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The Coming of Quiche

(by Penelope Rowlands)

Quiche. The word, with its one, squishy syllable, seemed baffling to us. We must have first heard it in our chaotic family apartment on New York’s Upper East Side, uttered by our garrulous mother from her command post at the black Bakelite telephone in a corner of the living room. When she wasn’t at work, Mom could often be found there: chatting; shrieking with laughter; despairing; gossiping; worrying out loud; laughing some more. I can hear her still. Her joy.

At first “quiche” was just another word overheard in long melodic calls with Mom’s army of female friends. No doubt she trilled it loudly, with great cheer, as so often when she was on a fun tangent. None of us knew what it meant, at first, even though, as families go, we were sort of sophisticated. (Not that we would have thought that way, or ever used that word.) We were, in any case, a mix of cultures. My brothers and I had been born in England; our mother, who descended from an old New York family, was pure Manhattan. Our father arrived almost daily from a world far away in the form of blue aerogramme letters; our Queen—did she still belong to us?—gazed tranquilly from their upper right-hand corners.