Food Branding

Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons.
Davenport, Iowa
Nov. 27, 1976

Today I visited my grandmother at the Lend-A-Hand and we ate ravioli from LaSalle, Illinois. They hand pack it there and it is a treat for us whenever we get a chance to make some.

I wonder sometimes about the brand names that grace our pantry - Kraft, Nabisco, Campbell's, Carnation, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Libby's, Quaker Oats, Folgers, Post, Hershey's - and marvel at the simplicity of the containers in my grandmother's shared kitchen.

There are milk cartons with all the ladies' names on them, and bulky, shapeless packages, with the owner's names written on them, old butter dishes covered and taped shut, white and tan boxes each with only the owner's name on them. It seems fitting that the name of the consumer rather than the producer, or canner appear on the foods awaiting the pot.

Perhaps these women are not swayed by the numerous labels enticing them from the shelves of the supermarkets, maybe they have learned that a carrot is only a carrot no matter who has laid hands on it.

But food is food and when one has it, one is grateful.

Editor's Note: This passage is from my personal journal. The Lend-A-Hand Club was established in Davenport, Iowa in 1886 as a chapter of the International Order of the King's Daughters and Sons. It became an affiliate of the national network of Lend-A-Hand Clubs launched during the 1870s by Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister who had risen to nationwide prominence as an abolitionist and writer for the Atlantic Monthly prior to the American Civil War. The club was a place for young women who lived and worked away from home to associate in a safe environment. 

Poems from 1976

~ July 3, 1976, Davenport, Iowa.

~ July 8, 1976, Fort Benning, Georgia.


Writing from Journals

It snowed most of Saturday and I blew the driveway once. It’s winter in Iowa. That’s what we expect. I’m waiting for three days in a row of below freezing ambient temperatures. Once that happens, I’ll prune trees for the year, especially the fruit trees. I expected to have finished that winter work, yet with a warming climate, who knows if it will even happen this year.

I’ve been posting a few poems and hope readers enjoy them. I don’t know the person who wrote some of them almost 50 years ago. Most of what I wrote as poetry wasn’t the best. A few of them seem serviceable. The rest reside in my journals and papers. Prose has been my main thing since the beginning.

I’m at a transition point in my autobiography beginning after university graduation in 1974. Before then, I did not keep a diary or journal, and the paper trail of my life was scant. After that, beginning with my trip to Europe that autumn, there is a nest of supporting documents. The paper context of my life increased dramatically each year after 1974.

The first ten sections of the work in progress were written from memory and research into the historical record. The next 20 or so sections will benefit from journals and other papers yet to be rediscovered. These are different kinds of writing and I’m having to adjust.

I don’t want to simply print my journal. I also don’t want multiple long, sequential excerpts. The debate I have with myself is whether and how to modify old journal writing to support the current narrative. With 92,262 words and 355 double-spaced pages written one might think I’d have figured that out. I’m used to the type of writing I did in the first third, so it came easier than what’s ahead. I didn’t really think about changing how I write until I got to this point in the chronological narrative.

The next four-year section of the book is about military service. In addition to a journal, I have file folders on all the military operations I was in while stationed at Lee Barracks in Mainz-Gonsenheim, Germany. There is a whole banker’s box full of those. I also used a camera to take photos. Just in those three categories there is a lot to read, understand and assimilate. I also have artifacts like clothing, plaques, and dishes. I have a piece of a sign brought back from the West-East Germany border. It gets complicated.

Most journals are edited into the book. I can’t bear the thought of overuse of the words “that,” “the,” and “many.” Likewise, some of the sentence construction is beginner-style writing. I use the phrase “lightly edited” to describe what I’m doing when I change the source document. If the narrative is strong enough, readers will join for the journey, I believe.

My main interest in life has been in being a writer. I eschewed a university course of study that would get me a job. I didn’t know what it meant to be a creative, yet that’s what I wanted. Society falls short of offering paid work like that. Over the years, especially during my transportation career, the writer side of me was suppressed from time to time. It has always been present.

Some writers do very well. Some scratch out a living. Some work for someone else and do their writing on the side. Now that I’m living on a pension, I can focus my efforts on finishing this book and identifying the next project. As a septuagenarian, there are only so many projects that will fit in.


On Mississippi Avenue

1028 Mississippi Ave., Davenport Iowa. Provenance unknown.

My twelve-week stay at a 5,175 square foot Queen Ann Victorian that had been divided into apartments was an important turning point in my life.

