Black Walnut Winterfest

by Rusty RedNightBird

Title image. Vincent and Catherine on the balcony with a book. The book's pages are bent into a heart shape.

Deets Estate Sale Reveals Family Secrets

Estate Sale Saturday

Text Box:    With the passing of Margaret Ward-Deets, the mysteriously cloistered DEETS Estate has become a shopping mall for the curious. The once passionately right-wing political family was famously controversial when their daughter, Mary Elizabeth Deets was suspected of anti-war subversion and mysteriously disappeared.   Heartbroken, Allen Deets died within the year of his only daughter’s disappearance, leaving Margaret close to $57 million dollars across diverse industries. Having no heirs, the estate will be disbursed to support numerous animal and children’s charities.


It would have been a pleasant Saturday if a foot or so of snow hadn’t been melted by a fluke of a late January heat wave. The weight of the snow and the rush of runoff had caused Vincent and two crews of men to shore up the tunnels closest to the Great Hall.

Catherine prowled her small apartment; was Vincent’s pacing habit becoming hers? She smiled at wondering if he was adopting any of her habits. She had read the newspaper while she ate her oatmeal, but she wanted another cup of tea, so habit caused her to pick up the paper and lounge on the sofa. With a snap of the broad newspaper, she was awestruck by an old photo. She recognized the younger ‘girl’ and put down her cup to read the article.

Catherine folded the paper and held it closer to the light. Was the Tunnel’s favorite mother figure a former Peace protestor? Catherine swallowed the last of her tea and returned for another cup. What other secrets would hide past that first revelation? Flipping to the story’s continuation on page 5, Catherine scanned the half-page display ad on the opposite page. The sale would include family heirlooms and furnishings and would take place at the estate this afternoon. Checking the 5th Avenue address, Catherine dug deep into her closet to resurrect one of the couturier ensembles she hadn’t worn in years. If she was going to gawk, she wanted to blend in.

Catherine sublimated her curiosity and excitement as she stood before the eleven story building. Vincent would only be precariously distracted. The bubble of concealment and seclusion that Mrs. Deets fought ferociously to create around her life unfolded as Catherine entered a world of herringbone floors and ornate wood paneling. The musty smell of seclusion mixed with tuberose and violet as Catherine passed family photos of Mister and Missus Deets in their salad days in open cars and Jeeps on safaris, revealing happier times, far happier times.

In the gracious library an epic painting captured a moment of pre-school Mary at her Father’s knee while her Mother looked on adoringly. Catherine had known financial comfort, but this was a rarified world of old wealth. Lalique mirrors reflected sparkling light from Waterford lamps.  Catherine fought the temptation to handle each of the Faberge eggs as she passed table after table displaying small incidentals culled from dozens of rooms.  With her anxious hands folded behind her, she spied a stack of photo albums. It seemed so invasive to see decades of Deets family occasions caught professionally, but Catherine wanted to see and touch and absorb the substance of Mary’s upbringing. The evidence was there: Mary Elizabeth Deets was the beloved mother-figure of the world Below.

Strung together with black shoestrings, one album intrigued Catherine. The carved wood cover held one photo of Mary and her Mother decorating cookies as a woman in crisp maid’s clothing looked over their shoulders. Had this been a staged photo? From the look in Mary’s young eyes, Catherine didn’t believe it for a moment. The crowd milled and whispered around Catherine as she regarded each page with Mary’s reminiscences about the particular year and the recipe as she grew up.

The last page showed Mary as a prep school senior graciously cutting a cake at her graduation soiree. Mary’s handwritten notes in white ink on the heavy black page elaborated over the flavor of the black walnuts and the lemon sugar glaze. ‘It isn’t a celebration without cutting one of these cakes.’

Empty pages hinted that her following years extracted her from the kitchen as well as the warm embrace of her family. Catherine made her bid on the cookbook as well as on a few other pieces of furniture that could be ‘donated’ to Below. As the open house/auction came to a close, Catherine made arrangements for delivery and, carrying the volume of memories close to her heart, hailed a cab.

