Liver and Onions A Families Tradition
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my mind is often filled with things I need not remember and nearly void of any seemingly important information. The Fictional History I’m about to share with you comes from that space in my head that seems to be “on the edge” between truth and fiction. Parts of it are surely true. There are facts that have been known for years. Stories written and enjoyed by millions through the years. But there are also parts of it that you will have to judge the reality of yourself.
The “germ” of the story started 70 plus years ago as my mother read nursery rhymes to my sisters and I. Sang gospel songs and others, so many times, I can still remember the tunes and some of the words.
One of those little songs was: Mary Had a Little Lamb. I’m sure you may have heard it.
Some years later, 60 or so, I suppose, I watched a gruesome show on T.V. It was called: Silence of the Lambs. A detective story that includes a young, overly inquisitive detective and an older, very clever cannibal.
This rather daring movie and the facts of it, mixed in my head in that area of my brain I’ve mentioned earlier. The following is a culmination of that mixing.
But let’s get on with the story. I have entitled it Liver and Onions, a families tradition.
Liver and Onions
A Families Tradition
- A documentary, with no point.
- An adult story, about a children’s song.
- A tale that answers questions, no one had asked.
- A fairy tale, about a nursery rhyme.
The year is 1826. We are in a small farming community on the outskirts of what had become Warsaw, Poland. Also known locally as Warszawa, Polska. The w’s are pronounced like v’s.
It is a cold and windy winter day. It has been snowing all morning and now it is drifting. A terrible day for anyone to be out. However: Anna Lechter had called Mrs. Usher to be by her side. She was a close friend and a wonderful, well experienced, midwife. Anna had also asked that the older Usher boy be sent to Mr. Lechter’s business up town, to fetch him right home.
It is some hours later, Mr. Lechter has finally arrived. He was never pleased to close his shop early, but the young man had said it was important. He had been a bit irritated at the young man’s insistence. Mr. Lechter had been very busy and probably didn’t listen very attentively to the young man’s tale. But he was here now.
Our story opens in the chilly bedroom of their modest home. Anna Lechter has just presented her husband, Hannibal, with their first daughter, Mary Anna.
Hannibal had insisted if it were a girl it should be called Anna. A boy would like wise be called Hannibal. Anna had gotten him to agree to “Mary Anna”. Mary was a well-established, Jewish name for fine young ladies, and she knew her Mary would be a fine young lady, indeed. She had also considered, two Anna’s in one household, far too confusing.
“You can’t call your lovely daughter, “junior”, she had gently “debated” with Hannibal in the days prior to this event.
Little baby Mary was small and frail. By their best estimate, just barely 5 ½ pounds. Mrs. Usher had cautioned Hannibal: “The child seems a bit early.” Little Mary would never fully recover from this slow start.
Anna had already proven to be a good wife. She had spent these first two years of their marriage, building a large file of traditional Jewish recipes. Over these many months, much to his delight, she had “tested” most of them on Hannibal. Anna had a chicken soup recipe that could calm a queasy stomach or sooth a lingering cold. Ana was a good housekeeper and did excellent needle work. She was gentle, loving, and caring. Anna would be a good mother, as well.
Mr. Lechter, or Hannibal, was hard working and fairly intelligent. Many that knew him, described him as: “An ambitious fellow”. He had a small shop in the busy market square in town. He made a good living as a clock repairman. It was the trade he had learned at his father’s side from the time he was a small boy. He was respected in the community both in business and religious circles. He was a good provider but harsh. As an “old school”, Jewish father, his word on all matters of substance, was the final word.
As the years would pass, they would have a son, Hannibal Jr. Through the coming years the list would continue to grow. We won’t provide it here. Its number is not important to our story.
We move ahead to the spring of 1834. One of those lovely times we long for after a long, dark, and bitter winter. Mary’s mother had convinced Hannibal, little Mary needed a spring lamb. Something she could love and nurture. Hannibal had been against it. “Something to feed with no return.” he had said. But some things aren’t worth differing over. This was probably one of them. He supposed every child needed a pet to help teach them responsibility. It would be a good growing experience for the girl. Maybe in caring for the animal she would put a little meat on her bones as well. The exercise would be good for her.
When young Hannibal gets older, father mused: It may be easier to convince Anna, a dog is also a “necessary” mouth to feed. “Yes, maybe the lamb was a great idea.”
So Mary got her little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go. Mary was so good to the lamb and the lamb was good for Mary. Months would pass. As with all youngsters, it was difficult, maybe impossible to teach it boundaries. Mary tried, but it seemed deaf to Mary’s repeated and even stern, “No’s”.
It followed her to school on day, which of course for obvious reasons, was strictly against the rules. The headmaster, which secretly though the lamb was cute, tried to keep the animal outside. Each time anyone came in or out, the lamb was back inside. This lamb was no one’s fool. There was far too much confusion by now. The lamb would need to be returned to the Lechter home. Head master was able to gently remove the lamb and held it until Mary could find a short cord, and led the silly thing home.
