Only on a Sunday

So many of my childhood memories are tied up with food,  Mam-maw and the Sabbath (which I later learned wasn’t strictly the biblical Sabbath, since that would have been a Saturday, but my grandfather called Sunday the Sabbath, and whatever he said was gospel!)  Sunday mornings were a whirl of activity, afternoons were given over to rest, Sunday evening, more activity, and then, blessed be,  came Sunday supper.

Mam-maw cooked breakfast every morning and Sunday was no exception. Scrambled eggs, always scrambled, never sunny side up or over easy, in which she whisked evaporated milk and crumbled breakfast meat, such as ground sausage or bacon.  Occasionally and only very occasionally, she would cut hot dogs into small pieces and drop them into the mixture.    Those were the days before any warnings about processed foods, preservatives and red food coloring, and so we freely ate frankfurters, bologna and pickle loaf!  My favorite breakfast food was homemade strawberry preserves on toast, or maybe blackberry, or cherry, well I liked almost any kind of preserve, jam or jelly.  I didn’t care for orange marmalade, but I would eat it if it were the only sweetness available.  My grandmother believed that there should be something sweet with every meal.   Alas for my now expanding waistline, I continue to feel the same way!

I grew up on spaghetti and meat loaf, hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls and stuffed with cheese, fried pork chops and gravy, fried chicken and gravy, fried anything and yes, with gravy.  I ate everything my grandmother put on the table, there were  only two things I didn’t like.  Later in life I learned there were many foods I’d never tried and some of them I didn’t like, either, but growing up, there were only 2 foods i didn’t like, beets and carrots.  Didn’t matter how they were prepared, I couldn’t abide them.   When my grandmother cooked liver and onions, with side dishes of spinach and mashed potatoes, I was thrilled.  Other things like okra, brussels sprouts, broccoli, all manner of squashes and beans,  were welcome sights on my plate.  I also craved my grandmother’s homemade pimiento cheese, which I make to this day when I need real comfort food.  The secret ingredient was Velveeta cheese!  And even though I strive to eat healthier now, sometimes Velveeta is the only thing that will satisfy my longing.

Visiting other people’s homes was very trying for me.   Traditional fare was served, such as pot roast with the requisite potatoes onions and carrots, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and peas or corn.  If someone went outside the box and cooked a ham, they would cover it with orange marmalade, and I’ve already told you how I feel about that!   At every meal, I was required to eat everything on my plate, which was never a problem for me, except when we visited someone else’s home.  At my house, I could say, I don’t want any of that, and avoid carrots and beets completely.  But,  visiting, I was told I had to try some of everything and then I had to eat it all whether I liked it or not.  It made for a very unhappy Sunday afternoon.    I didn’t understand at the time how two people could cook the exact same food and one dish (my grandmother’s)  would be scrumptiou and the other dish (anybody else’s) would taste horrible.  Mam-maw cooked ordinary food extraordinarily well.  Her seasonings were simple, salt, no pepper, sometimes a little bit of  garlic, thyme, or oregano.   Some of the things people put in gravy are unforgivable.  Mrs. Delaney used so much pepper that I would have sneezing fits and be told to leave the table (which I welcomed greatly!)  And I swore that Mrs. Kaufman used dirt instead of cocoa in her hot chocolate!!

On the rare Sunday when we weren’t invited to have lunch with a member of the congregation, we ate at a restaurant.  Always the same one.  I have no idea what the name of it might have been, or what they had on the menu besides french fries, but it was absolutely my favorite thing.  We would go in, always sitting at the same table, as if it had our name on it.  The waitress would come to take our order carrying a brand new unopened bottle of ketchup and she would remove the nearly full bottle already on the table!  Then without another word, when she brought the menus out she would bring me a plate of french fries.  I could make one small order of french fries last through a whole bottle of ketchup and nobody stopped me.  Dip a fry in the ketchup, lick it off, then swipe it through the ketchup again.  And no one ever told me that it wasn’t okay to do that!

After an afternoon resting, we would go back to church for vespers.  Long winded prayers and longer songs.  By the time we got out of church and drove home, we were all famished.  And just as predictably as my grandmother cooking breakfast was the supper she laid on the table Sunday evenings;  peanut butter, Karo syrup (light and dark) and margarine, three bowls and three glasses of milk.  We would put a tbsp of peanut butter in the bowl, followed by pouring the Karo syrup on top of that, stir it around until it was all mixed together, then break a slice of Hostess white bread into the concoction, let it sit just long enough to soak up a little syrup, then spear it, lean over the bowl and poke it in our mouths.  Heaven!  Granddaddy liked to have margarine and dark syrup for is second bowl, I always wanted peanut butter and light syrup in mine.   When were fully satiated, the table was cleared, dishes washed and dried (without the benefit of an electric dishwasher) and Sundays drew to a close.