Seeing the sky deepen to purple, Catherine opened the cookbook/album on her dinette table and hoped upon hope that Vincent would make his way to her balcony. This wasn’t news she wanted to carry into the Tunnels; the mantle of their sadness would surely pervade her being.  The rustle of the ivy trellis foretold Vincent’s booted feet landing on the chilly balcony floor. Catherine, at the threshold, held the door open in invitation. Each meeting brought on convoluted collisions of their emotions. Their love, which had brought them this far in two years, in her mind sadly had not tipped them horizontally.

“Catherine.” Vincent stopped out of arm’s length, his thumbs caught in the wide leather belt surrounding his trim waist. He was much larger than life in so many ways. Catherine pushed lightly from her place at the door and propelled toward him, her hands delving between his to hug him for all he was worth.

His heart beat a staccato rhythm as his breath caught. Catherine heard it all with her ear to his broad chest. “Vincent, I’m afraid I truly need to see you inside tonight.” Vincent stiffly shuffled from foot to booted foot. Catherine caught a whiff of his freshly washed hair, caught under his hood. Ginger soap and candle smoke threatened all of Catherine’s self-control.

“You . . . know how I feel about my place in your world.” His calloused hand smoothed stray hairs from her forehead.

She sensed the warmth of his breath and her voice quivered. “Please, Vincent. I’ve got something you need to see. I need your advice, and the book is too fragile to bring out here.”

Perhaps it was the fragility of a book that tipped his decision to step over her threshold. Vincent’s voice deepened. “I see. A book. Show me.” Then, with some hesitancy, he followed Catherine to her dinette area, grateful that he was still close to the French doors.

Catherine dialed up the chandelier to fully illuminate the white ink on the black pages of the open book. As Vincent slowly regarded the cone of  light, he stole glances at the rest of the apartment plunged in darkness. This was her space, and tonight he would occupy a part of it. A slight smile drew across his unique lips. He slid out the chair closest to the door from the table and lowered himself slowly into the seat. Dwarfing the chair, he settled his feet before him and unclipped his cloak to sit in expectation. Catherine poured a cup of tea for each of them and hoped the familiar scent of his favorite blend would give him a taste of ‘home’.

“I know what you went through when Father came above and was drawn into a legal situation.” Vincent nodded, his brows knitted in concern, his great hands folded under his chin. Catherine enjoyed seeing the lamplight on the golden hairs down his nose and dusted across the architecture of his handsome face. “I know that Kanin caused a bit controversy with his legal circumstances,” she said, words that caused Vincent to tilt his head in silent enquiry. “Do you know the situation surrounding Mary coming Below?”

Without responding Vincent sat back and lifted the cloak off his shoulders. For a beat he was silent as he ran an anxious thumb over his bottom lip. “I was young; it wasn’t discussed. I’m sorry, Catherine. I only hope there isn’t something nefarious that drove her to us.”

Catherine had flipped through the news clippings at the library, had copied some of the news and gossip columns. Although she had bought Mrs. Deets’ journals, she had no intentions of reading them.

“I know Father had been concerned about my wealth.” Catherine’s eyes sparked mischievously with her whimsical smile. Vincent was thoroughly tangled in thought now. “It seems Mary comes from an extremely wealthy family. Old money really. Much, much more wealth than I was ever exposed to.”

Vincent eyed her over the teacup at his lips. Drawing away, he asked, “And?”

“She was an only child. She became active in Pacifist groups her freshman year at college, the beginning of the breakdown with her family. I attended an Estate sale. Her Mother recently passed away.”

“Do you think she knew that?” Vincent carefully turned a page, going from Mary’s sixth to seventh year. “Was there any criminal involvement, Catherine?” Vincent gently lifted tea cup to his lips as if to hide a frown if there was bad news.

“No, and I think that makes it all for the worse. I overheard some discussion at the estate sale; some pseudo-friends of her mother’s were there. Her father accused her of consorting with Communists. They argued about her returning to Columbia for her second year.” They shared a silent, sad moment, and Vincent regarded the wood cookbook. “The news clippings reflected she was never a part of the SDS or the Weathermen," Catherine said. "She probably just burned her bra.”

