At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining is dedicated to my mother who died yesterday.
My mother was a force of nature in disguise. There are people who when they walk into a room neither add nor subtract. Some people walk into a room and suck out the air. My mother’s entrance into a room always brought a breathe of fresh air – opinionated air, vaguely provocative air, ever interested and interesting air.
Born in Jersey City and bred in Hobocken, as a teenager she moved to Montreal to live with relatives when her parents candy store/ice cream fountain failed during the depression. I often wondered how this uprooting from the safety of mom and dad affected her. It is something she did not talk about at length. My mother was not given to introspection. She just dealt with it as she dealt with all the ups and downs of life and death.
Here is some oft-repeated wisdom according to Henny:
“Many of the things I worried about never happened.”
“Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.”
“And this too shall pass.”
A women ahead of her times, she aspired to be more than a “housewife” but convention conspired against her. Then, when my mother, still in her early sixties, lost my father, she discovered her true and independent self and began writing a new and fulfilling chapter of her life. On the last day of a summer vacation in Williamstown, Massachusetts she bought a ramshackle Victorian house and with her ever-good taste, careful eye and thirst for bargains, transformed it into the House on Main Street, a small bed and breakfast next door to the Williams Inn. She ran her B & B from Aprils to Octobers for a decade. There she welcomed spring-time families of Williams College students, summer theater-lovers attending the renowned Williamstown Theater Festival and, in the fall, wandering Berkshire leaf-lovers.
The balance of her months she spent in Lake Worth, Florida where she had moved from Harrison, NY with my father in the 1970’s. Ever the community organizer, she formed the Fountain Residents’ Club as a source of connectedness for transplants and snowbirds alike in a new community far from home.
When my mother decided she had served the last of her great bran muffins, Philadelphia replaced Williamstown as her “summer residence.” It was in Philadelphia that she discovered “Henny’s Girls” or rather “Henny’s Girls” discovered her. She opened the door to her apartment to a remarkable collection of younger women who for years knew that her table was set for them every Sunday evening when Henny was “in residence.” It was in Henny’s Girls that she found a family of daughters for herself and in Henny that this family of daughters found a model of a women who they might become.
This Tuesday a week ago, as she lay in her hospice bed surrounded by family, my mother recounted how she and I once went to a therapist together. We did not have an easy or simple relationship. The therapist asked her if she would rather be admired or loved. My mother expressed a preference for admiration. At the end of the day and the end of her life, she was both admired and loved.
The following is from At Home:
My Mother’s Kitchen
This book is dedicated to my mother, Henny Poses. It was in my mother’s
kitchen and at her table that I learned that entertaining is a gift that you give
to others. The illustration below, by Alice and Martin Provensen, was my first
cooking lesson. It’s from the original Fireside Cookbook by James Beard, pub-
lished in 1949. My mother had a local artist copy it onto a large wall in her
kitchen. It reads: “Four persons are wanted to make a salad. A spendthrift for
oil. A miser for vinegar. A counselor for salt. And a madman to stir it all up.”
At 93, my mother still entertains regularly. While her menus may be less
ambitious than in the past, her welcome is no less warm.
I had that illustration — from a first edition of the Beard book — framed along with the dedication. I presented it to my mother on October 16th at a dinner in the Free Library’s Rare Book Room. The dinner was for family and friends prior to At Home’s launch later that evening in the auditorium. It was a lovely evening — especially for my 93-year-old mother — who took great pride in her son.
I mourn the passing of my toughest critic, my biggest supporter and my home entertaining coach.
Henny Poses August 15, 1916 – March 23, 2010
Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach