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January 03, 2006

Getting Back to Normal

By Sarah

One Christmas break, my brother came home from his sophomore year at Bridgeport University, sat down at the dinner table and promptly passed out . It was around 1973 and so my father had lots of opinions about why my brother was using his meatloaf as a pillow, most of them having to do with drugs and kids these days and if they wanted to know about exhaustion then, well, they should have been with him on "the farm" where hard work was the cause and not expensive cocaine.

My mother darted a look at my father and promptly helped John to bed. In a rare moment of understanding my father announced, "You're not going back there," meaning Bridgeport University, at which point my brother heaved a sigh of relief and collapsed again, this time on his bed. He slept for three days.

I was only eleven then, on the downside of the ideal Christmas age, and my mother was doing everything she could to keep John afloat and my father's hands from his throat and me immersed in the holiday magic. I have no idea where my oldest brother was. With a girlfriend somewhere, I think. Or jumping trains. We never really knew.

I've been thinking of this episode all day as I slowly push the family back into the chute of normalcy. My ten year old, being smaller and thinner, is a more sensitive barometer of how heavy a toll the holidays can take. After three nights up past eleven, including New Year's Eve until 1 a.m. while we held two sleepovers for a total of ten kids, there are dark circles under his eyes. His uncharacteristic grumpiness cries out for the cure of schedules, decent bedtimes, dinners with vegetables and, yes, school.

And so Charlie and I spent the weekend cleaning out the basement, doing all the laundry and, as a finale, making a rosemary chicken. Easy peasy. It was what my mother made whenever the family needed to be put back on track - after a long trip, after a holiday, after my brother collapsed. She made it so often, it became the family joke. Come home from college and the first meal you're gonna get is a rosemary chicken. Oh, no. Bad sign. Not the rosemary chicken.

My brother never did go back to Bridgeport, an awful place in a gray shipping town recommended by some high school guidance counselor who decided, after a couple of tests, that John should major in "industrial design" - read toasters. Instead, he went to work at Bethlehem Steel, aka The Steel, in the worst area possible - the ingot mold. Think hell in overalls.

For almost a year he descended into a pit for eight hours a night, packing sand as molton iron was poured from above. It was hot and dirty and extremely dangerous. My mother would cry when she washed his gray uniform. But it paid pretty damned well and it was what a nineteen year old American male needed in order to return to his "normalcy," that is short of military service.

Later I would borrow heavily from John's stories about the ingot mold (it's where Bubbles's father died), about how the real drugs were down there and how, to pass the time, men would scribble dirty limericks on the newly minted bars. Of course, the ingot mold exists no more in Bethlehem. They're thinking of turning it into a kind of Discovery Center, or perhaps a new location for a community college.

John did just fine, by the way. Took art courses at Moravian College, went to Syracuse University and then to New York to seek his fame and fortune in advertising. No door opened to him and he was about to give up and come home in defeat - again! - when a surprise snowstorm paralyzed New York City exactly three years to the day of his collapse at the kitchen table. No one could get into work and in desperation a big ad agency called John who could walk there. He got a permanent job and later went on to win numerous Clio awards for his television commercials, including the famous Stroh's beer ad with the dog. If you see an Arby ad with a talking hand mitt, that's him too.

Kind of funny how people get their big breaks ...

Hope you all have a great, warm, and productive New Year filled with well-earned big breaks, too!




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Great post, Sarah, on many levels. It's easy to forget how hard holidays can be on kids. And, as I'm discovering, it's easy to think that our young adult kids should have more answers than is perhaps reasonable (especially now that we know so much more about what's going on, literally, inside their brains). Rosemary chicken sounds like an awfully good step in the right direction. Care to share the recipe? :)

Beautiful, Sarah.
Give me that Rosemary Chicken recipe. Now.

Rosemary Chicken

3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon crushed rosemary
Pepper and salt to taste
1 lemon, cut up.
a sprig of fresh rosemary if you've got it
1 6lb or so whole chicken
new red potatoes, carrots - optional.

Combine the garlic, olive oil, white wine and dried crushed rosemary in a bowl. Wash the chicken and salt the cavity. Place chicken upside down in the marinade and cover, refrigerate. Overnight will do it, so will a few hours. The longer, the better.

Heat oven to 350. If you're okay with oven bags, put a tablespoon of flour in an oven bag, prick the new red potatoes and add along with some baby carrots.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, of which a half a cup should be added to the bag. Squeeze lemon over the chicken and stuff the rinds in the cavity. Put chicken in bag, tug a sprig of fresh rosemary in each wing, seal 'er up and prick the bag a few times.

Bake for 2 hours.

If you don't trust oven bags - and my mother never did - then I would bake the chicken with a half a cup of the remaining marinade, basting every half hour. Add the potatoes and carrots for the last hour.

This recipe is also killer good with Cornish game hens.


uh, make that tuck a sprig of rosemary, not tug

Hi Sarah!

I visit this site often and love all the Lipstick Chroniclers books, but this is the first time I've posted--could not resist. Exactly 10 years after your brother, I too, came home from my freshman year at Bridgeport to hear my parents say: You're not going back there! But it was either go back or live with them and commute somewhere close by, so I did go back. I should have listened to my parents, but hey, I was 18.

The place WAS pretty awful (in addition to the grayness you describe, a freshman in one of my classes was shot on her way to the bookstore. It was just plain dangerous too.) I do remember that half the students did seem to be majoring in Industrial Design, like your brother. I'm so glad things worked out so well for him. Despite Bridgepit (as we called it, and I hope, hope, hope I'm not offending anyone!!), things worked out okay for me too.

The rosemary chicken recipe sounds wonderful.

Happy New Year!

Wonderful post Sarah!

I used to come home from college every semester and sleep for two days. Since I'm the oldest, I think my parents just came to accept this as normal behavior.

And our Rosemary Chicken was stuffed pork chops.

By the by - needed industrial equipment to pry my kids out of bed this morning...

Sounds to me like you have a great family, Sarah. Thanks for the story.

Melissa - yipes! Thanks for posting. You're right about Bridgeport being dangerous. There were a couple of incidents while John was there that were truly frightening, especially since he biked thru the ghetto to teach kids to swim at the Y. Eeek.
Rob - I don't know which family you're talking about. But thanks.

I love those Arby's commercials. May have to go there tonight in honor of your brother.


Sounds like you had an interesting life growing up, and the rosemary chicken does sound delicious. Maybe I'll just have to use your recipe and try it out some time. Thanks for sharing!

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