Today is my wife Kendall’s birthday. Sometimes Kendall has a hard time asking for what she wants, so I was delighted when she was so specific about what she wanted me to make for her birthday dinner tonight: crab puffs, green gazpacho, BLTs, and angel food cake with chocolate frosting (“not that chocolate buttercream business that you like but REAL chocolate!”). Oy, what does this Jew know from crab puffs and BLTs? Oh, and if any of my orthodox relatives in Israel have found my blog, I can assure you I’m using kosher crab substitute and turkey bacon (yeah, right—I won’t even mention the shrimp I’m putting on top of the gazpacho). I always considered angel food cake a totally goy dessert. The Jewish version of that would be sponge cake and I still remember the story my mother used to tell of helping my great-grandmother Alta Toba make it. Apparently sponge cake batter is very fragile and you’re supposed to stir it in one direction only. My 12-year-old mother didn’t realize this and started pounding on that batter every which way inducing a high-speed tirade in Yiddish from Alta Toba that her cake was ruined.
Kendall always braces herself when she asks me to make something simple like BLTs. She knows I’ll find a way to turn this easy request into a complicated, insanely expensive all-day affair. I already stopped by the gourmet restaurant supply store near Leah’s camp to buy a special kind of smoked bacon that is only available there, then went over to La Brea Bakery to get a great pain de mie for the sandwiches. Now I need to get some imported Eric Bur mayonnaise and stop at Farmers Market for a selection of heirloom tomatoes and organic lettuce. I know Kendall would be just as happy with Wonder bread, Oscar Mayer, and Hellman’s, but if there’s a way to make a BLT that costs $50, I’ll find it! And of course I need a new good quality pan for the angel food cake, special refrigerated cake flour from the restaurant store, and the finest Belgian cocoa for the non-buttercream frosting. No wonder cooking a “simple meal” always turns into a High Mass. I’m sure my snooty food tastes come from a childhood full of spaghettios and TV dinners. Uh-oh, every time I besmirch my childhood food intake, I feel my mother’s accusing glare from the Great Beyond saying, “What about those stuffed veal breasts and lamb shanks I slaved over?” Truth be told, my mother was an excellent cook when she wanted to be, but for many meals we enjoyed an abundance of processed foods designed to free newly liberated women from kitchen drudgery. Oh well, it was the 60s, when chemical concoctions like orange-flavored Tang were considered tasty treats.
One of the most unexpected results of starting this blog last December has been the explosion of fan mail Kendall has received from people who loved her book, “The Day I Became an Autodidact.” Hardly a day goes by without several “Whatever happened to Kendall Hailey?” Google searches leading people to my site. These search terms are right up there with all the people looking for Amy Carter and the creepy folks who are trying to find nude photos of the Walton girls. Having found my blog, her fans write to Kendall to tell her how much her book meant to them and how many people they’ve given it to. One woman talked about how her late husband so admired Kendall and how much it would mean to him for Kendall to know that. Another woman was so excited to get a response from Kendall that it inspired her to start her own blog. Many people keep begging for a follow-up to Kendall’s wonderful memoir and I’m here to tell them that she has completed one that is just as funny and insightful. I think agents and editors would be crazy not to take advantage of this devoted following and ready-made audience. Kendall hears from people around the world. A sweet 11-year-old boy named Anurak from a “Gifted Educational Programme” in Singapore was assigned a list of writers to choose from including Kendall, Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard, Eudora Welty, and Anne Frank. “Well, to make a long story short,” he wrote to her recently, “I zeroed in to Ms. Kendall's book because BY FAR, it is the most interesting book! Anne Frank is WAY too common and dry.” Oy, with humble apologies to Anne Frank, I have to agree that Kendall’s book fits right in there with that esteemed group. Anurak then sent us the “bio-poem” he wrote about Kendall for his class:
Intelligent, Rebellious, Studious, Determined,
Daughter of Oliver and Elizabeth, Sister of Brooke,
Who cares deeply about her family and close friends,
Who feels that people should be in charge of their own lives,
Who needs to read every book she can get her hands on,
Who gives love to her family, inspiration to her parents and encouragement to her fellow scholars,
Who fears everyone in the world being controlled and not having any choices,
Who would like to see people getting the best possible education they can,
Resident of Los Angeles, California, the United States of America.
You go, Anurak! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Kendall has so many skills and talents. In addition to writing, acting, and her new passions, paint scraping, concrete removal, and housepainting, she is also a magnet for children of all ages who worship her on sight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who has that level of patience, love, and unending ability to focus on the wee ones. And I love how, like a cult leader or a modern-day Jean Brodie (“Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she's mine for life!”), Kendall is able to pass on her unique interests to her young following. Even the the two-year-olds in Kendall’s circle know the words to every Doris Day song and prefer a good June Allyson movie to a Disney classic.
I am eternally grateful for the day I walked up to Kendall at the Bel Air Hotel and asked, “Are you Kendall Hailey?” I am thankful for Kendall’s wonderful, loving relationship with Leah. I so appreciate everything Kendall does to beautify our beloved home (you should see that gal with a sledgehammer in her hand!). And I am especially grateful for Kendall’s capacity to see through the layers of my own tortured psyche and her abililty to find the human being that lives under all of that neuroses and angst.
Kendall’s late father was the talented playwright Oliver Hailey. Every year on my birthday Kendall sings me the birthday song that was written for one of his best plays, “Who’s Happy Now?” just so he could avoid paying those silly royalties to Mildred Hill (did you know that every time you hear “Happy Birthday to You” in a movie the estate of Mildred and her sister Patty gets big bucks?). But I love the version from Oliver’s play and now I sing it to Kendall with full gusto (with thanks to Kendall’s mom Betsy for helping me with the lyrics):
There’s one day in each year
That is yours when it’s here
It’s the day that belongs to you!
And whene’er it appears
In a lifetime of years
The day that belongs to you!
The people who love you
Will always be thinking of you
Whether they’re near you or far away
But to whom it concerns
Many happy returns
Of the day that belongs to you!
(Don’t even think about singing that song without paying dearly into the Hailey royalty fund! Two can play at that game, Miss Mildred J. Hill!)
Thank you, Kendall Hailey, for being you and for being in my life. I love you.
And now on to those damn crab puffs!