It had been quite a day. Pesky brother, Hannibal, had run on ahead to spill the beans. Mary would have preferred to tell her mother first but that wouldn’t happen now. Father would be very upset. He wouldn’t care that the head master hadn’t scolded her. He had, after all, just quietly cautioned her: “It shouldn’t happen again.” Fathers concern would be of his image in town. What would others think of this fellow that allowed his daughter to disrupt an entire school. How would he explain this lapse of discipline in his own home? As the schoolmaster had said, this must never happen again.
Hannibal stopped by the Synagogue and contacted the Rabbi. He offered the yearling lamb for the next Friday services. It was perfectly free of blemishes, and freely given. “Yes, that settles it then.”
Anna tried to gently explain to her daughter, “Adults have different responsibilities to the community.” Father said nothing, outside of: “That will be the end of it”.
It was a very long three days for Mary. She spent every available moment after school, with the lamb. They played all their favorite tricks on each other, running and jumping by the hour. Friday afternoon was spent carefully bathing and grooming the young lamb for the evenings, inevitable event.
This incident would put a dark cloud over the relationship between father and daughter. Not because Mary thought her father was wrong, necessarily, but maybe she wondered what might be the consequences if she ever made some “embarrassing” mistake.
Friday evening they had friends over for dinner. This was customary, a large meal in preparation for the next days, Sabbath fast.
Mother Anna prepared the offal, which had been returned to them by the priest. She used one of their favorite recipes. Lambs liver with carameled onions and fava beans. Shelling the fava beans is a lot of work. Mary always helped Anna, but mother didn’t ask her to help this time. Everyone complimented Anna on a wonderful meal. Father broke out a chilled bottle of wine to add a bit of a “festive” mood. All the others enjoyed the wonderful time together. Mary went to bed early and hungry. This day would linger with Mary for the rest of her short life.
Within a few months, Hannibal got an itch to go to America.
This may have been prompted by the political unrest of the times. Just 4 years earlier, there had been the Cadet Revolution. An armed rebellion against the Russian rule of Poland. It had begun Nov. 29, 1830 when a group of young non-commissioned officers, conspirators from the military academy in Warsaw, revolted. They were soon joined by large groups of Polish citizens from that area. Despite several local successes, the uprising was eventually crushed by a numerically superior Russian army.
Whatever the reason, Hannibal and Anna dreamed they could start a new life, in a new country, with new friends. He had heard stories of industrious, inventive, men that wanted to mass-produce clocks and watches by the thousands. Waltham and Elgin were to soon finish such factories in Massachusetts and Ohio. It would be a land of opportunity for an ambitious, quality conscious, watch repairman. They made their plans, sold everything, and several weeks later, found all eight of them, bag and baggage, on Ellis Island, New York City, United States of America.
It would be just as they had imagined. A land of opportunity. Not only for Hannibal and his ambition, but for young Mary as well. With her fathers newly found success, she was soon able to go off to a well-respected finishing school there in the East. Maybe this time away, Anna hoped, could break the spell that seemed to always be over her Mary. New friends, new surrounding, and the challenge of studies. Mary was bright and ambitious. The possibilities for this new life were limitless.
Mary didn’t make new friends easily in this strange place. A new language and a mixture of customs. She was also quiet and reserved. Didn’t go out much. She had always been a somewhat pretty girl but with a fragile frame. Slender and plain might best describe her. Always with long, dark, flowing curls. Certainly an added feature. She would eventually find one good friend.
Sara Joseph Hale. Mary called her, Sara Jo. She was a bit older than Mary, but neither pretentious nor domineering. A bright and rising young star. Years later, her kind would be called: “feminist”. A young writer, working part time for a brand new publication called Godey’s Lady’s Book. “She would be editor one day” was her favorite saying. The two young ladies spent countless evenings together, studying, swapping stories, and making up wild tales about “gentlemanly” escapades.
These were the best days of Mary’s life.
By now Sara Jo knew every detail of Mary’s gruesome, childhood tale of the young lamb. She had tried writing a rhyme about it. Recounting all that Mary had told her, but it seemed so…. well…..dark.
She spent many long hours on this project, privately writing and rewriting, until one day she had something to show her friend. It was a children’s song. Bright and cheery, with the sound of laughter in it. It went something like this:
Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow.
But you know the little song, we all do. It continues:
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rules.
It made the children laugh and play, to see a lamb at school.
So the teacher turned it out, but still it lingered near.
Waited patiently about, till Mary did appear.
“Why does the lamb love Mary so?” the eager children cry,
“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know” The teacher did reply.
While Mary appreciated what her friend had done, and America would soon grow to love it, but the tune held little comfort for such long held pain. With Mary’s approval, Sara was able to get the little tune published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, where she worked. Mary never found the “Joy” in the song that millions of children have, for well over 150 years.
