How many times have we found ourselves in situations wherein we wish we could take something back? A few choice words, a scornful look, an awkward handshake, a wrong name, a bad lane change, a premature text, a distasteful joke and the list goes on. What’s interesting, of course, is how we all choose to deal with it once it ‘comes out’, so to speak? Do we Scamper, make excuses, own it, hide, turn red-faced, apologize or simply ignore/disregard that it even happened? We did a lot of ignoring in my family and not a lot of apologies were ever given that I remember, anyway. Not surprisingly then, the same pattern of ‘ignorance is bliss’ would follow me into young adulthood. Also, not surprisingly, it turns out that ‘sweeping things under the carpet’ does NOT work well. Especially in relationships. And so, I have worked hard over the past…
A dash of this and a dash of that! Hah! What a joke. Even with a very specific recipe, there’s a better than 70% chance the dish won’t be edible. This is one of those stories.
It all started one bright and sunny, okay “hot,” Thanksgiving in Southern California. You might say ended, but that would be getting ahead of the story.
Most families have their traditional holiday meals, and mine was no exception. Southern cooking—oh yeah. I dream of the shreds of ham hock floating in a sea of collard greens. candied yams, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. “Yum” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I don’t need a recipe to cook Southern. I can cook Southern blindfolded. It comes natural, even after having been away from the South for 40 years.
This year I decided to add a little variety and make a staple of many other families—cranberry gelatin mold.
My girlfriend assured me this was a “never fail” recipe, even for me. Right! “There’re only five ingredients, and one of them is water. Basically two steps. You can do it!” I can do this. I envisioned this beautiful, red cranberry mold sitting in the center of the table—decorative and delicious!
I followed the simple directions to the letter; I didn’t miss a single one. Hope springs eternal, right?
Everyone is milling around the kitchen, setting the table, finding serving utensils and checking to see if anything is forgotten.
“Oh, I made jello mold,” I announced triumphantly. I slid it gingerly from the fridge. The platter was ready. This was such an unusual event—by that I meant me cooking something new. Does jello mold count as cooking? Not sure, but anyway. Everyone was watching as I deftly inverted the mold on the platter. I gave the mold a little shake, just to make sure it was loose. I began to remove the mold.
It was obvious immediately—this was not going well. There was a pink, primordial like ooze seeping from beneath the mold. Should I lift it off more? I had no choice. The mold was free and so was the jello ooze. There are no words to describe the hideous, unappetizing goop on the platter. My son was laughing uncontrollably. Everyone else was smiling with a few snickers, but for the most part polite. But this was not the first cooking debacle my son had witnessed.
He grabbed his phone. “I’ve got to post a picture of this on FaceBook!”
“No! No!” I lunged for him and his phone. He’s got a good six inches on me, but my daughter-in-law in a sympathetic moment, grabbed the phone from behind. I sighed.
I mean really, it’s November in the desert and still hot! Anything could melt, right?
“Get under the bed, get under the bed.” If we weren’t scared before Martha said that, we were then.
My two younger sisters, shorter and faster than I, skittered under and left no room for me..
“Where do I go? Where can I hide?” My nine-year-old voice trembled in fear.
“In the closet. Get way in the back.” As Martha shoved me, I was overwhelmed by the comforting smell of Mom’s Tweed cologne. I sure wish she were here. She could make this stop. I know she could.
Then we heard the loudest noise I’d ever heard-bang! “I’m going to shoot somebody!” His voice was deep and loud. His Southern accent was stronger than ours. Like “Ahm gonna shoooot sumbuddy.”
We cowered. “Are you alright?” Martha whispered to my sisters.
“Uh huh.” I could tell they were crying. I wasn’t crying—yet, but I was hugging Martha so tight, she could hardly breathe and she was trying to pry my fingers away from her waist. I just squeezed tighter. What was happening?
And then we heard it again. It seemed louder this time. We waited, not breathing. Nothing. What happened? Was he coming inside. Were we the somebodies he was going to kill. I felt sticky all over and my throat hurt from clenching my teeth.
Finally, Martha said, “wait here.” “Don’t go, don’t go.” We were crying loudly. So what if he heard us. “Don’t leave us. We’re scared.”
Martha hugged me and pried my fingers away. “I’ll be right back.” Then she kissed the top of my head.
“Come over here. Come get in the closet with me.” Shaking and trembling, my sisters tentatively snaked the short distance from the bed to the closet. We huddled tightly.
Then we heard the back door close. “It’s okay. Come on out.”
Martha took us into the living room and sat us down on the sofa. “Your mom will be here any minute. Everything’s okay.” We heard the sirens and wanted to jump up and run out and look. “Stay here!” Martha was shouting and tears ran down her face. Martha had never raised her voice at us, ever.
Later, much later, Mom told us that our neighbor, whom we had never met, killed himself with a shot-gun. We didn’t even know what that meant. We didn’t know anything about dying or being killed. But we nodded like we did. We didn’t ask any questions. We knew we didn’t want the answers.
Tonight for dinner I ate a delicious, spicy bean burger and nothing was killed in order for me to have a healthy, high protein meal. Saturday night, my friends and I cooked Spinach Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms. Yes, a few mushrooms had to come out of the dark, but they didn’t come kicking and screaming.
For almost twenty years I was a vegetarian, eating animal by-products, i.e. yogurt, cheese, eggs. Then I moved to Imperial Valley, “Where the Sun Spends the Winter.” That was in the year 2000. There was no health food store and it was uncommon to find organic anything in one of the few supermarkets. Where had I landed! I felt like a foreigner in a world of meat-eaters. Everywhere I looked: meat, meat everywhere. Tri-tip (which is a cut of beef specific to this area), steak and ribs. Eating out for me became a thing of the past.
