Food, Family, and Memory

david-hockneys-a-bigger-splash-1967-300x300.jpgAs a little girl, I loved to swim, still do. Just about any chance I got to go swimming, I would. I dreamed of having my own pool. My bigger dreams were to be an Olympic swimmer and also to swim the English Channel.

Pools and water became an obsession as well as a love. I would look into my backyard and fantasize a swimming pool. It never appeared. My dad always lived in an apartment building with a pool so there was usually a place for me to swim. When I was older and using his for exercise, I would have to share it with his elderly neighbors. They could get nasty and it was tricky navigating around their crankiness. Some of them became my new best friends in long as we stayed in our own lanes.

When I saw the David Hockney series of pools, I totally understood how the swimming pool was his muse.

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savagecookie.jpgWhen I was a kid growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, my favorite food in the whole wide world were sugar cookies from Savage's Bakery in Homewood. Made fresh daily, from before I could even walk, I used to go in there with my mother to buy bread and other baked goods, knowing that every trip to Savage's always ended with a big fat old-fashioned buttery cookie, cooked to the perfect yellow consistency and coated with the best flakes of sugary sweetness that would melt in your mouth.

Old Mr. Savage used to laugh everytime I came in the door saying he remembered me coming there when I couldn't even open the door by myself, always wide-eyed in hopes that there was a fresh batch of cookies hot out of the oven.   Whenever he or one of the women behind the counter saw me walking down the street, they would usually greet me  holding one out for me as soon as I walked inside.

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chocolate cake milkMy dad wasn’t much of a cook! He even burned the bacon. His idea of making baked beans was to put them in a pan of boiling water – in the can with the top still on. This might actually work, although the only time I remember him doing it, he forgot about them, the water boiled down, the can exploded (EXPLODED!!!), luckily no one was in the kitchen at the time, and a lot of the baked beans flew up to the ceiling and rested there. I do not remember if my mother thought this was funny.

He was a great barbeq-uer but that’s a different story.

He, also, had a ridiculously high metabolism and ate more than anyone in the family practically until his dying day, (seemingly without much of a weight problem, or cholesterol problem, I might add.) When we were little, he used to get up in the middle of the night sometimes, wake one of us, and we’d tiptoe down to the kitchen for a slice of home-made pie or chocolate cake OR Dad’s one and only specialty not cooked on a grill -- although curiously with grill in its title -- grilled cheese sandwiches.

My dad had a theory that one of the reasons people wake up in the middle of the night is because they’re hungry, so if you ate a piece of pie or cake or a grilled cheese sandwich (preferably with a glass of milk), you would fall right back to sleep. Note: I have not tested this theory since childhood.

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kris-alan-and-me-in-70s-or-early-80s-245x300I cannot trace the exact moment, but somehow we started off on the wrong foot. And like a big wave, our discontent swelled over time, neither of us knowing the origin of it. We had both dug our heels in the sand.

When my sister-in-law, Kris, turned the big 4-0, my brother threw her a party. A really big one. Kris had always been a fan of Rita Coolidge, so naturally, Alan booked Rita for a private concert to honor his wife. He went all out.

As the big day approached, my one-day-to-be-husband urged, “You should really get along with Kris.” I agreed. I thought it was time to bury the hatchet.

So I did.

I went to a hardware store and bought a hatchet. I also purchased a beautiful gift bag that I filled with sand. Actually, cat litter. Where else can you get sand? And I buried that hatchet.

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lit christmas treeThere is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics." - Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

"Magic is just science we don't understand yet." - Sharon McCarragher


As I sent him out the door into the arctic darkness of a Michigan morning, I told my son that I was out of things to write about. "Give me something." I implored, "anything that pops into your head."

"Christmas lights" was his offering, as he left, bed-headed and sleep-eyed.

This was not the working of a fertile imagination; in order to leave the house he had to pass the lit Christmas tree, the lit garland in the foyer, and the unlit icicle lights on the front porch. It did, however, ignite the proverbial spark in me to write not only about Christmas lights, but about all of the magic that I still believe in, despite 47 years of exposure to the cynicism, disillusionment, pain and loss that exist in the world. I have seen the little man behind the curtain many, many times, but I still believe in the Great and Powerful Oz. Sue me.

As a child, I believed in all kinds of magic - Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the fountain in the mall into which one threw pennies and made wishes. My birthday was a kind of magical celebration of my wonderfulness, and the discovery of a woolly caterpillar on a tree trunk, a toad in the basement window well or a lady bug on a leaf was a unique and amazing event. I also believed that the animals could speak on Christmas Eve, and used to fall asleep on the floor next to our big Airedale, Katie, waiting for her to say something to me. Later, it gave me incalculable pleasure to recreate Santa et al for my own children, leaving elaborate trails of jelly beans through the house (before we had the dogs), making glitter-pen trails on letters from the Tooth Fairy, and simulating reindeer tracks in the snow.

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