Mary died in a tragic accident during the winter of ’65, at the young age of 39. The cause of the accident was never clearly established.
Sara’s original writings weren’t discovered until very recently. They were found among a ribbon tied bundle of other original works, held by Hale family ancestors in Iowa.
We have included the original, Rhyme of the Lamb, here for further insight into Mary’s troubling, childhood experience.
Mary had a little lamb, its fleece as white as snow.
No blemish could be found, No, nothing that would show.
But Mary was of Jewish birth, and knew the lamb must go.
Death’s a part of being young, that makes us, older grow.
But everywhere that Mary went; the lamb was sure to go.
And even when she scolded him, the lamb ignored her, No!
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rule.
The door a crack, in he sprang, that lamb was no ones fool.
It made the children laugh and play, to see her lamb at school.
The schoolmaster held his breathe, refused to loose his cool.
Why does the lamb love Mary so? The children asked the master.
Because young Mary loves it so, they’re bonded ever after.
Not wanting to be mean or cruel, he very calmly turned it out.
Made gentle noises, waving arms, with patience not a shout.
And held it there, till Mary came, and took it to her home.
To tell her folks this awful tale, of how the lamb had roamed.
Well Mr. Lecter, wasn’t pleased, how would that look in town?
To have his daughter misbehave would make him out the clown.
Friday came, as always does, blood sacrifice is made.
This week was no exception, the altars call obeyed.
Well fatty parts are cut away; the best cuts feed the priest.
But offal goes back to the home, they must accept, the least.
Well mama has a recipe, passed down for many years.
With carameled onions and fava beans, it wipes away most tears.
Lambs liver, with Madeira sauce. A tall, stemmed glass.
Of chilled Chiant. That’s “dining in”, first class.
That’s the tale that’s never told, this stories not a sham.
The fateful day that led to this, The Silence of the Lamb.
We believe this was written by: Sara Joseph Hale, editor, Godey’s Lady’s Book, sometime after making friends with Mary Anna Lechter, around 1850.
The Lechter family however, lived on. Hannibal Jrs. came in every generation for over 130 years.
Then in 1988 another Hannibal Lecter came to prominence.
Dr. Hannibal Lechter, a sociopathic, cannibalistic, psychiatrist.
Crazy? Maybe, but crazy like a fox. He has tremendous intellectual ability to pick one’s brain. He is a master manipulator of people’s minds. He was in a Maryland mental institution serving life for kidnap, murder, and mutilation of countless victims. There would later be made a book written of his life. And a movie made of the book. The final line of the book sounds like it could well have been written of our fragile, friend Mary……
Finally, to the young lady, Hannibal sends a promise that he will not come after her, “the world being more interesting with you in it.” He also reminds her that he would like to be informed would she ever defeat her inner demons and find herself in the silence of the lambs.
There is also mention of his having eaten liver, quite possibly prepared to an old family recipe. Anna Lechter’s recipe for Liver & Onions, with fava beans and chilled Chianti, has now truly become, Their Families Tradition.
As of this writing, it is believed Dr. Lechter is living on one of many South Seas Islands.
Therefore, there can be No End.
Written by oldbuck, after thinking on the “possible” details of Mary’s untimely death declared in a note to Sara Joseph Hale, the young lady that would forever memorialize :
Mary & The Little Lamb
Good-Bye My Friend
It must have been a tragic day, When Sara Jo, found her friend.
Who would have guessed? Her life so young, would so early end.
But there she was, just lying there. An old pill bottle, beside her chair.
Her eyes were closed, as though asleep, Seemed now at Peace, without a care.
They ran some tests, It’s just cop’s habit.
They took some blood, To inject a rabbit.
But there’s no lab test, Can prove a troubled mind.
Only the sad note, That’s so often left behind.
Good-Bye My Friend, Is all it said.
As Sara Joe had stood. . . . . . And very calmly read.
I care for you so much, No one could ever know.
But miss my Little Lamb, This act will surely show.
This note of sorrow, Of sadness grown.
They were so close, Should she have known?
Sara would this note, Take to her grave.
From Mary’s fragile Mother, This great grief might save.
But it seemed to all, Mary had committed, This one last act, of desperation.
To somehow now repay the Lamb, To make to some, a declaration.
For years ago, she had stood by, As “Little Lamb” was sure to die.
Divided up in roasts and chops, With parts to serve as kidney pie.
A prideful papa, had made his point, For on that day, t’was he who bossed.
As she and Lamb’s sweet friendship. . . trust, Would be for years, forever lost.
But in her heart, frail Mary knew, That little lamb she’d not forget.
I trust this thought, to be her last, That they, today, in Heaven met.
This fictional tale was written by oldbuck, to satisfy his desire to give a more detailed accounting of a history, for the now famous, Mary, and her lamb.
Please note: No attempt was made or intended to accurately portray any Jewish or Polish traditions. The goal was not to teach or train, but to very simply entertain.