I received a letter this morning for a recipe and as usual it brings back a flood of memories, so before posting the ingredients and instructions, allow me to to share a lovely piece of my life with you.
They came to church, fresh off of losing their mother through divorce and subsequent disappearance. They both had coke bottle thick glasses, lovely strawberry hair and a father who was overwhelmed with job, family and sorrow. Our church service has a section where members can stand and offer praise or ask for prayer. He stood on Mother’s Day and with his voice shaking, said he didn’t know what to tell his children when they asked him for whom should they be making the Mother’s Day projects at school. The family easily touched your heart.
I don’t remember how it happened the first time, but the younger girl Arminda came to my house to bake. And then she came again. And again and pretty soon it was a regular occurence. She was so much fun to have around and she really enjoyed the learning and of course the consuming. Before long she felt right at home.
The day she brought Chelsea (and someone else who escapes me at the moment) over was fabulous. She walked in with the confidence of someone who “owns” the place. I let her take over and be the instructor. She was Queen for a Day, and she was happy.
Another Mother’s Day Arminda, now older, pondered on what if anything to do for Mother’s Day. I asked her who did her laundry? Dad. Who cooked their meals? Dad. Who attended all their school functions, met with their teachers, made sure they got feminine products when they began their monthly cycle? Dad. Clearly Dad filled the function of both parents, and should be celebrated. We planned a menu, went shopping at Home Depot, left church a tad bit early to finish executing dinner and delivered a complete meal and a pot of lovely flowers for their deck. The only reason I remember the German Chocolate Cake and the flowers is that taking a corner, the flowers fell over and Arminda had had the foresight to cover the cake, otherwise it would have been lost.
For both girls, when they got their contacts, it was a new outlook on life. They discovered they were beautiful and both of them blossomed. They had a confidence and poise which had been absent.
Time for the recipe. I’ll resume the story afterwards.
Perfect Lemon Bars
*** Crust ***
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter — cut 1 inch thick
*** Lemon Filling ***
4 large eggs — slightly beaten
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest — finely grated
2/3 cup lemon juice — fresh & strained
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
The lemon filling must be added to a warm crust. The 30-minute chilling and 20-minute baking of the crust should allow plenty of time to prepare the filling. If not, make the filling first and stir to blend just before pouring it into the crust. Any leftover bars can be sealed in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days.
1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9×13″ baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Dot paper with butter, then lay second sheet crosswise over it.
2. Pulse flour, confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch and salt in food processor workbowl, fitted with steel blade. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. (To do this by hand, mix same ingredients in medium bowl. Freeze butter and grate it on large holes of box grater into flour mixture. Toss butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4 inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2 inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
3. For the filling: Whisk eggs, sugar and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon juice, zest, milk and salt to blend well.
4. To finish the bars: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioner’s sugar over bars, if desired.
Makes about two dozen 1-1/2 to 2-inch squares.
Arminda, now in high school, said to me she was confident that Boy[X] would ask her to the Homecoming Dance. Even if she didn’t, she was going to go with a bunch of her friends. The day she told me Boy[X] had asked someone else, she indicated there was no way she was going to go. I reminded her of her determination to have fun with her friends, but she was not to be dissuaded. I grabbed my son Daniel, 2 years older than she and virtually a brother, as we all spent so much time together. “Daniel,” I said, being the non-intervention person I am, “Will you take Arminda to the dance?” “Sure,” he said, because he’s a good kid and also wise enough to know that I would pester him until he did.
So Arminda got to go to the Homecoming Dance. Daniel had to go buy a suit and somehow they managed to get her dress and his tie color to match. It was great. We sent them on a scavenger hunt before the dance and got them in some goofy pictures.
In the spring of that same school year I was returning from a meeting and was on the phone with her sister Megan. Arminda had been sick for several days and Megan said she needed to go because Arminda was yelling. I hung up and when I got home, there was a call from Jim, the dad. He asked me to take care of Megan because Arminda was being transported to the hospital. She had stopped breathing and the paramedics had revived her, but wanted her to be seen by physicians. I called Megan and she said she was OK and for me not to come. I went to bed on her calm reassurances.
In the morning the church secretary called me. Arminda had not made it through the night. 3 times her heart had stopped. Twice they had been able to get it going again. The third time her dad said she just seemed to stop fighting and went to meet her Lord, whom she fervently believed had her eternal backside covered.
