Dinah grew up on the East Coast, outside Boston and New York City, and graduated from a small public high school just north of Manhattan. She earned her Bachelor’s at Yale and a Certificate of Acting from the Neighborhood Playhouse School, eventually moving to Los Angeles where, among other roles, she landed the long-recurring part of Nurse Shirley on NBC’s critically acclaimed series, ER.
Dinah’s memoir, Bigger than Life, was published in the American Lives Series at the University of Nebraska Press, and excerpted for the “Lives” column in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Her memoir-in-essays, The Object Parade, was published by Counterpoint Press, and she co-edited Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction for W. W. Norton with the late Judith Kitchen.
From three to six years old my life was filled with ordinary occurrences of the time. My main chores were; feeding the chickens and gathering their eggs, which when I encountered a chicken snake on one of my endeavors and got bitten that ended that particular chore. You see the top nests were too high for me. Another chore was to gather kindling for starting fires in the woodburning stove and fireplace. Both were utilized for cooking. A cast iron black kettle held perpetually heated water for tea, coffee, and various other things. It hung in the fireplace. I was enthralled by the cookstove and marveled at how grandma could make her “cat head ” biscuits (a Southerner’s description). She had an oval, wooden bowl that she put the flour in. She would then make a fist and create a well in the flour. Without the use of any measuring instruments, she would mix up the dough, pinch off uniform pieces of dough, and roll the dough into balls. She would do a finger tuck to the bottoms. Before placing them in the cast iron skillet she would dip them in bacon grease top first. Yum! Yum! I liked eating mine with thick cream mixed with molasses syrup, which my grandfather had made. The stove had warming ovens on the top, a hot water reservoir on the right side of the stovetop ( water used mainly for washing dishes), going left were four burners of different sizes. Their tops had a special tool for lifting them as wood would have to be added during the cooking duration. On the outer left side was a shelf. I don’t know its purpose, but when I started the first grade I would sit on that side, eating my oatmeal, and warming my feet propped on the shelf. As a matter of fact, I could smell the rubber burning on the soles of my saddle oxford shoes many mornings. We ate at a large table which had benches on either side with cowhide chairs at either end. Grandma had a crockery picture which was cream-colored with a blue picture depicting an Indian picture. At first, milk was boiled, after the cream had been skimmed off, then cooled in the spring. Before I turned six we got an icebox and the iceman would deliver ice for it. I looked forward to his visit as he would always chip off pieces for me to suck on. The icebox was located on a back, side porch next to the kitchen. Kitchens were built away from the main part of the houses for protection from the possibility of a fire. This side back porch served as a bathhouse in the summer, where we bathed in number two washtubs. Bathing the youngest to oldest in water only changed when too dirty to clean anyone. Bathing every night didn’t happen we used a foot tub and washcloth to wash our faces and bodies and then we’d soak our feet in the tub. Our feet were calloused and smooth as leather from going barefoot…
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The happiest time of my life was from birth to six years. My maternal grandmother helped usher me into the hottest day in mid August. The year was 1941, in rural Louisiana. There was no plumbing, nor electricity for any of the farms.