Monthly Archives: November 2019

Thanksgiving Dinner with My Deceased Grandmother


I know what you’re thinking. MORBID!

But I don’t feel morbid at all.

I feel excitement.

I’m looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my grandmother.

The big day is almost upon me, and I’m excited about sharing it with a lot of the people I love the most and who will help to make my Thanksgiving special, including my deceased grandmother Mammy (MayMe).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my grandmother was the matriarch and head honcho of my family of four women, which consisted of Grammy Nadeau (my great-grandmother), Mammy, Mommy, and me.

Now that I have finally published my second book, The Day It Snowed Popcorn; I’ve started on my third, a cookbook titled Tu Me Manques.

When I first thought about what the title of my cookbook would be, Tu Me Manques was the name that kept churning around in my head over and over again.

There was another possible title that kept creeping into my psyche as well: Mon Petit Chou.

Mon Petit Chou was my grandmother’s pet name for me, which means “My Little Cabbage.”

As a kid, I wasn’t thrilled about being compared to a gassy vegetable, but Mammy said it with such affection that I begrudgingly grew to accept her quirky nickname for me.

Now, I revere the pet name and wish I could hear her say it to me one last time.

While it became a choice between the two titles, Tu Me Manques seemed to be the most fitting name for my book of Mammy’s recipes.

This deeper connotation perfectly sums up my sentiment about Mammy.

Sorry if this tu me manques business is going on too long.

But I’m not sorry that I found the phrase.

Because it almost makes my grief explainable. I’m almost able to put the pain and loss of Mammy into words.

Whatever the translation, the title Tu Me Manques is a done deal.

I was once asked what I would like to have as my last meal, and my quick reply was:

Anything made by Mammy.

Trying to recreate the foods my grandmother cooked is to celebrate her and to forever preserve her memory through the taste and smell of her recipes.

Mammy served up lots of kisses, lots of good advice with a constant side of delicious and comforting food.

My daughter Ariel once asked me if I had any recipes handwritten by Mammy.

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

French was Mammy’s first language, and she was just fifteen when her father was rendered a vegetable from a traumatic brain injury.

As a result, she was pulled out of school to help work the farm and take care of her younger siblings. She was one of ten kids; one died at birth.

Mammy was barely able to read or write in English, so I have nothing left of her handwriting at all.

I once had a birthday card, but during an unfortunate time in my life, it went missing.

Mammy wasn’t literate, but she was one hell of a cooker.

Unfortunately, her recipes were all in her head and never written down, except by me over the years.

When my grandmother died in 1983, so did all of her recipes.

I have spent the better part of the last 36 years trying to recreate them.

So today, when I sat down to plan out my Thanksgiving dinner, Tue Me Manques, was what I wrote down.

What better time to start testing my memory of Mammy’s holiday foods, than a Thanksgiving gathering when family heirloom recipes are traditionally in abundance?

And as I chop and mix and bake, I’m sure I’ll give thanks to Mammy for believing in me and loving me the biggest and the best of anyone ever.

I spent a lifetime doubting myself, but I never doubted her love for me.

But mostly, I will thank her for the cherished memory of a woman who was broken time and time again, tested in ways that still bring me to tears.

And yet, she pulled herself up, stood tall (even though she was only a little over 5 feet), and always walked with dignity and pride.

And I will also thank her for the precious space she holds in my heart that’s filled with lessons taught of empathy and strength and resilience.

As I prepare Thanksgiving dinner this year, I know Mammy will be in the house.

And while I cook away, I’ll imagine Mammy at my side, guiding me along.

“Not so much of this. A little more of that. Don’t forget to taste everything.”

And I will fondly recall how we stood side by side, back in a time that is becoming harder and harder to remember, mixing and mashing, while my Mammy would tell me stories of young love and yesterdays, sprinkled with her unforgettable giggle, a twinkle in her beautiful eyes and just a hint of regret.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mammy.

Tu me manques, mon petit chou.

