The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


Inheritance of Story

Just wanted to update you. I am still writing. Still researching, although I have called myself out and realize I could research this book for a lifetime. I am in the process of an office makeover. Juney and Granny Dell would approve — it is designed to be clutter free. I have organized (or rather am organizing) the research I have gathered.  I am also working on another project simultaneously, but these two projects are my focus.

You know (or now you do) that I have my grandmother’s notebooks.  My mother left me my grandma’s notebooks and photo albums. She knew I would need them and had the foresight that mothers do to know I would write this story someday. I do regret not listening to her more acutely when she told me about the Community Kitchen, but the stories are in my bones and I have the letters she wrote Juney to interpret their relationship.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

I wished I had asked so many more questions, but that is how it turned out.  I was busy with life. Truth be told, my mother and I had a difficult relationship. We were very much alike. But oh, could she make me laugh. I miss her so much. The pain of losing your mother is so acute. I do feel I am moving into the obtuse angle of grief where I can see things more clearly. I like this much better than acute grief, but you can’t have one without the other. Right?

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

My mother also felt her mother’s death with acuteness. She would have moments when I was older (my grandma died when I was 10) that showed this acute grief retracting from the obtuse angle decades allow. I am curious about how my grandma felt about her mom.  They too had a difficult relationship, so I have heard.  I think they were a lot alike as well, both driven by a furious need to achieve. I have that in me to. Perhaps it is a hole I am trying to fill, perhaps it straight up ambition.

Just wanted to write a quick note and update you. I do appreciate you following this blog. I just want you to know I am hard at work on the manuscript. It’s filled with delectable goodies and interesting historic conflict, as well as personal conflict.

Back to the other project I am working on — I am starting my own company and gearing up to self-publish The Original Journal. I have had to move through many phases of fear and insecurity, but what has prevailed is a business instinct I never knew existed in me. I thank my Elizabeths (Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty) — my great-grandmother, grandma, and mom. I am a fourth generation Elizabeth. My middle name is Elizabeth. My mom’s cousin, shares the same middle name. Mary Liz has been a wonderful resource for this book. She is ninety and sharp as a tack. I call her when I want to hear my mom’s voice. They do not have the same voice, but somehow hearing her distinct voice connects me to my mom. Mary Liz and my mom were very close and kept in contact all my mom’s life. Mary Liz has been wonderful answering my questions and she too possesses the same brevity my mom did. What is important is the connection to the story. This is my story to tell and I am going to tell it.

I wonder what insecurities and fears Granny Dell had when she was starting her business in a time when women were not even active outside the home. Joining a women’s club was looked down upon. Thank goodness she was in a great community of progressive women during the Progressive Era. Evanston 1919 was the right place at the right time to start a business.

I am on the hot pursuit of tracking down the film footage done by Pathe News Media of the Community Kitchen in 1920. I thought I had it nailed when I had a lead that Pathe News Media donated their three thousand miles of film footage to the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, but it was de-accesed in 1950. Now onto the next lead. I know that footage exists somewhere. I can’t wait to watch Juney and Granny Dell prepare a luncheon for 3,000 delegates at a national conference. This is also where my grandma developed an allergy to chicken because it was the hottest day on record for the year and they prepared 5,000 gallons of chicken salad! She avoided chicken her whole life after that. But I am also careful and aware of the rabbit hole of research I can fall into.  I will post pictures here of the office when it is finished.

Did you know that the Community Kitchen renovated a house on Chicago Avenue and used that as its headquarters after it moved from the Evanston Woman’s Club basement. I wonder who picked the colors. I had a time of it deciding on a color for my new office. I went with the color suggestion the interior designer who lives across the street in my historic neighborhood (I live in 1880 Victorian we have fixed up and it has been a project!). This interior designer’s name is Charles and he was born the same year as my mother, 1935. I love talking to him about yesteryear.

More to come and I promise more updates.

Updating once a week is a reasonable promise. So hold me to it!  Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty — you too. 🙂

Grandma and me

Grandma (Juney), Mom (Betty) and me (Megan Elizabeth)

 


Juney, Mom, and Me (and Shaggy — the Pekingese)

This is a photo of Juney, my grandma holding me. My mom, BA as in Betty Anne is sitting next to her.  Our Pekingese, Shaggy is on my mom’s lap. Shaggy bit me under my nose when I was a young child.  He had a sensitive spot and if touched, he would bite. Otherwise, he was about as Zen as they come. My sister and I would put him on top of our collie (like cowboy in saddle) to provoke him into movement. Shaggy was like a monk — quiet and spiritual.  He was a kind dog.

I wish I could go back in time and ask my grandma all the questions I have for her now.

What was it like to go to Cuba in the 1930s?

Tell me about Speakeasies?  Did you go without telling Granny Dell?

I can hear her answer that one … “Of course, I didn’t tell Mother! I wouldn’t dream of it. Harriet and I used to sneak out. We were very clever like that  Mother was a a member of the WCTM (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).”

I have my little notepad and write her messages to keep a diary and include it ALL. Grandma was a humble woman and very private. She was equally fascinating and is certainly the main character of this memoir.

Grandma and me

Grandma and me

Juney’s story of her past as a gourmet executive chef and business woman didn’t matter at this moment in the photo. What mattered most to her was she was a grandma — she was Grandma. That was the role she loved the most.

The German Shepard there is Penny. Mom got rid of her because she bit us.  There was no reason to it.  Shaggy got the pass because of the Pekingese temperament.  Every Pekingese has a sensitive spot. Mom got rid of Penny when she snapped at us when we were kids. I wish I could call Mom up right now and muse a bit about Penny and get the exact reason.  My mind wanders and wants to know, “Did Penny bite us?  Or did she just snap at us?”

Funny, what we can get stuck on.  I have a deep desire to know every exact truth about my grandma, mom, and great-grandmother, but I can’t really. We are private creatures as humans and most people (besides journalers and writers, don’t share those private moments and thoughts in our heads).

But I am on a quest to find the truth of my Elizabeths — Elizabeth Odell (great-grandmother — Granny “Dell”), Elizabeth Odell Welch (grandma —  “Juney”), Elizabeth Welch Miller (Mom — “BA,” “Betty Anne,”  “Betty”) and me (Megan Elizabeth Miller Oteri, memomuse).


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.