Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Little Things: Remembering Professor Les Bailey

Today, November 23, 2011, would have been Les Bailey's 69th birthday.

He died last year on Christmas Eve. And because I have been on sabbatical this semester (Fall 2011), I think that it has still not set in that Les is no longer roaming the halls of Old Main, no longer seated in front of his Mac computer, in his office on the 3rd floor, reading student papers.  Or Dickens. 

Perhaps I will fully realize his absence next semester when I'm back on campus, and there has been some distance...

Remembering him--remembering anybody--is usually not a grandiose proposition once the funeral is past.  Rather, it's about the little things.  Or, for me it is, anyway.

For example,  one week ago I opened a new jar of capers.

After all, how can you eat bagels and cream cheese and lox without also having capers and diced red onions?  I got this jar of capers from Les.  I know, seems strange.  But like I said, it's the little things. Earlier this year, when I was doing my small part to help cleanup Les' house–with Father Kilian and Brian and Pam and Ericka, all of whom did yeo(wo)man's work–I was going through his kitchen cabinets.

And I found this beautiful jar of capers.  I almost left it there.  Why would anyone take a jar of capers?  But I'm glad I took it.  It's just the kind of jar that Les would have had.  You can see my small jar of capers, perfectly good non pareilles from Safeway or wherever.  But Les, no, Les would never have wasted his time with such a jar of boring capers.  And, in truth, when I compared them, there was a significant difference.  Les' capers, Mustapha's capers, were indeed much bigger, juicier, and more robust.  They pack quite a vinegary, briny wallop.  Perfect for such a breakfast.

Little things.

Or this.  For Thanksgiving this year at Midge and David Price's house, I'm making potato and celery root Gruy√®re gratin with leeks and backyard thyme.  I love cooking with root vegetables and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make such a dish.  I have long wanted to cook with celery root, but it was so expensive ($6.50 for one root!) that I will not be making a habit of it.  I'm also using the last of my glorious CSA potatoes.   I think it will be a good dish.


You've probably guessed it already, but, yes, the French Emile Henry baking dish itself is from Les' kitchen.  I found it in the garage.  Someone had put it there because when Les went to the hospital there was still a carcass of something (a chicken probably) in the dish.  When I found it, a couple months later, it was rancid and disgusting and I had to suppress my gag reflex just to approach it.  Very soon, the dish was probably going to be thrown into the trash.

But I just couldn't let this happen.  So, holding my breath, I ran the dish to the trashcan, being careful not to spill anything, and dumped everything out.  Then I hosed the dish down outside, then took it back inside, and scraped it semi-clean with hot water and soap. Then I took it home, scrubbed it some more, and put it in the dishwasher a couple times. It took all of this just to clean the damn thing.

But I'm glad I did it.  And this Thanksgiving it will be the dish in which I bake my gratin.

It's the little things that help me best remember Les.

Professor Les Bailey, 1942-2010.


  1. It's so like Dr. B to have bought only the most delicious of things, be it capers or a fine cut of meat. Thank you for publishing this. Life without Dr. B is still sad but thinking about him in such a way makes things a little brighter. I hope you have been enjoying your sabbatical, it's a sunny Christmas in Orlando for Pierce and I but the change has been good so far. Thank you again Dr. Birkenstein :) --Allison Senkarik

  2. I can't believe what English could be like at Saint Martin's without Dr. Bailey's classes; I mean I know the college will endure, but he really made literature come to life. I entered the college being discouraged because there wasn't enough creative writing, but left the college loving literature, especially Dickens and Hardy.

    He had the best literary discussions I've ever witnessed and made it look so easy; I can't seem to yet replicate his art in my own classes. He'd always sit in the front of the room and start by asking all of us, "Well, what did you think," and carefully weave us through various characters and themes using prepared quotes as we discussed. I simply loved the book club atmosphere of his classes. He allowed the discussions to also take on a life of their own, which I think gave us personal confidence in writing our essays or doing finals.

    We miss you Dr. Bailey; give us English teachers discussion tips when you aren't busy having a blast up there with Hardy and Dickens.

    Shawn Rees

  3. Jeff, I hope you will be raising a glass to Dr. Bailey with me this evening. His birthday was on Saturday and he would have been 71 this year! The books of his you gave me provide me with great comfort and I am so grateful to have them. I'll be reading from at least one of them tonight as I sip some bourbon in honor of this great man. Hope you are doing well and happy holidays! --Allison Senkarik