Even though Fall 1975 was the first time I lived alone, there was a lot of stuff to cram into a single room with a shared bath at 1028 Mississippi Ave. in Davenport. I parked my 1961 Chevy Impala on the street, and had a telephone connected. I cleared my mind of the distractions of living in a busy, rundown neighborhood on Seventh Street. I rested, attended events and considered my future. It was calm before the storm.

I began with a journal entry on Sept. 11, 1975:

This new apartment already begins the rebirth which is so much needed by my soul at this time. The neighborhood is quite quiet and the apartment that I rent is at the end of a small hallway off the main one.

Across the street is another large house that has been subdivided into apartments and it is quite a ways away. Further up the block there is a Jewish synagogue, Temple Emmanuel. The river is about three or four blocks away.

It seems there are some well to do neighbors to the south of this building, who at this time are having a dinner party of some sort. But at the same time I believe the area is on the fringes of the poverty area mostly to the west. The wealthy area of the town, the Heights, is to the east.

The landlord’s brother lives upstairs in the attic and he mysteriously comes and goes. “Sometimes he’s there, sometimes he’s not. Ask him if you need anything,” the landlord said. Time will tell as I ask God to manifest His will. My major tasks at this time are to set up my own household for what is to be the first time. All for the honor and glory of God.”

Personal Journal, 1028 Mississippi Ave., Davenport, Iowa, Sept. 11, 1975.

The previous six years, since leaving home for university, were a period of experimentation and trial of one thing or another. If anything, my activities resulted in me being what I was and being able to live with myself.

There were things I would have liked to change, like getting off the graveyard shift at the dairy store, and better nutrition. Those things could be worked on. At the time, I felt closer to God than I had for a long time. “He gives me strength,” I wrote.

During my time there I read and wrote in my journal, attended local events, made trips to Chicago, Des Moines, and Iowa City, and prepared for the big project that felt imminent. I didn’t know what that was when I moved in. I viewed myself foremost as a writer, although I didn’t have enough income to do anything but get by.

I attended a Chaim Potok reading at Temple Emmanuel, a Mike Seeger performance at Saint Ambrose College, and heard a lecture by Philip Berrigan at the Friendly House. I was struck enough with Berrigan to write a quote about his notion of life in my journal, “exerting one’s will over this existence to make a life.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do.

I invited Mother over for dinner and made tuna and noodle casserole. It was the only prepared dish in my culinary repertory in 1975. She tolerated the meal, and we went for a walk to nearby Prospect Terrace Park. While my apartment was modest, it served as a good place to sort out my life. It was fitting my first dinner guest was Mother.

I explored my religious self during this period. In part, it was a reaction to living alone.

What are the problems that face me? It seems that the biggest one is that of faith. I believe that God is manifest in this world, something which I did not or rather suspended  belief for a while, yet I cannot come to accept the Church as his manifestation. There are others similar to me in this sort of belief, but I do not seek the approval of other people in my beliefs. That is something I have taken upon myself to bear. In this belief, I am quite alone, although I seek communication with others, it is only for the making contact with God in their souls that I do this and in behaving in ways people seem to have difficulty in understanding me. Be that as it may, I am.

Personal Journal, 1028 Mississippi Ave., Davenport, Iowa, Nov. 2, 1975.

A year earlier I considered entering the Roman Catholic priesthood, yet that seemed like a wrong path. My friends talked me out of it.

The transition at Mississippi Avenue was in part a lack of other intellectual outlets. I met with and spoke to a lot of people at the dairy store. I encountered people I’d known a long time. There was no likely relationship-building as I sold them a pack of cigarettes or gallon of milk. I was cognizant of the fact most old friends did not hold my employment at a dairy store in high regard.

I planned my next move, signed my enlistment papers on Nov. 14, 1975, and left work at the dairy store on Dec. 14. The apartment near the Mississippi River served me well



I'm still here

     listening to the rain
     falling outside my window.

I'm still here.

~Aug. 18, 1975

Early Journaling

Handwritten journal after a visit to the former Dachau concentration camp by the author. October 1974.

I’ve been reading journals written while I was traveling in Europe during the Fall of 1974. I wasn’t very good at journaling 50 years ago.

“An Italian whose uncle is a cardinal took me to the Vatican to get me a ticket to the papal audience tomorrow,” I wrote. Today, I would rewrite this sentence in different ways: reduce word count, clarify, simplify. I would add more detail and maybe another descriptive sentence.

