Recipe for an American Parent

For Rory

My American husband is the cook at our house. That’s why I am familiar with the term “shortening.” I know its blue tin, its creamy white interior that contributes to such good eating—cookies, pies.

I am waiting to check out at the astonishing store, Rodman’s, that is part pharmacy, part wine shop, part food market and part foreign food emporium. Before me is a lady, clutching a piece of paper. In a thick accent, the lady asks the checker if she knows what shortening is. The checker, probably from Eritrea, has never heard of it. So here are the three of us, all from other countries, and I am suddenly the expert! I explain that I think it is fat. The checker says it is probably on Aisle 5. The customer disappears and I check out.

On an impulse, I go to Aisle 5 to see how the customer is faring. She is holding a can of Crisco, reading the ingredients. I ask her if she needs help. She shows me the piece of paper. It is a letter from the PTA requesting that parents bring Halloween cookies to school. It includes a recipe that lists shortening as a component. The lady is trying to be a good American parent, not wanting to bring shame on her child by producing a faulty product.

She looks up from her reading, says, “I do not want to buy this, it has too many chemicals.” I tell her, “You can use butter instead. In fact, if you do, the cookies will probably taste better.” She gives me a relieved smile and returns the Crisco to the shelf.

E. Laura Golberg emigrated from England to America at age 23. Her poetry has appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, RHINO, Gargoyle and the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, among other places. Laura won first place in the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts Larry Neal Poetry Competition. She is preparing her first collection of poetry, My Life as a Cabbage.