I personally call the winners of the Write a Dear Reader Contest every year. After I say, “Hello, this is Suzanne Beecher. Your entry in this year’s Write a Dear Reader Contest was a winner. Congratulations!” most of time folks are tongue-tied, reprocessing what I just told them, but not Debbie Perloff, this year’s First Place Winner.

“I hate to write,” were the first words out of Debbie’s mouth and she continued, “Even writing a postcard is a chore for me. I am so excited. When I finally decided to enter the contest, I sat down, started writing, and 45 minutes later I was finished. I was so inspired by your writing Suzanne, and also reading the entry of last year’s winner.”

Debbie and I had a delightful conversation and even though she says she hates to write, the very next day I received an email from her, “I felt like I was babbling on the phone with you, so I wanted to say thank you, again. I was on cloud nine and smiling inside and out the rest of the day. I felt completely empowered. If I could win at writing something, always thought to be a chore in my mind, I could do anything. It’s funny how one thing can trigger your thought process to change direction.”

Yes, indeed, it is Debbie. Isn’t it amazing what writing does for the heart and soul? Writing about what’s on our minds or recalling memories, when we write down our thoughts, there it is, right in front of us, the words we so desperately need to hear.

Congratulations, Debbie Perloff, this year’s First Place Winner!

Thanks for reading with me. It’s so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher

Short story

By Debbie Perloff

First Place Winner, 2015 Write a Dear Reader Contest

I was raised in an Italian family. Food was a major theme in our lives. We would be in the middle of breakfast, discussing what we would be eating not only for dinner that night but also for the next two weeks. As I got older, my grandmother was perplexed that I showed no interest in anything domestic. I always had my nose in a book, was diligent with my schoolwork and eventually pursued an accounting career working 50-plus hours a week.

As you can imagine in an Italian family, we had a lot of family gatherings—birthdays, holidays, Fourth of July and Labor Day barbecues. My mother and aunt would go to my grandmother’s house early in the day, bringing all the female kids, and we would help Grandmom with whatever she commandeered. She had two full kitchens, both ovens going, a large pantry with jars and cans of everything you could imagine.

As we grew older and started our own lives outside our parent’s house, we would be asked to bring something. I think I made what I thought was a masterpiece, a dessert of some sort, only to be asked to bring wine at the next get together and thereafter. So, I buried myself in my work, my reading, leaving the domestic world to my mother and grandmother and sisters.

All along, though, I was collecting recipes. I created files of the different categories; poultry, seafood, vegetables, sauces, soups, etc. I collected cookbooks, looking at the pictures and imagining the feasts I would prepare someday. Every now and then, I would invite my parents to dinner where they would politely eat my mediocre meals.

Then one day, I made a pear tart and brought it to a gathering of French friends. This was a courageous gesture as they could whip up a gourmet meal with leftovers or only a few ingredients. Also, my friend’s brother was a chef and had worked in gourmet restaurants in Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Two desserts were served—my pear tart and the chef’s chocolate cake. I couldn’t tell from the look of the faces around the table what this group of gourmands was thinking. Then, I took a bite of my tart. It melted in my mouth. I was in awe of myself. My friends asked for seconds. My pear tart was gone while half of the chocolate cake remained on the table.

If Julia Child could start cooking late in life, why couldn’t I? My pear tart set me on a journey of cooking classes, dinner parties and the purchase of specialized kitchen equipment for the myriad of recipes I had collected over the years.

Then I decided it was time. I asked my mother to teach me how to make “Sunday” gravy and meatballs. In an Italian family from Philadelphia, this meant red sauce. Although I had gained some confidence in the kitchen, I still followed recipes step by step. My mother’s instructions were vague calling for lots of garlic, lots of parsley and lots of the “good” Italian cheese. The meatballs were the deciding factor in whether or not the gravy was a good batch. My father’s comment of “not enough garlic” was a consistent critique over the years.

One day, I put LOTS MORE garlic, parsley and “good” Italian cheese in my gravy and meatballs. At dinner that night, my father gave me a great gift. He said that the gravy was delicious and that after my mother, my gravy was the best he had tasted (even my grandmother’s hadn’t rated). He had seconds of the meatballs without a word.

Although I still bring wine to family gatherings, I frequently contribute some masterpiece I’ve created. I expect my grandmother is looking down on me and saying: “finally.”