Never one to shy away from telling a good story, I willingly share them. Most are random thoughts that arrive while eating dinner, watching TV, or walking down the street. Sometimes they are triggered by a smell or sound or a bit of conversation, which creates a spark. Many of them center around food, which I think is interesting on its own, but each story – each memory – has its own warmth that spreads on my soul.
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My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Perry, was kind, warm, and appropriately stern. Kindergarten memories include how much I liked to play house, take naptime on a towel that I brought from home, and eat graham crackers and milk for snack. I remember that Mrs. Perry played the piano. She was also missing a portion of one of her thumbs. It was a little creepy, and you rarely got a glimpse of it, but when you did, it was like seeing something you should not. It was electric.
The kindergarten playground was fenced in and separate from the “big kids” playground. It had its own grass, tarmac, and sand box. On the last day of school, we ran through the sprinklers and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As a first grader, we had more freedom to roam the campus. Outside the teacher’s lounge, and adjacent to the first grade classrooms and cafeteria, was a large planter with several fragrant gardenia bushes. I was near this bush once when Mrs. Perry exited the teacher’s lounge holding something very interesting, a fruit that I had never seen.
She removed a section and explained how to eat it. I was mesmerized.
“You carefully peel this away,” she said as she removed the white, velum-like pith and exposed the jewel-toned fruit.
“You eat these little seeds, but must be very careful to keep the juice from staining your clothes,” she continued in her kind voice, and popped a few seeds into her mouth.
She handed me a section and a napkin and watched as I showed her what I learned. I put some seeds in my mouth and was surprised at how juicy, sweet and tart they were.
“What is this called?” I asked.
“A pomegranate,” she said and started my lifelong adoration for Persephone’s fruit.
She once joined my mom and me for lunch at Whataburger. I remember sitting across from her in the booth’s hard bench, watching her open the silver and orange wrapper from the burger, raise it to her mouth, and take a bite.
I remember thinking to myself, in amazement, “Wow. Mrs. Perry eats hamburgers.”
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The garage in my house on Antonio Lane had a ping-pong table, a washer and dryer, my dad’s workbench and tools, and a second refrigerator/freezer. It also had shelves of mason jars filled with jams, jellies, and pickles that my mom canned; “the rafters” where all sorts of things were stored, like camping equipment and Christmas decorations; and other clutter that one expects in a garage.
Once, my friend Jerry and I were in the garage having a burping contest. We would take turns gulping 7-Up straight out of a two-liter bottle, burping as loud and long as we could, and laughing at each other’s accomplishment. We would try to burp the alphabet, our friend’s names, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and anything else we could say to make each other hysterical. At the time, this was great fun.
Jerry was sitting on the washing machine when he gulped an excessive amount of soda and began what would have been an Olympic medal-winning belch. As the burp came, so did the soda and he threw up into his cupped hands. Frightened by what just happened, he screamed, “Help me!” opened his hands and dropped it all over him, the floor, and the washing machine.
My mom ran from the kitchen to assess the commotion. I remember her exclaiming, “Jesus Christ! What on earth?” and I think she included her patented “Lord love a duck!” She helped clean up Jerry, but we had to clean the washing machine and the floor.
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My family camped often, either just us or with other families, like the Sharps and the McCarthy’s. Camping memories have been top of mind while planning my upcoming backpacking excursion. The smell of bacon and coffee in the morning, wandering in the trees until late afternoon, fishing in lakes and playing in streams, and roasting marshmallows after dinner. Listening to the adults talk and laugh while drifting off to sleep in my mom’s lap, smelling of burnt wood when crawling into my sleeping bag, unzipping the tent in the middle of the night and walking in the cold with a flashlight to find a place to pee, and gazing up at the many stars in the sky.
One time, we stumbled upon a field of Brussels sprouts. Our campsite may have been adjacent to a farm or they may have been growing wild. Regardless, we all picked some and had Brussels sprouts with butter and salt and pepper for dinner. They were delicious! Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables to this day.
