University of Minnesota
minnesota writing project
center for writing

Minnesota Writing Project.Center for Writing's home page.

René Montgomery


The gift of Hawthorne

Grandma didn’t actually give us Hawthorne.
We would visit it with her.
My aunt lived in Hawthorne, Wisconsin.
As a kid,
I believed that my aunt and uncle had
Named their home and the 40 acres that went with it

Hawthorne had no city busyness,
no shops, no downtown.
When we drove, we travelled
roads that grew progressively smaller.
Roads where it was rare to see
two houses within sight of each other.

At the end of the day,
Returning from Hawthorne,
Star gazing from the back seat accompanied the ride
For those that could stay awake,
and the glittering lights of the city,
as they came into sight,
greeted us,
just beyond the shadowy water of the lake,
Welcoming us back home, from our Hawthorne day.

On crisp fall Saturdays we loaded the car,
A light blue Dodge Aspen.
Grandma, Mom, Dad,
My sisters and I filled the seats
In a way that couldn’t be done
In the Toyota Corolla I drive today.
It must have been before seatbelt laws
As we crowded four of us in the back
Or maybe, Ronda, the youngest
Sat in front
Between the driver and the passenger
On the hump of the car
Where in today’s modern cars
You will find a console
For holding loose change,
And fast food receipts,
Rather than room to fit
One more in.

We didn’t squeeze together with the mindful goal
Of conserving fuel,
Gas was cheap then,
And nobody cared about global climate change
Or even considered a carbon footprint,
We all climbed into that Aspen
Simply to make the trip together.

The trunk brimmed with paper bags of groceries.
Much more than we would ever need
For this day trip to Hawthorne.
Back then I never realized
That the food in those bags--
The 10 pounds of potatoes,
The frozen ground beef,
The cases of Coke, and Sprite,
And whatever else we packed in--
Those groceries, were never used that day,
But instead
Simply and quietly
Found their way into the pantry space
Of my aunt, and uncle, and their three growing boys.
Except for maybe a bag of chips,
Or a box of Saltines
To supplement our meal
Of “Leftovers Soup”
And a fresh loaf or two of
“Last Night’s Mashed Potato Bread”
Already making the living room windows steamy
And the air of the house delicious.

I did not know that Leftovers soup
Was a recipe of necessity.
To me it was a luxury,
My favorite soup,
A recipe too complicated for my mom,
A splendid concoction only to be enjoyed
On Hawthorne days.

I didn’t know that
“Last Night’s Mashed Potato Bread”
Wasn’t an artisan bread secret
But was made because of unemployment
And weeks of hard times
And from a desperate need to be frugal.
I thought it was a bread so special
Only my aunt knew how to bake it
And that the recipe was kept
Under lock and key
Deep in the dark closet
At the bottom of the entry way stairs
at the house in Hawthorne.

For me,
Hawthorne was a place of food
Of talk and laughter
And play.
Often the play was mixed with a little work,
Like stacking wood for the wood stove,
But what did I know?
Wood stack was a game my cousin’s hated to play
They acted as if it was a chore,
But I lived in a house without a woodstove
And my sisters and I
Enjoyed a good game
And loved to stack the wood
Into our arms
And trek back across the yard
To make neat piles, like Lincoln Log forts,
Near the door to the house,
In Hawthorne.

The best playtime, though
Came in the late winter or early spring,
Depending on the year,
When the Maple trees
Let down their sap
And the promise of Maple Syrup
Echoed in the woods.
A walk into the “back 20”
Brought the drumming of sap
Plopping into patient buckets
And smoke from the boiling fires
Caressed the air
And tinged the breezes with sweetness.

Family no longer lives in Hawthorne
The house, the yard, and the “back 20”
Have all been sold.
The boy cousins are grown
Gone now to lives of their own.
The aunt and uncle rest
Retired and settled on lake property
They bought and developed years ago.

I miss that maple syrup, that soup, and that bread.
The sugar-free Hungry Jack I use now
Has only a faint reminiscence of
The real thing.
I never learned to make
“Last Night’s Mashed Potato” bread,
But have a recipe
For my bread machine
That includes a cup of instant potato flakes
That tastes pretty good.
I do not keep that recipe under lock and key,
And I will share it with you,
If you ask.