When one door closes

Today’s writing assignment from Writing 101:  Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.  This doesn’t need to be a depressing exercise;.

Ha!  The times I have chosen to write about loss have been very depressing times indeed!  I once remarked to my sister that it seemed like the only times I wrote were when I was grieving.  Personal grief and national tragedies were the fodder for my writing life.  No wonder I avoided writing!  I’ve spent this day writing about anything but loss, avoiding the assigned topic, that avoidance fueled by memories of other forays into writing about loss.  But I am committed to finishing this challenge to myself, to write every day for 30 days on a topic suggested by the Writing 101 challenge.

However, I hardly know where to begin.  My life, like most lives has been plagued with loss.  Sometimes it felt like my life was a Greek tragedy or as my mother used to say about her life: a soap opera!  There was the loss of my first tooth, the loss of status as the baby of the family when my brother, Raymond, was born.  There was the loss of innocence followed by the loss of a fantasy world as I grew from childhood to adulthood.  The loss of boyfriends was no minor subplot to my adolescence, in fact, those had to be the biggest tragedies of my teen life!  There was the loss of my childlike view of God, there was the divorce, and eventually the empty nest.  More grievous than all of those has been  loss of family and other loved ones to death, some tragic, all painful.   I have written about those losses in other venues usually when the pain was greatest.

Someone has said that each new beginning is preceded by a loss and this is no less true when the new beginning is a positive one and much welcomed.  The most recent loss for me was brought about by my own volition, freely chosen in the hope of lessening the physical distance between me, my children and my grandchildren.  I looked forward to reuniting with old friends, celebrating holidays with family and reawakening my writing life.  I have been able to do those things, but it didn’t come without a cost.

At times it feels like I’ve lost my self.   The self I was in Albuquerque,  that person who loved her home, the life she had created from nothing.  Moving to Albuquerque in 2006, I didn’t know anyone.  I was starting a new job in a strange environment, having never worked in a jail before.  All of that was by my choice, too, and I loved it (well maybe not being in the jail so much but at least I was working in the profession I had chosen and ostensibly helping inmates  learn to make better choices in the future.)  I had dreamed about New Mexico, sacrificed to move there, and made the most of every moment I was there.  If I had been childless, I know I would have moved there sooner and lived there longer!  But needing to be with family had finally outweighed my love for New Mexico, the sun, the Sandia Mountains, the physicality and geography of the place, as well as the friends who had become like family, and my spiritual mentors who had been a great influence on me and who,  inadvertently had ignited the flame that fueled the need I had to return to Louisville.   It was the deepening connection with God that made me realize how important it was that I return to family.

The first few weeks in Louisville, I felt like someone had died and that someone was me.  I had lost the structure of my everyday life.  In New Mexico,  I worked, I shopped, I went to church, I attended a very special book club, where we spent more time catching up with each other than we did discussing the books we often hadn’t even read.  I functioned as a prayer chaplain and the leader of a spiritual group within the church.  Those people were like family to me and the loss of their immediate presence in my life is the hardest to accept.  In Louisville, I worked (fortunate enough to bring my NM job with me and work from home!) but everything was different.  I didn’t know the layout of the stores.  I didn’t know where to find things.  The nearest Barnes and Noble was on the other side of town!   The house I had rented across country wasn’t to my liking.  It had the right number of bedrooms, it had an office, a basement, a dishwasher, a huge back yare, and grass.   But the closets were too small, the stairs too steep, the basement unfinished, even the grass in the yard that I had wanted for my dogs, (who had grown up running on xeriscaping) needed to be mowed too often!   And in my first month here, I learned that my eyesight was so bad that I could no longer drive (another loss!!)  and so the loss of personal freedom added to my feeling that this decision had been a very bad one!

The one thing that had been missing in my New Mexico life was writing.  I tried to write,  I joined a writing collective, but never went to the meetings,  I went on “artist’s dates”  as Julia Cameron’s suggests in her book The Artist’s Way.  I made dates with myself to write and let nothing get in the way.   I faithfully kept those dates and would write for an hour or two, in coffee shops, in book stores, on the college campus lawn, all in an attempt to rekindle my desire to write, but nothing worked.   I knew that in New Mexico I missed my writing self.  I don’t know why Louisville KY is my writing home, perhaps that is a subject to pursue another day.