Your Publisher Is Going to Be Screaming on Broadway

This post might seem to meander, but give it a chance because I want to provide you with a glimpse into how dangerous the magazine and newspaper business can be.

First off, being the boss has its advantages and disadvantages.

There are a lot of haters out there.

And there are a lot of haters inside too.

I’ll explain what I mean about inside in due time.

And when you’re working for the best of the press, the haters multiply exponentially.

Inside and out.

I’ve worked for some of the top magazines in the world.

I’m not bragging; I’m just telling it like it is.

For example, in my ten years at Newsweek Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time), our rival was Time Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time).

We were the Big Kahunas. Right up there with the best of the newspapers. The best of the press.

To be clear, this blog isn’t about Newsweek Magazine. But I wanted to give you a little background about my publishing experience because I had a lot of it.

And again, with all due respect, I was good at what I did.

When I finally reached the top position, as the publisher and chief operating officer of an unnamed magazine, I thought that was the happiest I would ever be in my career.

I was so wrong.

With the top job came a lot of outside animosity in the form of hate mail and letters about how the press were liars and twisters of the truth. You know, the usual partisan nonsense.

But it was the simmering resentment from the inside, that I couldn’t understand.

I mean, it wasn’t my fault I had been hired to run the magazine. If some of the wannabes on the inside didn’t get the job, why was that my problem?

Oh, but it was.

Now everyone in the publishing industry knows that there is fierce competition between the editorial side and the business side of magazines and newspapers.

The editors hate the business side because they think they’re smarter and better than the business side executives.

And in many publishing outfits, the editors get paid less than the senior business executives, although the business side does have control over the bottom line, so in good times, why shouldn’t we get the glory?

Anyway, I say that as a business side executive. I’m sure the editors would have their own take.

The bottom line is that there is a constant internal battle between the two entities:

Who’s the dog and who’s the tail?

I’m not saying that all editors are bad guys and girls.

But as they relate to this story, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Anyway, I wanted to give you some background.

And now for the story.

The magazine was editorially heavy. Most of the employees were editors, or in editorial layout.

Even the IT guy was mostly a troubleshooter for the editorial staff.

And the receptionist was a junior editor who helped with the phone lines.

I had one business-side employee who was responsible for the circulation and marketing of the magazine.

I handled everything else business-related, including advertising sales.

As the boss, I wasn’t exactly “buddies” with the staff.

My job was stressful, the hours were long, and the pressure to succeed was enormous.

As such, I expected a lot from my staff.

But, in my mind’s eye, and I am positive about this:

I expected a lot from my staff, but I was generous and understanding and empathetic.

And I didn’t expect anything from my staff that I wasn’t willing to do myself.

And yet what occurred in this story is going to stun you.

The magazine was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.

I had fought hard with corporate for those days off, and I was happy to be able to provide them to the staff.

Workwise, I couldn’t wait until the new year because my circulation director, who had just had a baby girl, was on maternity leave, and I was looking forward to her return on January 10.

As a former circulation promotion director (at Newsweek), I had extensive circulation experience, so, while she was out of the office, I had assumed all circulation related responsibilities, in addition to my other duties, and the pressure was intense.

And as a result, I was working tons more hours than usual.

With young kids at home to worry about, I was counting the days until my circulation director came back.

My youngest child was finally at an age where she was coming home alone after school and taking care of herself until my son or I got there.

This newfound freedom for my daughter was something she was incredibly proud of, and it took a massive weight off of my shoulders.

I was, for the first time since my children had been born, seeing in real-time that there was finally going to be a light at the end of the childcare tunnel.

January 10 couldn’t come fast enough.

My first day back to work was January 3.

Our office, which was located at 4th Street and Broadway, opened at 9:00 am, and I always tried to get there no later than 8:30 am.

That day was no exception.

I sat at my desk and checked my emails.

The staff started arriving, peeking their heads into my office, saying hello, making small chat.

I spoke to my IT guy at length and a few of the editors.

At 11 am, I received a chilling phone call I will never forget.

It was the young woman on maternity leave.

