(by Aimee Lee Ball)
My mother’s name was Gladys. Not a name one hears too often these days, and it was unusual even in her day. Her father was an opera buff who operated one of the concession stands at the opera house in Philadelphia, which was built by Oscar Hammerstein I (grandfather of the lyricist for Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music). My grandfather apparently named my mother for the beautiful American mezzo-soprano Gladys Swarthout.
Famous family story: When my mother was four years old, her father took her to an opera. The star was a woman who had no children herself, and was reputed to give children she favored an expensive piece of jewelry.
My grandfather was able to go backstage and introduce his little daughter to the star, who was wearing an extremely low-cut, bosom-revealing dress. Whereupon my mother said, “You’re a dirty lady.”
The star smiled, said “What a sweet child,” and gave her…a single rose.
(Mom with her pomeranians)
I was named for my two grandmothers, both of whom died before I was born. So it is perhaps not surprising that when I was young, I believed I had been named for the housekeeper named Amy who worked for my great-aunt and -uncle, at whose home most holidays were celebrated. Amy was Black; I am not. But it did not seem at all improbable to my young self that I had been named for this big, bountiful, sweet-natured woman who prepared our Thanksgiving feast, served at a big mahogany table, although there was sometimes an overflow to the “children’s table.” (I was the youngest of the cousins, so if the grownups table was crowded, I stood no chance of a place there.) A standing roast rib was always ordered from Lubin’s butcher shop, the source of all things meat or fowl, and the highlight of the meal was a big pan of buttery, crispy-crusted potatoes Anna.
I can’t remember the age at which I revealed my assumption about my name to my mother, but I do remember that while she identified the true provenance of the name, she was quite charmed by my notion. She loved Amy too. It was impossible not to.
My mother never changed much from her four-year-old personality. She was always forthright and outspoken, sometimes to a degree that rankled with me. I would occasionally remind her that she could have an unexpressed thought. But I am so grateful that I was reared by parents who knew that being colorblind was a delightful trait for a child.
2 lb. Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
5 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 t. finely chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
6 T. grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Grease bottom and sides of 10-in. nonstick ovenproof skillet with 1 T. of the butter.
Spray 12 x 12-in. piece of foil with cooking spray.
In 1-qt. saucepan over medium heat, combine remaining 4 T. butter, thyme, and garlic, stirring constantly until butter is melted but garlic has not browned, about 1 – 2 minutes.
Add salt and pepper.
Starting in center of pan, arrange 1/4 of potato slices, slightly overlapping in circular pattern, covering bottom of pan.
Brush with 1/4 of butter mixture, and sprinkle with 2 T. of Parmesan.
Repeat layers twice more, ending with cheese.
Top with one more layer of potatoes, and brush with remaining butter.
Press top of potatoes firmly with metal spatula.
Cook uncovered over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, gently shaking pan occasionally to prevent potatoes from sticking.
Cover with foil, sprayed side down.
Bake 15 minutes.
Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 - 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
Run small spatula around edge and bottom of potatoes, and carefully invert onto serving plate.