It has taken me several months to begin to feel as if I belong here.  I still haven’t replaced my church family, I probably never will, neither have I found a book club that rivals my Albuquerque connections.  But what I have found is a reconnection with my family, the delight of being near my grandchildren, writers who have welcomed me back into the fold once again, and a strong desire to express myself through the written word.

EPILOGUE:  If every new beginning is preceded by a loss, then every loss offers the opportunity for a new beginning!

 

balloon fiesta

 

 

My grandmother’s house, my grandmother’s heart

If I could be transported to any time and place, I would choose my grandparent’s home in Lone Star, Texas, the time frame would be June 1959 to September 1960..  The house itself was located on San Jacinto  Drive.   I  no longer remember the exact address, but I remember the small clapboard ranch painted white with green trim.  The carport had a small storage shed and housed only one car.  My grandmothers 1956 Green Dodge sat in the carport, my grandfather’s olive green Plymouth was parked in the driveway, when it wasn’t parked at the Lone Star Steel Company, the Lone Star Methodist Church, or the local Piggly Wiggly.  He did 90% of the driving, my grandmother, in fact, didn’t learn to drive until they moved to Lone Star, at that time she was in her 50s!

The house was perched on a perfectly manicured lawn of Bermuda grass.  The one Blue Spruce pine in the front yard was the tree I hugged, the one I wrote poetry inspired by, and the tree I wish I could see see just one more time.  The chrysanthemums, begonias, amaryllis and  daffodils were  planted an the side of the house, terraced like stair steps, where I loved to pretend that i was a princess in the Royal gardens.  My grandfather’s design of carefully orchestrated reds, yellows, pinks and purples were as artful as any painting.  Purple irises bloomed in front of the house  and the American Beauty rose bushes were planted in the back yard.  The yard itself was not the postage stamp size of most of the homes on that block, it was on a corner lot, and afforded twice as much room to run, play and meditate as the other yards nearby, and I often did all three of those things.  I didn’t know at 12, that i was meditating, but looking out over the flowers, I felt closely connected to God.  The house sat above the other houses, and looking down into the yards below added to my feeling of being the royal princess looking out over her subjects!

Entering from the side door into the kitchen, smells of cookies baking, chicken and dumplings bubbling on the stove, sounds of Lawrence Welk’s orchestra or some jazz band from the 40s greeted you.  My grandmother showed her love through food, kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer were always well stocked, and her home- cooked meals are the ones I crave for comfort food.  Besides sights, sounds and smells to greet you, 2 redfawn  female pekingese bounced into the kitchen to see who was at the door with their  tails wagging and Ling Toi sitting on her hind legsred fawn flapping her front paws at me.  If a stranger, the mailman or a neighbor  knocked on the door, the barking would commence, and if a male entered the house, Little Princess China would snap at their heels.  Even my grandfather didn’t have immunity unless he wore shoes some other color besides black.  Pinky, as we called her, did not like men’s black shoes!

The kitchen opened directly into the living/dining room with it’s dining room table on the right of the door and the couch, chair, ottoman, coffee table, and television on the left; the window air conditioning unit buzzed.  It was the only air conditioner in the house, and yet it was always slightly chilly suring summer, even in August.  A multi-colored granny square afghan was placed on the back of the couch, and my grandmother’s knitting basket sat at one end of it.  Often during the day, my art supplies, consisting of things like kleenex boxes, toilet paper rolls, frozen juice cans, and tissues for making paper flowers were strewed across the coffee table, which held a crocheted white doily under a crystal candy dish, usually filed with caramels .  The dark mahogany bureau matched the dining room table, but was placed in the living room due to size constraints.  The bureau held tablecloths, napkins, and behind the side doors were boxes of chocolate covered cherries..  I was usually able to snag a chocolate covered cherry about once a week without fear of consequences.  I still don’t know whether they didn’t know I did it, or with the patience only a grandparent has, simply overlooked the misdeed.

A door from both the kitchen and the living room led to the hall that took you to the bedrooms and the bath,  My bedroom sat next to the kitchen, and was flanked on the other side by my grandparents’ bedroom .  A right angle turn into the hall led to the bath and other bedroom.  The 3rd bedroom, about the size of today’s walk in closets, was converted into a library/sewing room/music room.  My grandfather’s recliner was my favorite chair in the house.   I curled up for hours reading books taken from the built in bookshelves, reading books like Five Little Peppers and How they Grew  (and every sequel that Margaret Sydney wrote!) also Gene STratton Porter’s Freckles, Her Father’s Daughter, the Girl of the Limberlost (the only book my grandmother ever read!).  I read Tolstoy, Thomas Merton, Ayn Rand, Kafka,  Zane Grey, Little Women, Voltaire, the Wizard of Oz, Through the Looking Glass, and Gone With the Wind, to name a few.  Quite the advanced education for a 12 year old girl in the sixties!.   Books were my ticket to another world, although the one i lived in was lovely and loving, the adventures I had while reading fueled my imagination to want more, to think more and to do more. That was also the year I learned I enjoyed writing.