In near hysterics, she shouted into the phone that she had received a letter from a former magazine employee, and in her words, “It was disturbing.”

This former employee she spoke of, had been in the editorial layout department and had recently quit.

When he came in to give me his two-week notice, he informed me that he was moving back to wherever small town he was from to live with his sister.

She cried her way through the story:

This ex-employee had written to express his undying devotion to her. He also referred to her being a Greek Goddess and made mention (more than once) of wanting to meet her newborn daughter.

She further explained the letter was dated December 25.

And at the top of the letter, was a black and white image of King Kong hanging onto the Empire State Building, holding the girl in his hand.

I was worried about her. This letter was downright scary.

She whimpered as she further explained that she looked up the Greek mythological figure, who turned out to be the goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.

And then she told me something really terrifying:

The daughter of the Greek Goddess had been abducted by the god of the underworld.

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

She said it for me.

“I quit.” “I’m never coming back.”

“I totally understand,” I replied as softly and caring as possible.

I couldn’t blame her.

My brain was racing as to what I should do and what I should say to this beyond hysterical new mother.

And then she hit me with the bombshell.

“He mentioned you in the letter as well.”

“Me?” I asked incredulously.

She paused for a few seconds, so I repeated my question.

“Me?”

Her answer left me cold.

“Yes, you.”

“And your daughter.”

Okay, so threaten me, and depending on my mood, I might cut a bitch.

But threaten my daughter?

I got off the phone, got up, closed my office door, and called corporate.

Then I called the New York City police.

After composing myself, I walked around the office to briefly let everyone know that the NYPD were on their way to our office and why.

The staff all stood there, dumbfounded. Nobody said a word.

I rushed back into my office, closed the door again, and called a friend to ask her to go to my house immediately and stay there until I got home.

Even though my daughter and son were in school, I wanted to make sure someone was there as soon as possible.

I felt sick.

Then I called my local police.

I sat behind closed doors, stunned until the editor/receptionist called me on the speaker to let me know the police had arrived.

Two detectives questioned me for about an hour and then spoke on the phone with my now former circulation director.

While the detectives walked around the office and interviewed the staff, I made a call to my kids’ school and to the local police department where my former circulation director lived.

As I finished up, the detectives came into my office and closed the door.

“What kind of relationship do you have with your staff?” one of them asked me.

“I have a great relationship with them,” I answered, somewhat defensively.

“Why do you ask?”

They took turns explaining to me that there were other letters out there.

It took a minute to register.

“Other letters? Who were they written to?”

The detectives looked at me solemnly.

“Everyone on staff,” one responded.

I was speechless.

“Except you,” the other detective added.

My whole body tingled, and I could only repeat what they had told me.

“Everyone on staff?”

“Except me?”

They placed a pile of letters on my fancy mahogany desk.

Every letter was topped with December 25, King Kong and the girl.

And the one thing that tied all of the letters together was that they all mentioned me.

And my daughter.

He was ranting in many of the letters about how I fired him, and how, because of me, he was living in one room with a hot plate.

Because of me?

He quit.

He spoke endearingly of my daughter, and reminisced about the times she had come into the office, popped popcorn, and then walked innocently around the office, offering it to the entire staff.

He mentioned my home address in one of the letters.

He wrote in another letter that he had seen me with my daughter at the subway, and spoke about how I kept her close to me and far away from the platform edge.

And two of the letters said: “Your publisher is going to be screaming on Broadway.”

I was screaming inside.

Once I pulled myself together, I demanded that the detectives arrest him.

They went back to their precinct to work on the arrest and to secure a search warrant for his one room.

It took everything in my power not to go to his lousy one room myself, and wring his creepy neck.

I walked out into the main office with the letters in hand.

“No one thought they should tell me that your publisher was going to be screaming on Broadway?” I asked them incredulously.

One of the editors piped in. “We didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

“You didn’t want to get him in trouble? He talked about my daughter. He talked about the subway platform. He has my address.”

They all hung their heads in shame.

My Nightmare Job Interview

Many years ago, I interviewed for the job of my dreams.