“Burned her bra? What a curious turn of words for women’s rights,” Vincent wryly commented, as he skimmed the recipes and smiled at Mary in annual images.

Now Vincent felt her hesitate. Her eyes sought his for validation. “I wanted to speak with you before I brought anything down.”

Anything, Catherine? What did you buy?” Vincent recalled Catherine’s habits of bringing gifts, usually at just the brink of their darkest hour.

Wincing at his serious tone, she confessed. “Just a few things. Some furniture, her mother’s journals, and a few photo albums of their travels.”

Vincent leaned over the table in his chin in his palm, his eyes inquiring more than his words could ask. “What is some furniture?”

“I couldn’t help it, Vincent. They were magnificent pieces.” Catherine hung her head to hide her emerging smile. “I bought three bedrooms of exquisitely made mahogany furniture, some professional kitchen items . . ." Catherine didn’t want to inundate Vincent with the details. She winced and closed her eyes as she described the last item. “And a custom van with smoked windows and long-range diesel engine.”

“You plan on traveling?” He felt her discomfiture and knew why she had chosen the van - Connecticut.

“Only with you.”

red rose


Within the hour, Vincent escorted Catherine to the library where Father and Vincent left her waiting for Mary. The banker’s box of journals sat on the table while Catherine clutched the cookbook in her lap.

Mary turned the corner to see Catherine alone. “Oh, my dear, Jacob told me you have something for me?” She was her usual quiet self, flushed from chasing the little ones into their beds.

Catherine left the book to offer a welcoming hug. “I do, Mary, and I hope it brings you some of the joy that you give others.”

Mary slipped out of their hug with a quizzical expression.

red rose

Catherine slid the books toward her in silence, Mrs. Deets’ journal on top of the pyramid of photo albums and the cook book. Mary blinked in recognition of these volumes of a lifestyle long gone. Her work-worn hands hovered over them as if they were a hallowed vision. Catherine swallowed, wondering what wheels she had set in motion. Mary sat with shrugged shoulders, owning what she had left, the faintest sliver of a smile gracing her pale face. If she had buried her years of pain, it rose from a shallow grave this evening.

“Oh, oh, Catherine.” Mary’s greyed head fell, her hands spread as dove’s wings over the journal. Catherine sat in composed silence attempting to read the air in the tunnel chamber.  With a deep breath,  Mary’s head rose with such a placid smile. Clutching the journal to her breast, silent tears trailed down her cheeks. “I never thought I would see these again. They bear witness to their end, don’t they?”

Catherine reached out a comforting hand. “Your parents?”

The conversation built as Catherine answered Mary’s questions about the family home, the facts as Catherine had found them, as well as the hearsay at the auction.  They drew their chairs side by side to speak of each page. The candles nearly guttered before the women had whispered and laughed and cried over such things as globby Peppermint Patties gone wrong and gloriously buttery Black Walnut Pound Cake.

The shadow of Catherine’s fears had been dispelled when Mary wiped away happy tears. “I can’t thank you enough that you thought to bring these to me so that I could share them with my family Below. Do you think they’ll see me differently when they find out who I am?”

In the midst of the myriad of emotions experienced between them, Catherine was swimming in relief that Mary found comfort in facing her past. “Mary, I believe they’ll only be happy to see that you’ve been given a part of who you are. You’ll always be their ‘Mary'”.

At feeling Catherine’s peace, Vincent appeared at the chamber entry. “Would you ladies need a warm pot of fresh tea? Perhaps a muffin or biscotto?” Vincent carried a freshly dressed tray toward the table covered with open albums.

Mary stacked the books back into a pyramid. “Perhaps not today, Vincent, but in the next few days, I’m going to introduce William to some recipes from my childhood. You don't have to go an extra mile to create imaginative memories—this book is all it takes.”

Vincent stood between them, his arms extended to embrace both women. “I’ve always found a lunch becomes a picnic when you add a blanket.”

