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The First Hippie

(by Deirdre Towers)

My mother Shavaun chalked up my presence to “pantry love.”

"It’s not true," I’d protest, a whine that would be met only with a silence, punctuated by the sound of a knife chopping vegetables.

Shavaun was nicknamed Chevy because she had an enormous chest, no waist or bottom, so her friends teased that she was built like a truck. She thought my father was the most ridiculously sexy man she’d ever met. Of course she was a virginal 19 when she got engaged. So convinced was she that Henry was the one for her, she never risked upsetting him. She didn’t take the lucrative research job offered to her by Pfizer when she got out of Smith College because it would have paid more than he was making. She stuck by her man, rarely leaving his side. But she did tell me four times, over the course of 20 years, “Don’t get married.”

Her sister-in-law thought that she was the first hippie. Barefoot, wearing blue jeans, rarely a belt, and no makeup, Chevy was quite content to read, swill bourbon, and smile cryptically behind a haze of cigarette smoke. She would have withered in this politically correct environment. Irreverence was her first instinct, as encouraged by her father who loved to mask his brazenness with wit. If she'd had her “druthers,” she would have been a plant explorer. So we had zillions of horticulture books. She was always planting daffodils, rhododendrons, and pruning away her frustrations.

When my sister and I were teenagers, she attempted to get back into the work force, but her field, bacteriology, had exploded in the 15 years since she'd left school, so she got discouraged. Julia Child came to the rescue. My mother took enormous pride in following exactly the most intricate recipes that Julia had brought from France to small-town America. Our dinner table became a school for sensuality; we all chimed in as to which sauce was the most savory, which meat was the most tender.

When I think of my mother from a culinary angle, no particular dishes come to mind, except perhaps cold poached salmon with a side sauce of mayonnaise mixed with sour cream and fresh dill. When I think of my funny Mummy (she really was hilarious), I always think of water, probably because it was practically the only advice she gave me. “Whatever happens, drink water,” she said. “As long as you drink water, you won’t get stuck.”


Deirdre Towers is a choreographer/producer. She recently produced the documentary La Chana and is a producer of Cuban Ballet: Art Triumphant.

Recipe For Happiness


1 very tall glass

Add lemon and ice cubes as needed.


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