Category Archives: Nostalgia

Food for Thought

Standard

“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”  –Lin Yutang

Today Anderson Cooper spent his new show talking about (disordered) eating.  Food is such a base, simple need that is loaded with unbelievable baggage.  We need food from before we are out of our mothers’ wombs, and continue to need it until the day we die.  It is ever-present, both background and foreground for the most important and mundane moments of our lives.  Food is a matter of life and death.  While it seems so simple, such an afterthought, it really is a complex piece of our lives.

As someone lucky enough to live a life where my next meal is not a mystery, where I know that I can choose what I consume, food takes on much more symbolism.  It intricately ties itself to memories and people, to places and emotions.  Cooper admitted to being a surprisingly picky eater and other people talked about idiosyncrasies with respect to their dining rituals.  As a picky eater, I felt validated that there are others out there who share in my aversions, my fears, and my embarrassments.  As I prepare to make myself dinner, with this show on my mind, I’m thinking very seriously about food.

I go through phases when I will crave something and eat it almost exclusively, and then will lose my taste for it.  Right now my taste for spicy food is dominating my palate.  While I still fear new foods, my old standbys are getting a little punch with some chipotle or jalapeno.  And while there are foods that I try and gain a taste for, there are some things that I will never refuse, that I am always in the mood for.

With the absurd request of recently-executed Lawrence Russell Brewer, many are asking what their last meal would be.  I spent a long overnight shift answering this one for myself.  After one of the most fascinating stories I gleaned from This American Life (Poultry Slam 2007), the question stuck with me.  After hearing about the legendary last meal of forbidden ortolan (you really need to listen to, or at least read, the story), I wondered what I would eat.  During a silent night of work, the thought settled on my mind and I quietly realized what I would eat, with no reservations.

If I knew I had only one meal left to eat, I would want my mother’s chicken and dumplings, drink strawberry Quick, and enjoy my grandma’s chocolate balls (yep, laugh all you want) for dessert.  When I’m hot and craving something sweet, nothing quenches my thirst like Diet Coke.  There is no pizza like a hot Round Table pie.  I love the soft, gooey sweet bread my grandma makes each Christmas.  I have a sandwich place I would eat at every day to keep in business.  There are plenty of foods that I love and would eat any time, any place, but that would be my last meal.  I would savor the hot broth, tender chicken shredded in it, saving the heavy, chewy dumplings for last, sprinkled with salt and lemon pepper.  I would remember every cold night, warmed by the scoops out of the steaming pot.  I would remember my family, silently gathered around the table, burning our tongues on the hot broth because we cannot wait to eat the delicious tradition.  I would sip my pink milk, remembering my little mouse glass, the lunches of grilled cheese and crackers.  I would remember being young, as much as I could, and the special treat that strawberry Quick was.  The cool milk soothing my burnt tongue, I would eat until my stomach burst with warmth, heavy with winter.  Then, after the hot meal, I would enjoy the semi-frozen chocolate candy that my grandmother makes each Christmas.  Small, sweet balls of graham cracker, peanut butter and coconut, coated in dark chocolate, are a sure sign that the holidays have arrived.

My mouth waters as I think of the foods, able to recall the tastes as I imagine the glorious meal.  While delicious and satisfying, the meal would be made infinitely better because it is tied together with love.  My mom, leaning against the counter as she stirs the large, stainless steel pot of chicken never gets more thanks than on those nights.  My grandma, year after year baking, her tanned hands forming each ball and dipping them, freezing them and always keeping a few hidden until New Year’s for us.  My dad, stirring the gritty drink mix in as we kids climbed up to the table for lunch.  The last meal I would choose wouldn’t be some of the best food on earth, but it would be food that makes me feel indescribably loved.  It is food that links me to my family, food that brings me home.  There are plenty of other things I enjoy eating and restaurants I love, but this is the food that sustains me, the things that make eating life-giving.  What would your last meal be?

“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” –Mother Teresa

Summer Solace

Standard

“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.” –Bern Williams

I am not a summer girl.  I loved school and hated to see it end.  Yes, a little rest and freedom from homework was welcome, and the night owl in me embraced the late nights and sleeping through the morning, but in general, I do not love summer.  I hate the heat.  I miss school.  I get lonely and bored.  I get antsy.  I am not a swimmer, not a sunbather, not a traveler.  The months creep past with slow, oppressive heat and the stale smell of sweat and lethargy invades the house.

But my disdain for the sunny months does not dim the nostalgic ache I feel for childhood summers.  I hated them in the moment, but look back with longing for those small town heat waves.

