Dear bread friends,
I’ve had the oddest week. The heat is surreal, and also, I feel pregnant with the past. This condition is not new, just exaggerated by going to a family picnic.
My father’s cousin gave me my great uncle’s recipe booklet, and other cousins gave me stories. I heard about Sister Dorothea, my grandmother’s sister, tutoring her nephew to get his GED; he had to leave high school to help earn money for the household. I heard of kids staying with grandparents while a mom recuperated from pneumonia. All of these stories took place in my neighborhood, and that took me by surprise.
George and Juliet Marcil, my great uncle and aunt, lived here for 20+ years, same as me. Only recently did I realize that I’ve been raising my family in the same place that my dear great aunt raised hers. I sort of knew that Sister Dorothea lived in the convent that became a fraternity— but these were my father’s aunts and he didn’t talk about their lives, or how I was living where they did. He talked about Cohoes, where he and his aunts and uncles grew up.
I spent a lot of time there with my grandfather, PaFrank, who lived in a duplex across the street from St. Agnes’ church. Juliet Cole Marcil lived on the other side of the duplex, and I visited her many Sundays. I knew her better than my grandmother, who died when I was young.
I never met George Marcil, Juliet’s husband, but I knew he was a baker, and as a kid I figured it would be great to run a bakery with her. I still pass the blue ranch house on the Hudson River where we would set up our shop. Someday I should tell the owners about my fantasy. In the meantime, my imagination has stretched over George, the professional baker. His grandchildren have given me two of his professional baking books and one of his rolling pins, and I’ve been studying the bakery he had in Cohoes in the 1920s and early 30s.
After the bakery closed, George came to Troy to work for the Sisters of St. Joseph, first in the novitiate that used to be a couple of blocks from my house, and later, at an orphanage they ran. From the late 1930s through the late 1950s, Juliet and George and their kids lived here. I can look at city directories and the census for facts, but those facts are just figures. Hearing my Dad’s cousins tell me stories animated those details, and made me feel my relatives in my bones.
When I got home from the party, I stared at the pictures a cousin gave me. I felt unsettled, and real, like I’d arrived somewhere else. I’ve been acting like I’ve been living my own life, and now it seems like I’ve been echoing or repeating life in general. How liberating and odd — we are so unique and also part of one story.
I’ve crossed a threshold, and I’m not sure how to reckon with this information. For starters, I’ll be scaling down these recipes and trying them out.
Sincerely yours, Amy
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