadlines by heading to the library to check out a tote bag full of new words to read, letting their message wrap around me like a blanket that insulates from the icy winds of being a grown-up.
Not willing to give up the safety of the pages when the book ended, I developed a habit of slipping into the world of the main character. After reading Heidi, I became determined to make a beverage that tasted exactly like Johanna Spyri's description of goat's milk ("sweet, thick, foamy, with a spiciness as if cinnamon and sugar had been added"). I shook milk in a jar with sugar, cinnamon, a drop of vanilla. When that didn't produce the exact result, I added a little maple syrup and a drop of almond flavoring. I learned to knit (from a book with instructions and pictures) after reading of the handknit stockings worn by the All-Of-A-Kind-Family. The Little House series offered a wealth of instruction. I made rag-dolls and braided rugs. I fashioned doll hats using stems of grass gone to seed. If I could have found a cow, I'd have been out milking. My favorite color was calico.
Not all of my endeavors were successful. Although I researched long and hard, I never did figure out what kind of gadget was the cardboard hair receiver that Laura made for her Ma, but if I had, I'd surely have made one. Attempts at maple sugar candy made by boiling a cup of Log Cabin maple-flavored syrup were fairly disastrous. The stuff was quick to burn and stuck to everything, probably because it was made of corn syrup and maple flavoring.
I never noticed my lack of playmates again.
Last Friday, I received some astoundingly bad legal and financial news. "Jeez", I thought. "Why do so many things have to go sour?". Hmmm. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Sourdough Biscuit recipe has been tickling my curiosity for years. It seemed like a perfect moment to try a recipe that required a process of watching something go sour. There was consolation in knowing that this recipe needed and welcomed sourness.
Pulled out my disintegrating copy of By The Shores Of Silver Lake (and some potholders I wove from wool after reading Conrad Richter's The Town). Lacking crockery, I mixed up a starter in a plastic bucket. Or what I thought would be starter, anyway. Never having made it before, I wasn't sure what it was supposed to look like or how it should behave. It sat for five days on the counter, balefully seething, gathering wild yeast from the air. When it started looking flat, I gave it some sugar and white flour which perked it up for a few hours. Yep, matched my mood perfectly.
This morning, I followed the vague directions found in the novel. Cups of flour, cups of seething, weird-smelling sourdough, salt, soda, sugar, fat. Knead. The dough felt funny. Roll. Cut. They smelled odd. I almost threw them out three times before they made it to the baking sheet.
Out of the oven came the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious biscuits ever. They rose so enthusiastically that the sides burst open in breaddy grins. The smell brought people from all over the house, asking "What's that? Is it ready?". Rat Pup came in cradling her Glo-Worm. She lacked the words to request, substituting "Mmmmm! Mmmmm!", small pink fingers held up to receive a sample.
"You gonna make these again?" asked Pup Daddy.
Let's hope my sour legal news turns around equally well.