Summers were hot.  I remember lying still on the living room carpet, fighting my brothers for position in front of the big metal fan that stood on our hearth.  At night, after darkness crept through the valley, we opened windows and amped up fans to blow what little cool air existed through the house.   I remember the little brown fan, oscillating on my dresser, and the welcome touch of its breeze as it swayed side to side in the darkness.  Mornings started with a welcome chill, clean bright sun stretching across the neighborhood.  The moments were brief before the sun began its cruel work.  We bathed in sunscreen before swimming, hid in the house during midday.  Summer nights came slow, late, and never as strong as we hoped.  The heat never left, but there is something magical about a starry night, barefoot on the warm cement and cool grass.

I remember splashing in our wading pool out on the cement.  My brothers and I would fill it with cold water from the hose, sliding through the cool stream that penetrated the heated water from the day before.  We wore swim masks and snorkels and would lay on our stomachs and “swim” circles around the pool, dragging our half-submerged bodies in circles to create a small current, and then let it push us as we sat still.  I played dress up in old bridesmaid dresses with my friend, pretending we were brides and princesses, and we picked questionable berries from the shrubs to use for “real” food to play house.  I watched Stick Stickley in my bedroom as I moved furniture and cleaned out drawers until I could no longer stand the afternoon sun baking my windows.  We painted pictures and wrote poems and tried new recipes for the fair.  It was frightening and thrilling to walk the halls and find our entries, some with ribbons, and find other names we recognized.  I can smell the 4H livestock and feel the straw beneath my feet as cotton candy melted on my tongue.

As I grew older, summers changed.  It meant summer school to get ahead and to get my driver’s permit.  It was my first regular job, working at the city’s summer camp.  That was when I got my first honest to goodness tan, spending afternoons watching kids swim in the public pool.  We were mobile and employed, so we spent the summer free.  We had barbecues and parties, spent late nights at the lake and in back yards.  We walked the empty streets and played running charades at the elementary school.

Then, just like Harry Potter’s owl, letters came each August containing our school supply lists.  I loved shopping for notebooks and pens, but secretly feared that first day back.  It was so scary to see everyone for the first time, see new faces, see how everyone had changed.  There was so much at stake when we returned, frantic phone calls comparing class lists and finding someone, anyone that was in our classes.  There were new uniforms to iron and new outfits to assemble.  There was so much anticipation in the end, such a far cry from the endless, lazy days before.

I remember shorts and swimsuits, popsicles and fireworks.  When I think of summer my skin grows feverish and the heat hugs its way around my body.  I can see my mom’s beautifully browned legs as I sat between them while she covered me in cool, creamy sun screen.  I can smell the metallic water, dribbling from the hose, as we made a “safe” path of wet cement, between our chalk artwork, to walk barefoot on.  The crickets and bicycle tires echo through the dark streets in the cool of late night, as the neighborhood comes to life.  I hate the sweat and the loneliness and stagnation.  I hate summer.  And as I remember those moments, the summers of childhood, tears fill my tired eyes and I know without a doubt that I would give anything to return to those blistering days.

“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”  –Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

“Until the very end.”

Standard

“My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” –Thomas Helm

Tonight, I went and saw Horrible Bosses for only six dollars–a steal!  On my way into the theater at 5:15, there was already a long line of fans waiting for the midnight opening of the final Harry Potter film.  I sit on my couch very jealous and slightly bitter that I am not at a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I get so excited every time I see the commercials and am bursting to see the movie.  By and large, I love the movies–not quite as much as the books–and love going to see them.  I have special memories of each film (Azkaban through Hallows, that is, but I’ll save those for tomorrow) and the people who love this world with me.  My biggest complaint about the movies tends to be that they are not long enough, leave out too much of the minutia that makes the books that I love.  I was deeply disappointed when I saw the runtime of this movie was just barely more than 2 hours.

Part of my sadness is that the movie has a lot to cover in very few minutes.  More than that, my disappointment is that it is all ending.  Harry has a very special place in my movie and book collections, and in my life.  I was late to the bandwagon, hopping on after film two and before book five.  I devoured the books, after being bullied into reading them, the summer before I started college.  In two weeks, between shifts at summer camp, I was finished and hooked.  There is such a rich world in the books, so much imagination that I deeply envy.  I am in awe of Rowling’s ability to create such vivid places and people effortlessly, with minimal words.  I have tried, and cannot pinpoint how she does it, but she does.  As a person who likes to write, and would love to be thought of as a writer, I am humbled.

More than enjoying the craft of the books, they were an escape for me.  When I was in college, I read the books all the way through twice a year: Christmas break and summer vacation.  The hours at home were long and contact with my college friends was limited.  I was busy with school and new people and lost touch with many of my high school friends.  Thus, when I came home, I was alone.  To stave off the isolation, I would stay up late at night, huddled in my mom’s rocking chair, letting myself drift off into Hogwarts.  I would let my magical friends embrace me when my real ones seemed to forget me.  It was an escape from my loneliness, a retreat.  I read all night, stopping only as dawn neared and I knew my parents would be waking.  I don’t know if I would have made it through those breaks alone without my Hogwarts crew.