I’d like to read about that general audience with Pope Paul VI today. I have to rely on my faulty, septuagenarian memory and a couple of photographs to get me through revisiting that time. My journal is lacking if my memory is not.

For some reason or in these events and environments I dream very much, dreams which I have never had so many of before ever. My archeologist friend from Australia says that they are the result of being in strange surroundings and my body trying to cope. If what he says be true then the distinction between my mind and body is even more subtle than I had imagined.

Personal Journal, Winston Churchill Gardens, Salisbury, England Aug. 27, 1974.

Good God! what awful writing! The punctuation! I hope I am better than that now.

I made a special trip to Ravenna to see the Byzantine mosaics I studied in art history class at university. I had been practicing my Italian for weeks to prepare for this less traveled destination. The mosaics did not disappoint. However, my journal did. The entries in Ravenna were mostly about the logistics of closing down my tour and heading back to Iowa. Feeling like Henry David Thoreau, I enumerated my expenses in the journal instead of observations about the ancient artwork. I bought a book, Ravenna: An Art City by Giuseppe Bovini, to aid memory in later years.

I began journaling after graduation from university. My first book of journals was stolen when I stayed at a youth hostel in Boulogne, France after crossing the English Channel. The thief swiped my whole backpack! All I had left was a small blue shoulder bag Grandmother made for me that contained my passport, American Express traveler’s checks, my camera, and a few other necessities. I had to spend part of the $2,000 I brought with me replacing the bag and buying clothing: an unwelcome expense.

I continue to journal. In 2007 I began using Moleskine plain notebooks, although I also use up whatever notebooks are on hand. Moleskine products are getting a bit expensive. While designed in Milan, Italy, they are manufactured in China. The margin on these popular notebooks must be substantial. Their future is uncertain when I have a dozen or so spiral notebooks, bought for a dime each, in inventory and a need to cut expenses.

The 1974 journal is useful in recalling things. In the first draft of this section of my autobiography, I completely forgot about the papal audience. In addition to the journal, I have enough artifacts collected on the trip to remember what happened.

I possess living memory of those places. If the poorly crafted journals do anything in 2023, they prompt those memories, however imperfectly. I was a different person in 1974. Alone in Europe, I did what I could to express what I was experiencing. Without a steady travel companion for conversation, I wrote in my journal. We do the best we can.

I am thankful to have made that trip. I am thankful to be living with the ability to remember it.

Kitchen Garden

No Cookbook for Us

Primary cookbooks on Jan. 20, 2023.

During the coronavirus pandemic I began cooking most of the dinners in our home. There were challenges, yet after leaving paid outside work on April 28, 2020, I adapted. My repertory is not huge, yet with a substantial kitchen garden, there are always good ingredients on hand for meals.

Regular readers may recall my recent posts about cookbooks. To what extent do we rely on other people’s recipes and techniques? Once one gets practice, not much.

I posted on Facebook about baking bread:

I’m getting off store-bought bread, maybe permanently: baking my own. It’s been a thing to practice and develop a recipe I like. I found mixing the water, yeast and sugar in a separate container to let them proof, then pouring it into a bowl on top of the flour and salt produced bread with a nice crumb. Am working on oven temperature, yet I start it on 400 degrees for ten minutes or so, then lower to 375 degrees to finish.

What are your tips for bread-making?

Paul Deaton Facebook page, Jan. 19, 2023.

In a day I got 26 comments in which people shared how they make bread. There were ingredients, and recipes, and much personal information about process. Importantly, I learned how bread fits into my friends’ lives. These kinds of posts are the best part of being on Facebook.

Part of my interest in bread making is the process of waking up, washing my hands, and having the dough rising in the oven by 3:30 – 4 a.m. I enjoy kneading dough very much, so I wouldn’t consider a bread machine or other process that did not include kneading. Instead of personal grooming, or putting on makeup to be ready for my day, I knead dough as a way of waking up into a world where much work is required. Bread making is part of a process of crafting a livable life going forward. When I’m finished re-inventing my bread making I won’t need a cookbook very often, if at all.

I cooked meals with my maternal grandmother many times. She never once used a cookbook. From a young age, she worked as a cook in private homes, and in restaurants. She also cooked for her five children, and when she had one, her husband. She learned how to incorporate a kitchen garden into her menus, and later, ingredients available at the Walgreens within walking distance of her apartment. That’s something I aspire to.

Grandmother made lemon chicken for me when I returned from military service on leave. The kitchen in her one-room apartment was minimal and she used an electric frying pan rather than a stove. I enjoyed talking with her as she prepared our meal. These meals are among my fondest memories.

