Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Wooden Tray ~ by Andrew Bleke, Atlanta, Georgia

The wooden tray sat on top of the white Sears refrigerator for as long as I could remember.

Each day, my Dad would come home from work. I could hear the backdoor open. He would walk to the refrigerator and drop his keys into the tray. It was easy for him to do because he was taller than the refrigerator. He would then kiss my Mom, who had been working on dinner. After making a drink, Dad would stop again at the tray before heading to his chair in the den. There were items that my Mom had placed in the tray. They were the items of the day…..letters from relatives in Indiana or Massachusetts, recently developed photographs from a family outing, school report cards, an obituary or perhaps a quote for some home repair. The tray was a snapshot of current events for our household.

We moved into the house in the winter of 1963. I was 4 years old and could only see the edge of the tray when I looked up at the refrigerator. I could only get access to the tray by climbing onto the kitchen counter and then peering down into the tray. This would take place when my parents weren’t nearby. I found that there were other items that I was unaware of……coins, matchbooks, old sticks of cinnamon gum, a house key and an occasional pack of Salem cigarettes. As I grew older and taller, the wooden tray held less interest for me.

About three years ago, my brother, Eric, and I were helping my parents move from their house to an apartment in Asheville, NC. They had downsized on two other occasions in the past twenty years or so. Now, my parents were 80 years old. We were sorting through things making decisions about this or that. Dad picked up the wooden tray. I hadn’t seen it in years. He said it was unusual, in that it had been cut from a single piece of wood. He went on to say that it belonged to my maternal grandfather, who was a carpenter. The tray was in his home in Milton, MA. Dad said “This tray use to sit….” And I stopped him. I said” I know where that tray was’. He said “please take it home with you” and I did.

Note from Allison and Marcia:  Objects often hold memories for us just like Andrew's dad's wooden tray.  Take the time to find an object that holds a memory for you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Jello and Womanhood ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Memories of food and of the women in my family are closely related. A time honored way to care for loved ones, certain culinary offerings represent to me the temperament and personhood of the women who were the elders in my family. Today is my late mother’s birthday and I suppose I will always miss her. Some of her meals were classics in our family and one in particular set a living example for me.

Mary Martha Rowland Rhodes was a loving mother and a creative woman. In the winter of 1970 she extended an invitation to my boyfriend for Sunday dinner. Mama asked me what he especially liked to eat. The guy, later to become her son in law, was not a “picky eater” I replied. This sort of sets most cooks minds to ease. I knew he would enjoy her roast beef, green beans, squash soufflé and sour cream pound cake which were regular Sunday items. Then I added, “I know he really likes gelatin salads with fruit.”

Gelatin salads were not a menu item at my home but Mama was undaunted. Equipped with her ideas, but without the aid of a recipe, she embarked on her creative process. The lack of a recipe was an earmark of Mama’s creative process. For instance, when sewing she would often say, “Anybody can make it like that” as she added or removed a detail from the frock pictured on the pattern. “This will be different. You won’t see yourself coming and going.” For her this meant the outfit would be special. For me it meant I would indeed not see myself in anything that resembled an off the rack item.

Back to the cooking episode: The dusty jello mold, which had heretofore been only part of the kitchen’s early American wall décor, was taken down and put in the sink for washing. Her thoughts were to fill the gelatin with an array of wonderful fruit and place something whipped in the middle of the wreath- like mold. Planning ahead as good cooks do, the jello salad was made the night before and placed in the refrigerator. It would be bright red and in the center there would be a mound of whipped sinful stuff to slather on top.

Sunday arrived and we girls helped Mama put out the meat platter and the bowls of vegetables. My sister Becky and I were told to have a seat while she unmolded the salad. We waited patiently at the table until she would present us all with the salad extraordinaire. Then we heard, “Dadgummit!”(the closest my mother ever came to cursing) coming from the kitchen. A mélange of pineapple, strawberries and bananas was swimming in a platter of runny jello. Boyfriend and the rest of the family rushed in and laughed heartily. Disappointed, but ever- resourceful (a child of the Great Depression never let food go to waste), Mama set out to redeem the jello. “Go ahead and let’s have the blessing and I’ll be right back.” We began to eat and a few moments later she arrived with the same runny concoction but now it was dressed up with cream cheese she had piped in swirls with the cake decorator. More laughter and the offer of straws ensued. She never missed a beat.

Mama’s successes were punctuated with the occasional flop….but that seems to be the price you pay for being creative. Some crafts may have looked a bit weird, but she could help them evolve into an interesting creation. Each flop was merely a challenge to do it differently or better. She saw promise in odd junk. There was the year she used a drawer full of tops from little concentrated orange juice cans and fashioned an award winning Christmas display around our front door. We all thought her idea a bit wacky and yearned for a simple wreath or a Santa on the roof until we saw the final product.

Mama left us almost 6 years ago. I miss her terribly. I miss her cooking, her gentle loving and her beautiful crafty hands. But one legacy she left me is represented by that jello salad. She taught me I could live life without a recipe. Sometimes it would fail, sometimes it would fly. I could be different and that would be special. When I hurt I could trust the genetic resiliency represented by that jello episode to make something good out of what seems a flop. Thanks, Mama.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ouch! Another topic we'll examine during our Spring Workshop Series: Life's Exclamations!

We all have times in our life when we were hurt or when we hurt others. Many of those times turn into learning experiences, path corrections, or at least experiences that made us stronger and who we are today. Join us as we gently explore those Ouch! times in our lives and figure out how to express our memories in order to learn more about ourselves and others.

We still have openings for the Our Story Connection Spring Workshop Series: Life's Exclamations, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which will be held on Thursday evenings: March 31st, and April 14th, 21st, and 28th, from 6:30-8 PM at 16A. Lenox Pointe, Atlanta 30324. The cost is $15.00 per workshop or $50.00 for all four, paid in full at the first session. Email us at to make reservations. We would love to have you join us!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All My Loving ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, GA

I became a woman on February 9, 1964. No, this metamorphosis wasn’t based on the purchase of my first bra at Belks, nor was it that messy surprise necessitating a special talk between my mother and me. In fact, it had nothing to do with underwear or the organs south of my bellybutton. Instead, it had everything to do with my heart.

February 9, 1964 was my 14th birthday, and, although my birth certificate doesn’t indicate the exact hour I made my initial entrance into this world, I think it was some time in early morning. But it’s not what happened early in the day of my 14th birthday that was so momentous, it’s what happened that evening. And that’s because that evening was when I realized that, yes, I could love a man - and the man I knew I could love was none other than Paul McCartney.

The Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, a fact known by about 99.9% of those of us who are currently either circling middle age or people, like me, who’ve somehow overshot it.

But back to 1964. That next summer, my best friend, Ann, and I wrote a secret story about the Beatles and how George was her boyfriend and Paul was mine. Ann’s little sister, Nancy, had to make do with Ringo because John was obviously off limits, being married to Cynthia.

Many years later, my other best friend, Allison, offered up the good news that Paul and I were both finally available at the same time, after my divorce and Linda McCartney’s death. But alas, by then, it was too late for us.

I’m pretty sure that Paul will be sad when he reads this.

What rites of passage do you remember from your youth? Are there songs or places or smells that bring it all back to you?