Part of the solace that I found was in the fact that Harry and his friends were not popular, that they too knew isolation and awkwardness.  The summer after I graduated, I read the whole series one last time, ending with the final book.  That long, unemployed summer was the hardest yet.  I lived alone, did nothing, and left for one last trip to Hogwarts.  Since then, in four years, I haven’t read all of the books again.  That does not mean that I never will, because I still love them deeply and fall into a spectacular magic stupor when I dive in.  Something in me, something even in my loneliness, has not needed them.  Perhaps when temperatures drop and days shorten I will feel more drawn to that world, but I am finding it hard to believe it has been four years since I have embarked on that journey.

The unopened books do not mean that Harry, Ron and Hermione have not been with me these past years.  I have seen them on the silver screen, and thought of them.  I have talked about them and bonded with people over them.  I felt a deep bond with Harry (which I realize is odd, because he is not real) as I settled into my job.  I lived two lives: one, the before, where I was important, impressive.  The other, the now, in which I am insignificant and disrespected.  I had a Hogwarts, I was known and praised.  And then I fell into a world where the cupboard was too good for me, where dignity had no place.  I clung to the fact that someone else knew this pain, lived two lives unrecognizable to the other.

There is a poignant sadness in closing this chapter.  After the books were finished, no matter how satisfied or not I was, there was always a film to look forward to, something to keep the world alive.  Now, with the stroke of midnight, that world closes.  Yes, I will reread and rewatch, but there is no mystery, no anticipation–all secrets and surprises are revealed.  I love how the books feel familiar in my hands and words settle into their places in my memory.  I have read this before, this is mine, I know this.  I like comfort and familiar, but there is that small, daring part of me that wants to have an adventure, to sneak a peek into the unknown.  That little adventurer inside cannot wait to see the movie this weekend, and simultaneously wants to put it off forever.  If only I had a time-turner…


“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.” Christopher Morley

sO lOng Oprah

Standard

 “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  –Anatole France

I know that this is a week late, but I’ve been thinking about the end of Oprah this past week.  The final episode of her show is strongly tied to the upcoming wedding of my best friend, in an odd way.

I am not a fan of Oprah.  I do not follow her book club.  I do not watch her show.  I don’t cling to every word that her drones spout, especially Phil.  I don’t see her as a saint, a prophet, or demigod.  I mostly disdain her for her hubris, her cockiness, her pretense.  It was a very, very rare day that I turned on her show to see what the topic was, and even more rare that I watched.  I caught perhaps three shows in the past year, and one of them was the very last.

I won’t say that I watched like an execution gallery, wanting to make sure it ended.  I watched for much the same reason I watched the royal wedding–it was history.  I wasn’t working, and there was nothing better to do or see, so I watched history take place.  The previous day I had seen snippets of the orgy of Oprah love that took place.  I was disgusted with the celebration of her, the emotion leaving love behind and venturing into worship.  It was all too much for me to stomach.  That being said, I’m not sure what compelled me to keep watching the finale.  It started with her declaring her desire to impart all her wisdom to her audience… again, the gross self-indulgence.

However, I will, humbly, admit that her last show was not horrible.  In fact, much of what she said was, surprisingly, wise and important to hear: find your passion and pursue it, acknowledge and validate others, give God His due.  And while I will give her kudos for her message, I was moved much more that I expected, no thanks to her sermon. 

I watched the show and thought about the countless episodes I watched when I was younger.  I remember watching her and Donahue with my mom, after school.  I remember hot afternoons in my stuffy bedroom in front of the old tv watching her talk.  The topics were far over my head, but I drank it all in.  I remember when her theme song changed for her tenth season and marveled that that was fifteen years ago.  The show is just about as old as I am.  And now it’s gone.  I don’t miss her and the show will not leave a hole in my life, but I am sad to see it end.  It is just another thing that is changing.  It is one more small piece of my childhood that has faded away.  The show reminds me of my mom.  It reminds me of being small and precocious.  Now I am old, average, and alone and hating to admit it.  I deeply dislike Oprah, but the end of her soapbox was much sadder than I was prepared to admit.

And now to E, my best friend, and her wedding.  I am excited and happy for her as she begins this new part of her life.  Since she has been back in town, I almost always hang out with her and her husband-to-be together.  I haven’t had her to myself for a long time now, and that is fine.  I miss our girl talk and being able to say anything I thought without a guy there, but I like him and we have fun all together. 

Nevertheless, her wedding signals an end to our relationship.  I know she is not about to leave me behind and stop our friendship in its tracks.  He is really respectful of our talk time, even when we’re all together.  But now, with those two little words, every one of her relationships changes.  She still has family and friends, and I know that she values them deeply, but he will become her first and foremost.  He is her family.  He is her roommate.  He is her best friend.  He is her person, her world.  I do not say this with bitterness or cynicism–this is exactly what a marriage should be.  He should be everything to her and for her.  That does not make the change easier.