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As long as I could remember, my parents had a garden. They grew lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, radishes, zucchini, bell peppers – you name it, they grew it. One year, we even had corn! We had two artichoke plants, too. Each year we would rotate which one we ate from; the other one would flower. Artichoke flowers are stunning, gorgeous, deep purple thistles.
We had a screened backyard patio and ate dinner outside most summer nights, many of which included eating artichokes. Dipping the steamed leaves into melted butter or a mustard/mayo dip, scraping the nutty-flavored meat off with my teeth, cutting out the choke and savoring the heart until the last bite was gone. When I eat artichokes, I think of those summer nights.
In our front yard, we had an apricot tree that sprouted from nowhere. Once mature, it bore ample fruit. It was great to eat them right off the tree, nice a warm from the sun. My mom made jams and preserves. Apricot jam is my favorite jam flavors to this day.
I remember there was a woman who did not live on our street, or even near our street, who used to come and pick our apricots. A poacher! I remember my mom being at the kitchen sink, which faced the front year, and cranking open the kitchen window to tell her to stop picking our apricots. “Lord love a duck!”
The window crank is what really captures my attention in this memory. It was a late 1960s and early 1970s tract home window with a metal crank that swung the window open. It took ten or fifteen cranks to open the window. You had to have a fast wrist to open them quickly, especially when trying to curtail poached apricots.
This ethical lesson did not stop me from poaching my favorite fruit, cherries. My friend, Tiffany, lived directly behind a cherry orchard and in the summertime, we hopped her fence, Safeway or Brentwood paper bags in tow, and spent hours picking cherries. We would fill bag upon bag with cherries, like five or six bags each (it seems). I remember when our task was complete we would sit in her backyard, eat cherries and spit out the pits.
I am sure those cherry orchards no longer exist. It is likely they are now homes or a strip mall. But man, those were good days! And, yes, I was very regular then.
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I remember a dessert that my sister Christy invented called “Delights”. Delights were the “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of ice cream sundae.
They included different ice cream flavors, peanut butter, jam, raisins, cereal, bananas, chocolate sauce, and any other topping in the refrigerator. They were … well … delightful. Rich, sweet, sticky, and chewy. Looking back, I do not know why my parents let us have this sugar feast before bedtime, but we didn’t complain. When Christy whipped up the Delights, everyone was happy.
I recently made Delights for dessert. Mine were no match for what she could concoct. I was missing key ingredients and had to improvise with some left over chocolate chip cookies and other things. They were rich, sweet, sticky, and chewy. The essence was there, but it wasn’t like the real thing. It was like craving McDonald’s French fries but settling for Burger King’s. It just wasn’t the same.
Maybe in June, when I am home for my nephew’s high school graduation, she’ll make some Delights.
|there is ice cream in there , i promise ...|
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I do not recall ever setting up a lemonade stand when I was little. In New York, occasionally kids will set up a table outside their apartment building and hock their wares. One such entrepreneur, just a few buildings down from mine, was selling lemonade quite enthusiastically. He and his little brother were dancing around, happy little kids, while his nanny looked wearily on. He was shouting at the top of his lungs, “Pink lemonade for one dollar!” over and over and over again.
“Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar!”
The lemonade was pink and it did cost one dollar, but it was also watery and not very flavorful. He was so excited about what he was doing it was hard to not buy a cup.
I cannot help but wonder if he will remember this day when he is older. What will he look back on recall? That his mom thought up the idea? That he screamed his throat hoarse? That he bought something special with the money he made?
Will he remember this moment when he tries to convince his children to set up a lemonade stand? Will he tell them about one warm day, when he lived in New York City, he set up a lemonade stand and screamed out to get people to notice?
And will his children laugh as he recalls and reenacts his high-pitched, carnival barker-like sales call “Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar!”? Will his children follow suit and set up their own stand, and create their own memory to tell their kids, or their friends, or to others who happen to read about their childhood memories on their blogs?
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