About Caroline Langston

A native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Caroline Langston is a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is a widely published writer and essayist, a winner of the Pushcart Prize, and a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Weddings, Women, Sweets, and Wishes

Still life of a white cake on a blue tablecloth, messy painting, warm colors. My heirloom cookbook was born during a Washington D.C. snowstorm in February of what was then called “The Year 2000,” in my final months of singlehood before I was to be married in July. That storm barely registers in the city’s memory now: it was neither the Blizzard of 1996, with its eight-foot-high snowbanks, 2003’s freak President’s Day storm, nor was it the incomparable Snowmageddon of 2010 (which I wrote about on Good Letters).

However, the storm in 2000 was significant enough—knee-high drifts under a gunmetal sky and the threat of more on the way—that work was cancelled for two days, and my roommate Paula and I lounged around the apartment filled with snow-glare-white light, drinking wine, ordering pizza (somehow Domino’s still delivered), and watching the first season of Survivor with her boyfriend Johan, who had crashed at our place for the fun.

The second night we were housebound, Paula—a tall, raven-haired engineer originally from Bogotá—announced that she was going to bake a cake. Not just any cake—I, for one, was raised on Betty Crocker—but her Colombian grandmother’s homemade white cake. She went into the kitchen, and once she ascertained that, amazingly, we did have the many eggs and flour and baking powder and mountains of sweet cream butter required, began to separate eggs with the acumen she brought to technical drawing.

Paula beat a sweet yellow cake batter that, once it was poured carefully into floured cake pans, smelled high and sugary in the heat of the oven. The remaining egg whites she beat into thick stiff peaks, to which she added sugar until she’d beat a glossy meringue frosting—her grandmother Sophia’s treasured batido blanco—that held its shape when twirled with the back of a spoon. Once the layers were out of the oven and safely cooled, she sandwiched a layer of jam between them, and spread this thick luxuriant icing all across the top.

We ate. And we ate and we ate and we ate. I have had wonderful cakes in my time, but never one as purely delicious as this. It amazes me that the tight bodice of my ivory jacquard wedding dress still zipped up so easily at the next fitting, the skirt snug over foamy layers of tulle. [Read more…]

Ready to Run

running-by-patrik-nygren-on-flickr-editMidway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path

And the reason I had wandered off from the straight path, Brothers and Sisters, was because—for the first time in my forty-eight years on this weary earth, I started doing something I sworn up and down I’d never take up:

I have started running.

I can’t even begin to imagine the level of cognitive dissonance that this revelation must be inducing in my longtime friends. Even before there were European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that said “0.0,” with the tiny legend below “I Don’t Run,” there were the “26.0,” “13.5” and heaven forbid, “70.0” European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that smarty-pants athletic overachievers put on their Suburus.

And I scorned them all. I not only didn’t run; I was The Anti-Runner.

From infancy to middle age, I was an advocate of cars, air conditioning, and general immobility. Why was this? you ask.

Say what you will about today’s spineless “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports culture, but I would have delighted by such a thing in 1978 (the year that my fourth grade P.E. teacher in public school paddled me for talking in class, in front of about 100 other kids).

In 1978, if you were not at least passably athletic, you were in for it. I was awkward and clumsy, and I was always, always, always picked last for kickball. [Read more…]

Martin, Everett, and Me

caroline-langston-imageI am writing this essay on the fortieth anniversary of my father’s death, so my immediate thought about Martin Luther King, Jr. this morning is of those four precious small children left fatherless on April 4, 1968.

There are two things I’m thinking about fathers: The nimbus of their influence continues to fall across your life, no matter how early they’re taken from you. Whether it’s shimmering or shadowy depends upon them.

When those fathers are departed, you have to go in search elsewhere for substitutes to replace them. There’s an ancient tradition of spiritual/intellectual fatherhood: Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, goes the saying.

And this is where I have to jump in to say this: There was not much said about Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s and 80s. It’s hard to explain this to people outside the South, but this was true even among folks who were racial moderates, like my parents, who supported public school desegregation but were otherwise limited by their time and place.

Of course, whole volumes of history regarding the Civil Rights movement were just not mentioned among white people when I was growing up—even when they took place in near walking distance from where we lived. All I recall was my mother’s mention that a country church was “where the Freedom Riders” stopped for the night, and that my oldest sister—already, things were changing—had asked to be driven out to see them arrive. [Read more…]

I Miss Gwen Ifill

20161219-gwen-ifill-on-wikimedia-creative-commonsFor Kate Keplinger

It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret that you mourn for…
–“Spring and Fall,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my friend Dionne posted in response to a note I posted on Facebook.

I’d just come back on the redeye from the West Coast that morning, and stayed home from work to catch up on some sleep. I was puttering around in the kitchen in my nightgown, my mind in a fog, when I heard on the three o’clock newscast that journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill had died.

I immediately called my husband, who was picking up the children from school, with the news.

Suddenly I felt even more at loose ends than I had on the morning after Election Day, stunned by yet another instance of how, overnight, the landscape around me had shifted. Except in this instance, the feeling of being unsettled hit me more forcefully.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook: “Memory eternal, Gwen Ifill. Our whole family will miss our Friday pizza nights with you.”

It didn’t occur to me until I saw Dionne’s response that it might appear that said Friday pizza nights might be with Ifill in person—as opposed to a picnic on Mommy and Daddy’s bed watching Washington Week. [Read more…]

The Resurrection Volvo

ljubljana_car_crash_2013Just about nine months ago—the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day, to be exact—I hit a carload of nuns.

It’s not like I was trying to or anything, though: It was the middle of the morning, a misty winter day. I was driving on a quiet street in the part of Washington, D.C. that’s sometimes called “Little Rome,” owing to the number of monastic institutions surrounding the Catholic University of America. From the right lane, the carload of nuns made an unexpected wide left-hand turn passing in front of me, and my Honda ran right into their left-side passenger door.

With a pop and the faint burning smell of sulphur, the airbag exploded into my face, like a kind of giant, surreal mushroom.  I put the stick shift in park and—amazingly collected—turned the radio and then the car off, and got out calmly.

These were young nuns, twenty-something, in long habits—one of whom came running over with: “Oh my gosh, that’s not cool.” [Read more…]