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The Summer Kitchen
by Karen Weinreb

Chapter One:

Expecting their mother’s friends to arrive later in the morning to make and bottle jam for their school’s bake-sale in the fall, Nora Banks’ children, Thomas, Nicholas and Charlie, aged seven, five, and three, had set out earlier with their nanny Beatriz to collect as many raspberries as they could after first filling and staining their mouths crimson with them. Beatriz had tried lacing across their little torsos punnet she had fashioned by threading and tying straps of string through the carefully sawn, washed, and hole-punched bottom halves of cardboard milk containers--a technique she had learned as a girl to leave both hands free, one to lift the thorny branches, the other to pick the plump fruit--but, no, the boys had wanted to use their Halloween buckets for the expedition, the child-sized orange plastic ones with the black handles to match the jack-o-lanterns print. Past the barn, across the stream, and along the twenty-six acre property’s old stone walls the boys in their protective jeans and long-sleeved shirts had stumbled and giggled and jostled for prime place, Beatriz leading the way ably to find the heaviest clusters.

Now they were all headed back with their loot just as their mother’s perfumy friends were stepping down from their cars as high as crane-elevated director’s chairs. The women greeted the boys effusively, priding them on their spilling buckets, though none acknowledged Beatriz. Each probably would have done so and felt good about it at a play date, when it was just another mother or two and the children and their nannies. Such play-dates were perfect opportunities to show off your Spanish, never mind that almost all the nannies understood English. But in such a crowd as this it was better to seem preoccupied with balancing your hundred-dollar platter of sandwiches and pastries ordered by telephone in the morning and picked up en route from Bedford Gourmet. Though they all knew a sumptuous lunch would be provided, it went without saying that to arrive at another’s home empty-handed would be sacrilegious. The outcome of the platters was given little thought really, except in a roundabout way on garbage-collection days, when these women wondered how it was their households produced so much trash.

Appearing on the porch to greet her guests, Nora made the perfect picture of a young Bedford wife and mother. Behind her for a start was the 1890 crown-pedimented homestead she had restored. When her husband had presented the house as her wedding gift, he had joked that the real gift was the “tender loving careapostrophe it required. It would save her facing empty days into the horizon in a new community while he worked long hours back in Manhattan. She had given up her fledgling career in banking. Working just no longer seemed worth it. She would bring home just pennies relative to what her husband’s newly formed hedge fund was already earning. She threw herself into renovating happily and understood only later that this was what Bedford women did: renovated. Renovated and volunteered. But she had not been part of the community long enough back then to expect invitations to join boards of prestigious local preservation organizations such as the John Jay Homestead or the trust to preserve the Bedford Oak—Bedford’s five-hundred-odd-year-old white Oak tree—and so she had renovated. Well, baked and renovated, baking having been a passion since childhood Friday nights braiding challah with her Jewish father Humbert Rosenfeld, or Hum, as everyone called him on account of his being a trombonist in the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra— Rhode Island being where she grew up. Her father had taken as much pride in his challah as in his music and his only child.

It was by accident, too, that Nora looked just the part in this community. If she inherited her father’s love of baking, she looked every bit her more aloof Scandinavian mother, with her glowing skin and high cheekbones, her long blonde hair pulled now artfully out of the way in a French twist atop her regal five-foot-seven frame. The only aspect to her appearance now that might have betrayed her humbler origins was the apron tied around her neck and the back of her hourglass waist. She had spent the morning preparing her summer kitchen, stacking around its marble counters cloth bags of sugar and the boxes of cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, figs, and early apples trucked in yesterday by her famed supplier in the Hudson Valley, the canyon of historic communities a little west of Bedford running north along the Hudson River. Heavy lifting, getting messy—it was all simply a part to Nora of the deep love she had for working with her hands in the kitchen. It felt entirely natural to her, made her happy even, a truth that were it not again for the chance of her looks and circumstances would have been a dangerous oddity in a community expecting that one had staff enough.

Her summer kitchen played no small part, either, in her affinity for baking being considered an adorable hobby. There were not many still standing of these kitchens once designed for the privileged to keep the heat of preserving in the summer away from that produced in the main house. Hers was just why her estate was registered as an historical property. She had started the property’s renovations inside the barnlike outbuilding, to make a place for her growing collection of pastry-making antiquities, but once the antique shelving had been restored, the latest baking equipment installed, and antique rugs were spread, the space soon enough become a salon of sorts for charities needing a fresh luncheon venue.

The sun was now at its zenith and bright in her eyes. Nora cupped her hand over her brow, her almond-sized diamond engagement ring glinting so that her forehead appeared bejeweled, though her natural beauty needed little such enhancement.

“Good morning, Ladies! Welcome! I hope there was enough room for you all to park? I’ve been meaning to talk to Evan about having our landscape architect pave a parking area, for parties, but you know how it is: one just never has the time.apostrophe

“But you do have little escorts for us,apostrophe quipped Pamela Hanson, smiling down at the tiered blond heads of Thomas, Nicholas and Charlie.

Nora smiled, the sudden creases around her eyes the only sign of her thirty-six years. She looked behind the boys to Beatriz, neat still in her usual skirt, blouse, stockings and heels, not a single hair straying from the intriguing braided bun she created daily with her long, black hair. The women laughed on occasion that Beatriz was a fashion victim of the fifties, acknowledging in the same breath that she was the Mexican Mary Poppins of nannies and wishing she worked for them. They would never have hired her, though, Nora knew. She had never mentioned this aspect of Beatriz’s past for Beatriz’s sake, which if truth be told, amounted to her own: for it reflected well to be envied for your nanny.

She found herself reminding the women again now of her luck.

“And a fabulous escort for the little escorts in our dear Beatriz,apostrophe she added.

Clearly preferring not to be the center of attention, Beatriz began herding the boys around the house, toward the summer kitchen to wash their berries.

The boys hardly needed the encouragement and ran quickly ahead.

“But where are my manners?apostrophe Nora stepped inside to hold the door. “Please, come through, come though. We’re heading out back, of course, to the summer kitchen.apostrophe

As the women filed through with their platters, chattering of their summers so far and their plans for the summer still ahead, Bonnie Taggart complimented Nora’s apron.

“I absolutely love it,apostrophe she gushed in the powdery voice that tried to belie when she didn’t need to use it the power of her tall, broad frame and flaming red hair.

“I’m glad you like it. I thought the design with all the strawberries was so thematic that I had the store make forty, one for everyone to use today and take home.apostrophe

“How novel! I can’t remember the last time I wore one.apostrophe

As they crossed out back of the main house to the summer kitchen, the women thrilled to the lemony beauty of the garden and the promise of a delicious afternoon ahead. Each felt there was no place in the world they would rather be. These gatherings were addictive that way, and once addicted, there was no way a woman of Bedford would contemplate going back to work and missing all this midweek fun, though these women who now all had in common their money almost all once had diverse roles in the bigger world. Many had been in their twenties, and some even in their early thirties, employees on Wall Street, television reporters, marketing directors, models, but like Nora they had found few reasons to keep working once they married their multimillionaire husbands or their husbands clearly on their way to a great fortune. Then came the babies and entry into the life of