As when someone passes away, I choose to remember them with food. On Saturday, we lost a close friend of the family (and my mother personally for nearly 40 years), Noreen Waldron. My childhood was full of memories of visiting her house on Staten Island. I looked forward to these, which occurred every summer and sometimes right before Christmas for many years. She had a dog named Sligo (she was very Irish and proud of it) that was almost as big as she was, and two cats named Leo (an orange, lion-like kitty) and Blue Bell, who was a shy but beautiful Russian blue. Her house was an old one in Tudor style, dating to the early 1900’s. From a very young age, she would enthrall me with a particular ghost story: one of the previous owners of her house was a fireman who would report for work in the afternoon—his thunderous footsteps in his workbooks were sometimes heard by her as he made his way down the stairs and out the front door just as he did in life.
She always had a beautiful dining room table set for us and presented herself impeccably dressed. Not a detail was spared— she was a real lady, perhaps the last of the real ladies. Her manners, properness, and everything about her on our family visits were always the utmost in etiquette. The fine china would be laid out, there would be multiple forks and a knife and a spoon. As a child, I did not quite understand the reasoning for all of this. There would then be an array of cold cuts and cheeses, three of four different kinds of bread and rolls, Dijon mustard, spicy mustard, mayonnaise, and butter (yes butter! more on that later). Cole slaw? Check, as well as macaroni and potato salads.
You haven’t lived until you have eaten such a luxurious sandwich off of fine china. Hell, you haven’t lived until you have had a ham and cheese sandwich on a fluffy potato roll with butter lathered on instead of any other condiment. To this very day, I’ve never been served butter with a sandwich. I was not old enough to ask, and therefore I chalked it up to her Irish heritage. While I type this, I wonder why I do not replicate this more at home. Perhaps my next sandwich will be done this way in Noreen’s honor. It ain’t any more unhealthy than mayo now, is it?
Potato salad I was never a fan of, but this one was the best I ever had. Was it the recipe or the fact that I was eating it there, in this very special house for me as a child? Even to this day, whenever I have something that is reminiscent, you can hear me exclaim, “This tastes like Noreen’s!”
I still remember the dining room and table set up, even though my last visit was a long time ago. Following lunch, we would then have dessert and tea. Out would come a beautiful tea set followed by a baked good brought by my mom and another supplied by Noreen. We would all then sit and chat for a couple of hours before heading back to New Jersey (we did originally come from Staten Island, however). I usually ended up leaving with a toy of some kind that she had for me. One year, she presented me with an antique Hess truck from the 1960’s. Not knowing anything about it, I brought it home and played with it as any little kid would. You can imagine the look of shock on my father’s face when he came home from work and found me playing on the floor with this irreplaceable collectible!
Over the years, I met her sister Eileen after she moved in and her son Rich. We all got along so well, talking about anything and everything for hours. But as is the case with nearly everything, life gets in the way and it became increasingly hard to get together. In the last couple of years, she moved down to the Washington, DC-area to be with another sister. Regretfully, I did not get a chance to see her again. But I will always have my memories of visiting her house, chatting over a delicious lunch, drinking tea out of a fancy cup, and playing around with her dog and cats. It was all so much fun. Here’s to Noreen, a real lady. May she rest in peace.