I wrote my first book. Alicia and Alyse go to Paris.  (No doubt inapired by the book Mrs ‘arris goes to Paris.)  It was a fiction about twins, who traveled by boat to Paris for a publicity tour for their book. Their constant companions were their pekingese dogs and of course, they fell in love with their agents!  After writing that, I started to write poetry, and kept myself busy reading Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Tennyson and Keats.  I wrote a parody of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for sixth grade English.  not knowing at the time that a Rubaiyat was itself the name of a poetic form.

1960 is the year I return to when I need to remember that life is basically good, when I need to feel total unconditional love, and that is the memory that propels me forward in my writing life and never lets me quit no matter what.

 

The Early Years

10151836_753942654658392_5272424816934146245_nOnce you have a told a story a hundred times or more, the telling  becomes the most important thing, and the experience is effectively lost. I can still remember the feeling of following my brother down the alley to catch horned toads, puutting them into a shoebox, hiding them under my bed because if Mother found them, she would march me right out into the back yard and make me upend the box and let the lizard go.  I can still feel the look of disappointment on her face ,” trying to cage one of God’s creations, she would say”.  I never understood why it was okay to tie Tiger, our Boxer, to a leash secured  to a stake in the ground, but it wasn’t okay to keep a  toad in a box. The other things, the little thing in my life: sitting by the fireplace playing monopoly with my childhood friend;  shelling creamed peas while the bushel basket became empty and the Mason jars were filled, first with the peas and then with hot water;  watching The Price is Right hosted by a young Bob Barker, and later in the day cutting pictures out of magazines, creating our own showcase;  those moments I treasured but didn’t often recount.   The stories I did tell, the “awful mute appeal” of little Dora recounted by David Copperfield in the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, and the way it paralleled by own grief of having to leave my grandparent’s home to move back in with Mother and Daddy, that was a story!!  And that was a story that had become a part of my personality; no longer a memory, but a piece of history.  Carol Shields in her book, Unless, states “anyone’s childhood can be an act of disablement if rehearsed and replayed and squinted at in a certain light.”  I resonate with that quote because I know how truly disabling my childhood was, and not the least of it, by my own interpretations of the facts, so I was intrigued by the idea of disabling the memories to liberate myself.  Although the first seven years of my life were bright; the following five were by my own definition: gloomy.  In my memory, the light begins to fade when I first hid under the bed to escape the hands of my father.  While I have remembered that as my first distinct memory, the retelling of it has no doubt distorted the actual facts.   Like David Copperfield, I was born.  (I’ve wanted to use that line for nearly forty years, at first not knowing that it would be plagiarism, then knowing it would be and not daring to use the phrase at all, finally learning  that if I cite the source, I can use anything I please!)  I only know this by history; I am fairly well assured by my belly button that mine was not an alien hatching; and my mother told me that I was born in an Army hospital, although that was all she told me, because in the 1950’s you didn’t talk to children about the really important things.  (I well remember my mother and grandmother whispering in the kitchen about my mother’s latest pregnancy, which no one was supposed to notice, and definitely not comment upon.)   At any rate, like everything else about me, the story of my early years strikes me as unusual.  At least it seemed so to me when I discovered certain facts at sixteen.  Most kids didn’t live with their grandparents when their parents were perfectly capable of caring for them.  I was delighted to live with my grandparents, but the truth of the matter is my Mam-maw was my strongest attachment, and my mother someone that came to visit every other weekend.  There is no story of abuse or neglect, no court involvement, the matter of the fact was that in 1948 there was no childcare for infants.  My mother had to work and there was no one else to care for me.  My five yr old sister, MH and my four year old brother, Buddy, also stayed with Mam-maw during the day for the first few months, as did I, but then the story goes that Mam-maw and Granddaddy had to move to San Antonio for a reason unknown to me and not knowing what else to do, Mother sent the baby (Me) with them.   And so it was that I spent the first six years of my life in relative luxury, treated like a little princess. with permed  hair as early as three years old wearung a fur coat with a muff instead of mittens.  It was the happiest time of my life.  Even now…