After supper, I asked her to write down the recipe for lemon chicken so I could prepare it. The funny part was she forgot to include lemon as an ingredient on the written recipe. No cookbook for her.

You can’t take it with you, so my cookbook collection will be reduced in number to a few to pass on to our progeny. I donated more than 200 to the local library book sale and to Goodwill. I have a couple hundred more to deal with. At some point this cookbook collecting got away from me.

I hope to get to the point where I can say, “No cookbook for me.”


At a Youth Hostel

Tours, France, Sept. 7, 1974 For the sake of record I’ll mention that in Boulogne all my things were stolen and since then I spent $300 replacing them and another $185 on a Student Rail Pass. Also for the record I’ve been to Paris by hitchhiking in a Renault van a fellow bought for 800 francs and fixed up himself who was also going to the Fête de l’Humanité where the Kinks and Leonard Cohen were supposed to play. Got picked up with a Canadian from Ontario with whom I stayed in Paris, mostly at Hotel Excelsior #37 15 francs a night. Four nights in all in Paris. The large Raft of Medusa, Napoleon Coronation, Ingres all hold much attention (although the Oath of Horatii still didn’t seem that great).

Tours, France, Sept. 8, 1974 Gare à Bordeaux were much more impressive in person than the slides I saw in classes. A tad more appreciation of artistic value. Louvre for the most part was ostentatious and gaudy but the treasures Mycienne et Minoanne were well worth the visit. Also DaVinci’s Mona Lisa was very good as well. It’s fame well deserved. The show of Joan Miró was very complete and what impressed most were the ceramics and weaving. The paintings lacked something in such great numbers, better just a few to contemplate rather than such overdose. Cézanne was his normal boring self, only one or two paintings of interest.

But by far the most consuming artwork in Paris is the Nymphaes of Claude Monet. These truly change my opinion to the better. Formerly I despised Monet’s haystacks and cathedrals but when seen correctly, as preparatory to his monumental Nymphaes and also Water Lillies in New York, they are well worth Monet’s time although the preparatories are are not really worth much of our time.

Walking down Champs-Élysées was something to dig with overstuffed tourists, young people, Hare Krishna and all. Dug that scene several times. In vain searched for nite time W.C. at Arc de Triomphe. Oh well. Also Africans peddling wares all over Montmartre was very impressive and that seems to be the place where the tourist should go to avoid crowds. The Latin Quarter, although good books, was too crowded.

Shopped TATI for many low-priced goods. With a very heavy new bag full of new goods, I left Paris by train on Sept. 7, yesterday.

Versailles was very big with 75-100 buses full of tourists there. The place was so crowded that at times I had to keep my guitar over my head. It is fitting that decadents wander like that through that gaudy, poor taste palace.

Next I stopped at Chartres Cathedral where I heard Mass. Very, very impressive place, especially the window to the right as you walk in. The Catholic service seems very strange among all the flash bulbs and whispering tourists, but the cathedral is very good. What else can you say?

Spent last night in Tours youth hostel where I was interrupted while writing by two English students, one Manchester and one Cambridge. They were traveling to beaches down south for one week before school starts. Received a gift from two Japan travelers of some folk craft sandals. He pointed out in his dictionary.

Am on a fast train to Bordeaux where I will station myself for a few days and look at the countryside of Toulouse, Lourdes, etc. Like also to visit the Lascaux caves, but I can’t remember where they are found. Am madly running to Spain and Portugal where clothes will be cheaper to buy.

~ Journal entries, Sept. 7-8, 1974


Unfinished Poem

Editor’s Note: I flew from Amsterdam to Montreal in late October 1974. I took a bus from there to Davenport, Iowa. There was not a lot to do on the 24-hour bus trip so I wrote this poem/song. I never finished it. It’s a slice of that life.

Chicago Blues Poem (I'm going to Chicago)

I'm going to Chicago
make no mistake about that,
Just got into Montreal
but I'm leaving again real fast,
If there's one thing I can't wait to see
it's the faces of Chicago women looking at me.

There's a lot of people talking about Niagara Falls
they say this bus should go that way,
Man they got balls.
They just don't understand at all,
Chicago's the way for us all.

Now I ain't no Jack Kerouac,
I ain't no James Dean.
Yet if you cross my path
I'll look at you real mean.

If there's one thing I do look like,
it's a man with Chicago on his mind.

~ Nov. 1, 1974

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