The sun was up briskly rousing all of nature’s non-nocturnal creatures to rise and shine. I opened my eyes – the sun had nudged me half heartedly wondering whether I was to be classified as nocturnal or non-nocturnal that beautiful Sunday morning. I had after all spent a good part of the night reading several books late into the night. Covid-19 has wrought a strange change in reading habits and I found myself yearning for some uninterrupted time in which to get my reading done. I devoured two short stories by P.G.Wodehouse, read some tidbits of 3 other books and finally settled in for a long-ish snuggle with Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks.
I felt strangely alive – with that beautiful feeling of youth-ish rebellion stealing over me as I read on. How long had it been since I had defied reasonable bed-times and gone on reading late into the night? Moreover, I was reveling in the boyhood of the great Oliver Sacks – a boyhood steeped in Chemistry and his experiments with them.
But, there is a reason for such pesky things as sleep times. As a teen, the body shrugged off a night like that with a spot of tea, but I found the intervening decades did not take so kindly to this sort of treatment, and I was being given by the stink eye by the neurons in the brain that refused to wake up.
I dragged myself from bed the next morning and set some dish-pots on the stove for the afternoon meal. I don’t know what I plopped in there it terms of ingredients. I moped and moaned, “Oh with Covid, all these folks are posting these amazing pictures of their culinary adventures in Facebook, and I don’t even know what I am making!”
“Aww! Don’t worry ma! You always manage to make it palatable except when you get creative and experiment and stuff!” said the daughter eyeing me drooping over the kitchen counter. She shuddered and said, “Remember that bread pudding?!”
I maintained a dignified silence for post-bread-pudding, most people had to do the same as the pudding seem to get their jaws stuck. While the pot bubbled, I flopped over to the Uncle Tungsten book again, and started reading. The chapter was about Eve Curie’s biography of Madame Curie. The book was given to Oliver Sacks when he was a ten year old boy by his mother and he had savored the copy over the years.
I seemed to finally awaken as I read the passage below aloud to the children:
“Eve Curie’s biography of her mother – which my own mother gave me when I was ten – was the first portrait if a scientist I ever read, and one that deeply impressed me. It was no dry recital of a life’s achievements, but full of evocative, poignant images- Marie Curie plunging her hands into the sacks of pitchblende residue, still mixed with pine needles from the Joachimsthal mine inhaling acid fumes as she stood amid vast steaming vats and crucibles, stirring then with an iron rod almost as big as herself; transforming the huge, tarry masses to tall vessels of colorless solutions, more and more radioactive, and steadily concentrating these, in turn, in her drafty shed, with dust and grid continually getting into the solutions and undoing the endless work.”
The book is full of footnotes, and annoying as this can be sometimes, this particular footnote was fun.
“In 1998 I spoke at a meeting for the centennial of the discovery of polonium and radium. I said that I had been given this book when I was ten, and that it was my favorite biography. As I was talking I became conscious of a very old lady in the audience, with high Slavic cheekbones and a smile going from one ear to the other. I thought, “It can’t be!” But it was – it was Eve Curie, and she signed her book for me sixty years after it was published, fifty-five years after I got it.”
The pot I had set on the stove sizzled over, and I charged to take control. When the dish was salvaged, I said, “See what all can happen when Eve & Madame Curie worked together dear? Madame Curie won the Nobel prize, and her daughter chronicled her! Imagine all that is possible if we were work together more sweetly in the kitchen together? I plop, you stir, I salt, you pepper. Maybe we could have our picture posted on Facebook as two smiling chefs who were never happier than when cooking together, and you can post the dishes-finale in your Insta account!” I said.
The child did not even have to think before she shook her head. “Mom and daughter working together with chemicals and stuff! Oh they must’ve fought plenty. Besides! Think Mother! Is a Facebook photo worth all that?”
“You think!” I retorted. I have always been quick with dumb repartees.
She laughed and tousled my hair – she is now fully a head taller than my head and these days when I need to give her ‘the look’, I get the feeling of a meerkat peering at a giraffe. I suppose my noble culinary marvels will just have to wait for the Facebook accolades.