After almost a year of tissue sampling, autopsy and analysis by hospitals all over the country, her certificate of death still reads, “Cause unknown.” She just died. God said, “It’s time.”
Gosh I’m writing this and crying. I haven’t cried in many years about her death; now it’s just “Arminda moments” where I see something and think of her.
In preparing for her funeral I got a call from the woman in charge of the food. She indicated she knew Arminda baked a lot with me. What were some of her favorite things? I gave her the recipe for Dad’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, always a hit, but reserved for myself the privilege of making the lemon bars. They were her favorite and whenever I make them, I think of her.
To close, I will reprint the remarks I made at her memorial service. They were good at the time, and are still good today.
[First thank you to Chelsea Lynch for providing us Arminda’s desired dress code. There are hopefully enough bright colors here to fulfill Arminda’s fondest wishes.]
Before I begin I would like to apologize. I will be reading my remarks today because if I don’t, I will be tempted to ramble for hours with stories of this wonderful young lady. The down side of this preparedness is my writing style is fairly formal and verbose. Bear with me.
Arminda has been an extremely special part of my life for almost a decade. That would be about 2/3’s of her life, and I’m honored that I could be that person to her. I would like to share the Arminda I knew; who she was and wasn’t:
Arminda was about other people. She was a peacemaker and grieved when those she loved were in conflict. That didn’t mean she didn’t try and stir up a little trouble on occasion, but it was in a spirit of playfulness and only with those with whom she felt comfortable.
She was a fiercely loyal friend, trying to mend rifts that inevitably develop between teenagers. She would be more upset if a friend had a problem than if someone slighted her. She would rejoice more for others’ happiness.
She recently had a young man in her life and her last weeks were joyful. I say that not to embarrass that person if you are with us this morning, but to bless you. I was so happy for her than when she IM’d me with her excitement. It is another “milestone” that we can rejoice in her realizing during her short life. What a mistake to dwell on those things that she never will experience, rather than look with joy on those things done. I thank her family for teaching me this in the middle of their soul wrenching grief.
Arminda was about family. She had their back covered. They were Eyre’s in the hood. It didn’t matter which one of them you were with, there would almost certainly be a call from Arminda asking if they were OK, when would they be home and would they bring her a Starbucks? She desperately wanted her father, of whom she was so proud, to be happy. She wanted her sisters to love each other. She wanted her grandmother to be proud of her. It was not Norman Rockwell, but it was close.
Arminda was not about herself. If you asked her what she wanted, her most frequent, and irritating answer was, “I don’t care.” This answer did not apply if you asked her whether she wanted sauerkraut or avocados.
She was not about herself, but still was often afraid that no one liked her. I think all of you here belie that mistaken belief and I thank you for honoring her with your presence.
Arminda was about God. She would sit in my living room for a while in silence and then all of a sudden she would begin, “So dah ta da …” and what does the Bible say about that? She set Scripture as the yardstick against which life should be measured and frequently posed questions which would cause an adult to ponder. It was a great joy to share in faith exploration together, especially because of her conviction that God knew best not only for her life, but for everyone’s and she was not afraid of sharing that.
If she could address you right now, I am certain she would want you to know that not only is she in a better place, but each of you too can have that hope and joy. She looked forward to it in life and now sees her joy fulfilled.
A great comfort to me is to not only know she is in the presence of God, but that even before she was created, He knew the length of her days. Sometimes we blame ourselves and think, “If only I had done …,” How great to know it was not our fault! Monday was the day He said, “It is time for you to receive your reward. I’ve known about this day since before I knit you together. Come, enter into my presence. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
To the whole Eyre family – thank you for including me in your grieving.
Autumn – You set the standard for excellence for Arminda; she always talked about you and she loved you dearly. Rejoice! You blessed her life.
Megan – It’s been an Urgha Urgha Urgha week, but you have been the picture of faith in action. You have celebrated her life, mourned the stillness of her absence and reached out to others. I love you and I want to be like you when I grow up.
Jim – You shared Arminda with me even when circumstances made it difficult for you to do so. I appreciate that from the bottom of my heart. You allowed us a bond about which you had no jealousy. You celebrated our joy at being together. You are an exceptional man and she was blessed to have such a father.
And last, Arminda Flarminda, Schmarminda – At that great feast, where all the saints are gathered, your dad and I expect that you not try and hide the lemon bars. Really sweetie, there will be plenty! Save me a place because we’ll all be there together.