Catherine stole a peek at Vincent’s pensive blue eyes. “Dinner becomes a dinner party under dozens of candles.”

Mary nodded and stifled a giggles. “Cooking becomes a cooking show when you describe every step while you stir and do it in a British accent." Their eyes flashed back and forth between each other, thinking of Father’s reaction to that.

And life becomes wondrous when you dare to embrace who you are. So Vincent pulled a chair between his two favorite women in his life to see what would be on the platters, especially at Winterfest.

red rose

Rusty Hough Bader



Black Walnut Pound Cake
Prep Time:  15 Minutes                                             Other: 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
4 cups all-purpose flour 
3 cups sugar
2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup milk 
6   large eggs 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon Mace
¾ cup Black Walnuts, chopped

Cake Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 325°.
  • Cream sugar with softened butter.
  • Add Eggs, Vanilla, Mace and Milk.
  • Add Flour 1 cup at a time as mixer turns. Beat at low speed 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides. Beat at medium speed until smooth.
  • Fold in Black Walnuts.
  • Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch (16-cup) tube pan, and smooth.
  • Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour).

1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Red Cherries and 4 Green Cherries

  • Mix lemon juice into confectioners’ sugar (and water if nec.) until it is a syrup consistency.
  • Pour over cooled cake.
  • Cut red cherries in half and place equally around the glazed cake.
  • Cut green cherries in quarters and arrange like leaves around the red cherries.
  • Keep covered in a cool, dry place.

Taken from the 1953 Woman’s Day magazine





  • cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour  
  • 1/2   cup butter or margarine, softened  
  • 1/4   cup powdered sugar 
  • 3/4   cup packed brown sugar  
  • 1/2   cup chopped pecans  
  • tablespoon butter, softened  
  • teaspoon vanilla  
  • 1/4   teaspoon salt  
  • egg, slightly beaten 

Caramel Topping

  • 12 vanilla caramels, unwrapped 
  • tablespoon milk
  • Heat oven to 350ºF. In medium bowl, mix flour, 1/2 cup butter and the powdered sugar. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces. Press each piece in bottom and up side of small muffin cup, 1 3/4x1 inch, ungreased or lined with foil or paper baking cups.
  • 2 In medium bowl, mix remaining Tart ingredients. Spoon slightly less than 1 tablespoon mixture into each cup.
  • 3 Bake about 20 minutes or until filling is set and crust is light brown. Cool slightly; loosen from cups with tip of knife. Remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
  • 4 In 1-quart saucepan, heat caramels and milk over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Spoon topping onto cooled tarts.

photo of cupcake. yum!



Peppermint Patties

For peppermint filling:
1 ¾  cup powdered sugar                                       ¾  - 1 cup coconut oil 
½  tsp vanilla extract                                                ¼  tsp real salt
1 tsp peppermint extract

For chocolate coating:
8 oz. dark chocolate chips                                      2 tsp coconut oil
1. Mix all the peppermint filling ingredients together in a medium bowl. Use the back of a spoon to “cream” together the ingredients. Start with just 1/2 cup of coconut oil and add in up to one cup until you get a nice firm consistency that sticks together when you squeeze it.
Homemade peppermint patties! Delicious, festive, and made with real ingredients.                           Homemade peppermint patties! Delicious, festive, and made with real ingredients.
2. Form mixture into small discs and place on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Place in freezer for about 10 minutes while you make the chocolate coating.
3. Heat chocolate and 2 tsp of coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir continuously to avoid scorching. Remove from heat once fully melted.
Homemade peppermint patties! Delicious, festive, and made with real ingredients.                                          Homemade peppermint patties! Delicious, festive, and made with real ingredients.
4. Drop discs into chocolate. Using a small spoon turn over a couple of times to completely cover. Take out with a fork and let the excess chocolate drip off before moving them back to the parchment lined baking sheet.
5. Place covered discs back in the freezer and keep there until firm. Store in fridge or freezer to prevent melting.
Recipe from Thank Your Body:



Return to the Stories and Poems Index