The salary was the culmination of everything I had worked my entire adult life for.

Not only did I want the job, but I also needed it. Desperately.

In pursuit of the dream job, I had been through countless interviews, and this one, HR said, “was the last stop.”

The final decision would come down to an investor, not an employee of the magazine, and a legend in the publishing industry.

I was freaked out.

The interview was scheduled for 7:30 am at the Palace Hotel, on the corner of 50th Street and Madison Avenue.

7:30 am? Really?

I was used to the daily commute from Long Island to New York City, but 7:30 seemed a bit much.

On the day of the interview, I woke up at 2:30 am and was sitting at the table a little before 6:30.

I asked the waiter for water and read and reread the pricey breakfast menu.

I went to the ladies’ room.

Twice.

My heart was pounding, and I was talking myself down (or maybe it was up) the whole time.

You can do this. You can do this.

At 7 am there was a flurry of activity at the entrance of the breakfast room. His persona was grander than I had imagined.

He stood tall, flanked by the last two men I had interviewed with.

Oh, joy.

He sat down and then waved to Frick and Frack to do the same.

And make no mistake about it. Frick and Frack were luminaries in their own right.

He ordered hot water with lemon and asked me if I wanted anything.

With my hands shaking and stuck to my lap, I politely refused.

He never even asked Frick and Frack.

He leaned uncomfortably forward.

“I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and I am expecting you to answer them quickly, with the first thought that comes to your mind.”

Okay, I’m screwed.

After his pronouncement, it was rat-a-tat-tat — one question after another. I tried to answer them as quickly as possible.

Some of the questions (and my answers) remain indelibly stuck in my psyche.

“Let’s start with the hole in your resume.”

Oh yeah, I’m totally screwed.

“You only completed two years of college. Why didn’t your parents stress the importance of education?”

“Parents?” My question came out as an incredulous blurt.

Calm yourself down.

“I didn’t have parents. I was raised by my grandmother, great grandmother, and mother. I had a family but no parents.”

“Tell me the first three things that come to mind with the letter T.”

He then said, “go,” while pointing his finger for me to start.

“Teri, truth, Tony.”

“Tony?” he asked me.

“Personal,” I replied.

“A man?”

“No, a woman.”

“How old was your mother when you were born?”

“Not old enough.”

His hot water went untouched.

So did mine. Who the hell had a nano-second to cop a sip?

“What is your means to an end?”

This question gave me pause.

“Answer?” He quickly prodded.

“For me, the end comes before the means. My kids are the end, and then if possible, a stellar career would be the means.”

“Define stellar.”

“The best that I can be.”

It was way too early in the morning for this.

“One word to describe you.”

“Fighter.”

“What’s your biggest regret?”

“Never meeting my dad.”

“The worst thing anyone ever said to you.”

“If it wasn’t for you.”

“What time did you get here?”

“6:30.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

He sat back in his seat.

“We’ll be in touch.”

With that, he stood up. Then I stood up.

Frick and Frack followed suit.

As we walked out, he led the parade; I was behind him, Frick and Frack were behind me.

He turned around abruptly, and I came uncomfortably close to colliding with him.

Frick or maybe it was Frack, bumped into me.

I thought we were done here.

“How bad do you want this job?”

“Bad,” was my reply.

We said our goodbyes, and I assumed the interview was over.

But you know what they say about “assume.”

“Last question.”

Is this guy kidding me?

“Taxi or subway back to Penn Station?”

I tried my best not to show my exasperation.

“Walking?” was my answer, although it came out like a question.

I saw in his face that I got him on that one.

It was the quickest and most bizarre interview I had ever been a part of.

I left the hotel, trying to figure out what the hell just happened to me.

Tears flowed down my face as I stormed back to the train station.

I was perturbed.

And I was angry.

Furious might be the better word.

Parents?

Tony?

If it wasn’t for you?

WTF?

P.S.

I got the job.

And P.P.S.

I was employed at the magazine way longer than Frick or Frack.