Remembering Zoe Alice

schneckenWhether you like FaceBook or not, it has its' merits. People and relatives are easier to find.

Last week a woman left me a message and a friend request. I hesitated.  I had no idea from her picture who this person was and why she was ‘friending’ me. Curious, I opened up her profile. This dark haired, beautiful woman was my second cousin.

After the surprise of finding a new family member, I explored her profile to find out about her, as I hadn’t seen her in 50 years. She still lived in Florida, the last place that I had visited with her and her family but this time she was all grown up.

Brenda is her name, just like mine. Odd that we share the same name and she is older by barely a month. We messaged back and forth that evening and I liked her. Then she announced that she was coming to Maine 3 days later to see the foliage with her husband. I invited them to dinner and to stay at my house. She declined but agreed to visit us at our store. The common thread we shared was my aunt Alice, my mother’s aunt and her grandmother.

I felt compelled to tell her some obscure piece of information so she had no doubt that I was truly the correct Brenda. I don’t know why.  I said if she stayed overnight I would make pineapple schnecken, for breakfast just like aunt Alice always made for me. She knew I was ‘the’ Brenda that she was looking for. I knew exactly how to make the schnecken because I had saved the recipe in a special place for 50 years in my heart.


When she arrived she felt like a relative, not that I have many, but it felt comfortable. There wasn’t any apprehension or doubt just a sweet comfortable visit and she knows how to hug!  “How did you remember the pineapple schnecken?” Brenda asked. I remember everything aunt Alice made and I named all the dishes that she made and how she cooked with a big smile, humming happily the whole time. 

Our aunt Alice always had a smile on her face and a kind twinkle in hers eyes. She was French Canadian size, short and plump. Even when she wasn’t cooking she had an apron on, the type that tied in the back. She had a drawer full of ironed ones. Her hair was fine and silver. She always brushed it up into a bun just like my kindergarten teacher. She was full of endless energy and love.

My sister and I had visited aunt Alice and her daughter, Maida the year after our mother died. We wanted to tell her in person. After we told her, she sat down on the bed beside her daughter and rocked back and forth. Lost in her thoughts about my mother, her niece.  Did she have a happy life? Yes, we both answered. “Did she suffer?” “A bit”, we answered. She rocked a few more minutes as tears rolled down my checks. Aunt Alice was a good and kind woman and she made a deep impression on my life and not only with her pineapple schnecken or her colored rice. Her real name was Zoe Alice, Brenda told me this week. Pronounced, Zo not Zoe. I’m sure that’s another interesting story. She was born in Maine, 1 of 18 children.  My grandmother who died long before I was born was her sister. She married a man that had a good job with the railroad and they moved to Florida. The couple had a stucco white house outside of Tampa where she planted a large, weed free garden and a yard full of fruit trees. The garden was planted with root crops: carrots, turnips, cabbage and parsnips. All comfort vegetable needed to cook her French Canadian cuisine that she must have missed.

When we visited she cooked constantly. She made boiled dinner, pot roast, meat pies and always a fresh salad with her famous orange colored dressing. She made rice in every color: green, red, and orange. She baked bread every day and breakfast yeast rolls to go with my strong tea. She let me use as much sugar as I wanted. It was our secret.

She always referred to her handwritten recipes from her cookbook. Her cookbook was in the second drawer to the left of sink. I know because she always let me thumb through it. I was very careful when I turned the food stained pages. Even then, I knew how precious this book was. After all it was her history and mine. New England style recipes that she grew up with interspersed with Southern dishes. Pot roast shared the pages with slow cooked barbeque spareribs and Florida blue crab all held together between two covers. Front and back, beginning and end, north and south. Her life.

As Brenda and I talked about Zoe Alice I asked about the cookbook. “I hope that you have it”, I said. “No” and she paused. Alice forgot the faucet on in the kitchen and flooded the whole room. The cookbook was ruined when the second drawer on the left filled with water. The cookbook was thrown out. Aunt Alice agreed to move into a nursing home at 97.

I knew Zoe Alice kept the cookbook in the second drawer down, left of the sink but I didn’t mention it to my cousin; it wasn’t a memory, it felt like yesterday.

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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