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Stirring up memories


Lovely and Loved
November 23, 2005

            This year’s Thanksgiving story starts in San Francisco, in an art gallery on Polk Street between Knob Hill and Pacific Heights.  It’s 1989.  A charming, beautifully dressed and groomed older woman strolls into the gallery and strikes up a conversation.  When she learns that one of the owners was once a banker, things pick up. 

            Every few days, she drops by for a chat and to make a small purchase—a print, a frame, once even a fine watercolor.  She keeps her distance from Samantha, the German Shepherd, who was also a part-owner.  The woman explains that she is a “cat person.”

            In October of that year, disaster strikes San Francisco.  An earthquake shakes the city and the gallery.  In January of the new year the gallery moves a few blocks down Polk Street and reopens.  It’s now right in the woman’s neighborhood.  She becomes a daily visitor.  By now the gallery owner’s know her name, Muriel Warren, and they know that Muriel is not only a customer.  She’s now a friend.

            She’s even becomes Samantha’s pal, sharing half of her lunch sandwich every day and giggling when Sam leans against her as a thank-you.

            And we know the gallery’s name—Immendorf Gallery owned, with Samantha, by Bainbridge’s own Pam and Bob Immendorf.  Pam loves sharing Muriel’s story. (“Be sure to tell her about the white gloves and chocolate,” Bob called out as he passed through the room.”)

            “We adopted each other,” Pam declares.  “That was all there was to it.”

            Gradually Muriel began to share the story of her life with Pam and Bob.  She told about her birthday.  The birth certificate said July 5—but she knew it was wrong!  She was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 4.  She knew because her mother always told her that the fireworks were for her.  Muriel lived life on her own terms.

            One of those terms was not telling the year on that birth certificate.  Every time someone asked her age, she gave a different answer.  Pam guessed that maybe she was in her seventies.

            Muriel lost her dad when she was only seven and lived alone with her mom until long after she was grown.  Mom did everything, the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the ironing—even after Muriel grew up and starting working at a series of interesting jobs, including being a fashion model.

            Then love struck.   Muriel married Dick Warren, and they moved to San Francisco.  During the war, Muriel did her part.  She told about standing in the window of Macy’s looking glamorous and selling war bonds.  She also joined a mounted civil defense group and patrolled the city on horseback wearing a snappy uniform.

            But she didn’t learn to cook.  Pam figured this out when, as the friendship developed, she began to do Muriel’s grocery shopping.  It wasn’t hard.  Pam was amazed by what Muriel ate, or didn’t eat. 

            “It’s a miracle she was able to live on her diet--Ball Park Franks, canned tuna, canned green beans, Lay’s sour cream and onion potato chips,” Pam exclaimed.  And chocolate, always lots of chocolate, usually M&Ms.  Sometimes she had Pam bring her Hamburger Helper, but she made it without the hamburger.  She hadn’t read the directions on the box.

            Pam asked Muriel what she had prepared for Dick during their quarter-century marriage.  “He liked prepared foods—you know, like Spam and hot dogs!”  She went on to explain that usually when Dick arrived home from his long day as an insurance broker, he’d find his bride seated outside of their apartment in the proper San Francisco hat and white gloves.

            “Oh, Muriel.  We’re eating out tonight!”  Dick didn’t seem to mind.  He enjoyed his elegant wife.  In those 25 years of marriage, she once confided to Pam, Dick never saw her, not once, without her make-up!

            She was his “little dress-up doll,” Pam said. 

            In 1996, the Immendorfs decided it was time to think about leaving San Francisco.  They purchased their current home on Shotwell Street here in Bainbridge and began to make plans moving plans.  “It seemed the natural thing,” Pam told me.  “We didn’t discuss it much.”  They ask Muriel if, when the time to move rolled around, she would come with them.

            She did the natural thing.  She agreed.  Although she was a little puzzled about why they’d want to do a silly thing like buy a house when they could live in a nice apartment.  Meanwhile she continued to live in her own cozy place.

            But things changed.  One Sunday morning, (Muriel called every morning at 7:30 to let Pam and Bob know she was okay) she was in pain.  She had fallen.  Pam and Bob rushed to her third floor apartment.  Bob thought ahead and brought a game-table chair with wheels so he could get her downstairs.

            At the hospital there was bad news.  Her pelvis was broken in three places.  But that was not what upset Muriel.  No.  What had her flaming mad was they insisted on telling Pam her birth year.  1901!  Muriel was 95 years old.  The Immendorfs were astonished.

            In a few days, Muriel was ready to leave the hospital, but not to go home.  The doctor told her and her adopted family she’d need to go to a nursing home.

            Forget it.  She went home with Pam and Bob, no waiting around for the move to Bainbridge.

            In April of 1998 the Immedorfs made that move—with Muriel and also with Pam’s parents.  Muriel moved right into what is now the front parlor where she could keep an eye on the Shotwell Street traffic.

            Katy and Mandy, German Shepherd puppies, joined the family and became Muriel’s special pals.  There’s a no-food-from-the-table rule at the Immendorf home, but Muriel acted like she didn’t know about it.  Whenever she sat down to eat, a puppy sat down on either side.  As the dogs got bigger Pam and Bob put a “doggie gate” across Muriel’s door so the dogs would not accidentally topple her.  She’d sit on her side and flip jelly beans across to her two friends.

            In 2002, Muriel began to fail.  She did not leave her room and softly drifted away.  Pam stayed by her side.  When Muriel did not respond to the dogs licking her hand, Pam knew that she was gone.

            “She was lovely and loved,” Pam told me, agreeing that this is a great Thanksgiving story.  “We’re grateful we knew her.”

            Look around your table tomorrow and remember to be thankful for your friends.

            I’m thankful that Pam and Bob live in Bainbridge!

            What about a recipe to honor a woman who never learned to cook?  Here’s one even Muriel could have mastered, and that Dick would have loved. 

Elegant Potato SPAM Casserole

1 (10-3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of potato soup

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 tablespoons sherry

4 cups hot, prepared mashed potatoes

Nonstick cooking spray

1 (12-ounce) can SPAM luncheon meat, cut into small pieces

1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions:  Heat oven to 425°F. Combine soup, 2 tablespoons cheese, and sherry; stir until smooth. Spoon mashed potatoes into 1-1/2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle SPAM on top of potatoes. Spread soup mixture over SPAM. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and paprika over soup mixture. Bake 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

            You know, this would be a good way to use up the leftover potatoes and turkey this weekend!

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network