I’m happy that E is happy and starting life as a “we.”  I am happy that Oprah will never again tell me what I ought to eat or read or do.  I am glad that life is changing and growing and that exciting new worlds are beginning.  But I am also saddened by what must end, what this newness closes.  It breaks my heart to know that my roommate will never again be my roommate.  She is going to be a wife, someday a mother, and we can’t be the same.  I am in disbelief that something so common, so mundane from my childhood is no more.  The little things that help bring me back are so precious, and another one is gone.  I don’t do change well.  I don’t like ends and goodbyes.  I don’t like newness and diving into something with no direction.  While life continues and the world gets bigger, I feel an ache for things to stay the same.  I know that they cannot, and will not, but in all the happiness, a quiet sadness sits still and watches it all pass by. 

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.”  –Joan Wallach Scott

The speed of childhood

Standard

 “But to be most effective, the faces of the children would need to be painted in a blur, the way all children’s faces truly are.  For they blur as the run; they blur as they grow and change so fast; and they blur to keep us from loving them too deeply, for their protection, and also for ours.”  –Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 

In the past week, I got to visit my babies that I’ve had the privilege of watching live.  My baby cousins, now little boys with hobbies and voices and lives, and the children I babysit, now in preschool and building Lego houses, are not the tiny ones I once knew.  I have held them and fed them bottles, burped them and felt their tiny fingers squeeze my own.  I have propped them on my hips and stroked their wispy hair.  And now they are all walking, talking tiny people.  They like some food, hate others.  They tell jokes and giggle and tell me stories.  They say my name and climb into my lap all on their own.  In the past four years, I have stagnated and life has passed with no noticeable changes.  For them, life has made them unrecognizable.  I love their little toddler voices and the little boy stories they tell.

To see these children grow is bittersweet.  They bring us all so much joy as they develop and change.  They become more complete and whole as we watch.  I do not see them nearly as often as I would like, so each time I meet new children, find new little lives that have developed.  I watch as their scribbles straighten into shaky letters and words.  Their steps stabilize and evolve into endless running.  I love seeing them become more every day, but I miss those tiny bodies that slept and cried and just wanted to be cuddled.  It’s the pull everyone feels, every parent agonizes over: an ache to keep the baby frozen in time and an excitement to watch the child come into their own. 

I watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week too.  The Chronicles of Narnia were a fixture of my childhood.  I can remember sitting on the couch, next to my dad, in my brothers’ room, listening to the stories before bed.  But, in the scariest way possible, the memories are fading.  They stories are hard to remember, the details vague.  I can’t remember the nightgown I wore or which side of my dad I sat on.  I remember the story time, feel my heart swell each time I hear the books even mentioned, but the details are fuzzy.  It scares me that twenty years have melted away and that life will never return. 

 Watching the movie, I lost it and cried uncontrollably as the children slept on a dark beach.  They lay next to the fire, Eustace quietly crying his giant dragon tears.  I felt that fear, that pain so deeply.  I wake up and have no idea how I became this monster, this grown-up with freedom and power and authority.  I don’t know where my old life went and how I managed to let it slip away.  It is lonely and uncertain and all I can think is how much I want to be back home with my parents protecting me.  Somehow, my life got away from me.  That story, those words that lulled me to sleep all those nights, are forever a memory, never again reality.  I don’t get to go back, to return to those nights.  This, more than anything, breaks my heart. 

I marvel at the little lives I get to watch unfold.  I am a witness to their stories being written, their memories branded, their persons formed.  I love knowing more of them, privy to more of their thoughts and ideas and joys.  I do mourn the quiet, small times when they couldn’t play tee ball or chase after the dog.  I miss the soft weight of their tiny bodies curled against my chest.  I am trying to remember to enjoy them just as they are, each time I see them.  It is exciting to tell my parents about the changes they have to miss, the wonders of the everyday.  As I was told all about cars and school, I was just struck by how fast is has all gone by.  It is a reminder that each day is only here for a moment, that things change and people grow.  The first girls I ever babysat are now graduating from high school. 

The years streak by and there is joy in the changes that they bring.  The danger is not savoring the changes as they come, enjoying the process of life.  The more I drink in the present and force myself to be present, the more salient the memories become, sinking deeper into me.  Those nights, listening to stories of dragons and fauns and witches, my mind was not wandering.  I was not worried about the next day or regretting the one passed.  I was quiet and still, drinking in the story as it happened. 

“…Stop this train I want to get off and go home again/ I can’t take this speed it’s moving in/ I know I can’t/ ‘Cause now I see I’ll never stop this train…”  –John Mayer, “Stop This Train”