And it wasn’t long before my vegetarian lifestyle became a vague memory. I began to eat fish. We all know how healthy salmon is. And somehow we convince ourselves that it is not cruel to kill and eat them. You know that those fish tossed on the deck of a ship are screaming in pain, don’t you? Don’t laugh; it’s true.
January of this year I couldn’t do it anymore. Fish feel pain. Fish have mothers. For the first time I heard the word carnism. It basically means that eating animals is a belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals. Carnism is invisible in that if we had to slaughter our own meat, we wouldn’t be so willing to eat it.
I’m pretty much a city girl. I still remember visiting my grandparents in rural Texas and being chased around the yard by my cousin swinging the head of a decapitated chicken. I was horrified. My aunt chopped the head off that chicken while it was still alive. I had gathered eggs from that very chicken in morning. Alive, she chopped the head off an alive chicken. I didn’t become a vegetarian then, but I pretty much blocked the image of the murder of that chicken from my mind and continued to eat fried chicken after church every Sunday.
Of course we eat only certain animals. We have some arbitrary system and belief system that drives our choices. Would you eat stew made from Labrador Retriever? OMG!! We can’t even imagine it. My sweet little chihuhuas, Taco and Daisy for dinner—no way in hell! I would fight to the death to save my dearest friends.
I promised myself I would keep my posts to around 400 words, and I haven’t said all the words I have on the subject of carnism, but I’m going to quit writing. So stop and think when you cut your steak, chicken, pork or fish tonight. What if it were Daisy! Bon appetit!
When I look at who my friends are, I am often surprised. The women I spend the most time with are between the ages of 20 and 40. I am almost 69. I never even noticed that my friends were so much younger than me, or at least that so many of them were, until recently. I’m not sure what changed, but I’m glad it did.
I am a personal trainer at a local gym and, well not to brag but it does make me darn proud, there aren’t many women my age who can keep up with me. Even though I don’t seek out young women to work out with, we seem to find each other.
Working out together is in some ways an intimate experience. We help each other with our form, which means looking at each other’s physical strengths and weaknesses. We know what makes each other sweat, laugh, and cry. Forty year’s difference in age doesn’t seem like much; fitness is a great equalizer.
Last night I had three of my young workout partners over for dinner. I wasn’t paying much attention to their conversation as I was clearing the table, but I heard them talking about someone who had made such a positive difference in their lives, inspired them to go college, and was proof that obstacles were just challenges in disguise. “Who are ya’ll talking about?” They started laughing, almost hysterically. “What’s so funny?”
“We’re talking about you!”
“You guys are embarrassing me.”
That’s when I saw it clearly for the first time. I could be mother or grandmother to these women, but instead they are my best friends. When they started telling me the ways I had inspired them, it was my turn to laugh.
Yes, I inspire them, but they do the same for me–and they motivate me. They keep me focused on giving my best in a workout, they are interested in my life and never me old—well not much! They respect my education, my fitness, and what they call “wisdom.” I call it survival strategies. If I didn’t work in a gym, I can’t imagine how our lives would have ever crossed. I love my job, and like many of you, feel it is my craft. These young women have been my inspiration to refine my craft, continue to improve, and learn. Because of them, I am the top trainer in our club. They have helped me better at almost everything I do. Because of them, I really feel that I have turned my job into a craft and look forward to going to work everyday.
The sixties were coming to a close and everything that was important was happening on a college campus—or at least I thought it was. Civil rights, women’s rights, protests against the Vietnam war, fighting for the rights of migrant workers, the Beatles, hippies, the draft, getting the vote for 18-year-olds. But I wasn’t going to college.
Okay, so I can’t go to college. I won’t let this stop me. I will be part of the social revolution!
Thankfully, my mother had insisted I take a typing class in high school. “Just in case,” she said. Just in case what? “You’ll always be able to get as a secretary.”
In case I don’t get married was what she meant. In case I don’t go to college was what I thought.
But just like college, marriage did not look like it was going to happen. Living at home wasn’t’ in my plan either. Neither was Timothy Leary’s philosophy of “Tuning in and dropping out.” I needed a job. So, secretary it was.
How could I explain my fall from activist grace to my friends. I couldn’t admit that I had succumbed to the evil establishment. Women’s libbers were encouraged to resist the society’s traditional roles, pull away from the stereotype—be all we could be, whatever that was. And it wasn’t a housewife or secretary.
I felt like a social activist camouflaged as a secretary. I had to redeem myself in the eyes of my fellow resistance fighters.
Did I mention I lived in the Deep South? No? Well, secretaries in the South in the 60’s and 70’s wore the clothes from hell—dresses, nylons, pumps. No pants, no bare legs. Kathryn Hepburn was not a highly regarded role model for young women. But this was it! This was my cause! Pants in the office, trousers as Kathryn would say.
Images of Gloria Steinem’s revelations of the degradation of women as Playboy Bunnies flashed before me. I would expose the misogynistic dress code and fight for women to be allowed pants in the office.
I was ready to defend the rights of women!
I stood outside my boss’s office door building up my courage. I smoothed my A-line skirt and tucked in my shirt.
“Mr. Sanders. I want to talk to you about the requirement that women in our office wear skirts or dresses. Women should be able to wear pants in the office.”
“You are absolutely right,” he said.
Who knew he was such a liberal! I began rehearsing a more hard won version of this victory to my friends depicting myself as the quiet revolutionary.