Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Family Dinner ~ by Al Jones, Atlanta, Georgia

I was in grade school, maybe 6 or 7 years old. It was my parent’s turn to host the family for Easter Dinner. There were about 11-12 people: my brother and I, our parents, my Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Bill and my cousins Bob and JoAnne, my Mom’s parents Granddaddy and Grandmother Betts, and my Dad’s Mother, Grandma Jones.

Mom was a good cook and she like to try new things. I don’t remember everything she served, but the special item for this particular Easter was the salad. She had made Jell-O eggs. To do this she took raw eggs and using a needle punched a small hole in one end through which she drained the raw egg. Once drained, the egg shells were thoroughly rinsed and then used as molds for the gelatin. Everyone’s salad contained 2 or 3 finished eggs, so I estimate she must have used 2 or 3-dozen eggs in the process. The liquid gelatin was poured into each shell through the same hole where she had drained the egg, and then chilled in the refrigerator; after setting up, the eggs were cracked to recover perfect egg-shaped creations. There were eggs from lemon Jell-O, eggs from strawberry Jell-O, eggs from lime Jell-O, eggs from grape Jell-O.

When we were called to dinner, the table was set and beside each dinner plate was a salad plate holding a festive and colorful array of eggs arranged on a leaf of lettuce with a little dressing. It was pretty spectacular to my 6-year old eyes.  We ate at the dining room table with both leaves pulled out. We could all squeeze around it, but with this many people the chairs were almost touching. I got to sit next to my Uncle Bill which was a treat because he was one of my favorite people. After everyone was settled, my Dad asked us to bow our heads so he could say the blessing. We were taught to bow our heads and close our eyes so we could focus on the prayer. This began, but I felt my Uncle moving and couldn’t help opening my eyes to see what he was doing. He reached carefully to his salad plate, picked up a purple egg, smelled it, and put it back in place all before the Amen was said and everyone else opened their eyes.

In hind sight, this was one of my small coming-of –age experiences. Uncle Bill had a good sense of humor which may have been behind what he did, although he had nothing to say during the meal. Before this happened, I would never have imagined not paying full attention when the blessing was being said. For whatever reason, he and I never in all our other times together with family or on the golf course talked about the purple egg. We might have had a good laugh about it.

Uncle Bill died about 3-years ago. He is one of my heroes. His wife Bonnie developed Alzheimer’s disease many years ago, and Uncle Bill became her 24/7 caregiver until finally it was not possible for him alone. But this care giving was just one aspect of his life. He was fun; he was involved as a volunteer; he was a model I like to consider even now after his death.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Churched with Dwight Eisenhower ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

Memories are often, for me, like smoke drifting over my head and then evaporating - just a wisp and then gone. The other morning while putting on make up, I remembered that my family once attended church with President Eisenhower.

Now, that memory wasn’t a surprise. If I’d seen it as a true-false question on a test about my life, I could have easily marked it "true." But the memory wasn’t fleshed out; it was a mere whisper, flirting with me as I applied blush to what used to be the roses in my cheeks.

What? Did we really do that?

Yes we did, and this is how it happened.

I believe it was around 1956 and we are visiting Gettysburg as many good Americans did and still do, when we heard that the President and his wife were spending the weekend at their farm there and they would be attending church the next day. I think my mother must have read it in the paper. She also noted an admonition that well-wishers, if they arrived at a certain time, would be able to see the President and First Lady from the sidewalk across the street from the church, but they would be kept behind police barriers for the safety of all involved.

What happened the next morning was a combination of my family’s adherence to the notion that Sunday equaled church no matter where you happened to be, and my mother’s cunning. I’m pretty sure that, good Methodists that we were, we’d packed our church clothes next to our binoculars and we'd planned to visit a local Methodist Church in the midst of our trip.   But Mama, at the last minute, decided we should at least try to look Presbyterian on that one day to see if we could add our own personal family chapter to the American history books by bypassing the giddy throngs as we made our way, with what I'm sure was a1950's version of white protestent condescension, into the very same sanctuary where the President was opening his hymnal and tuning up his vocal chords. 

All I need to add is that Mama's plan worked and I do now remember the way the leader of the free world's bald head added a special shine to the front pew of a Presbyterian Church on a certain Sunday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over fifty years ago, and that, furthermore, this particular family chapter has now been written and the memory has become a Norman Rockwell painting in my mind.

This is why I believe that writing down memories is so important, even if we don’t think of ourselves as good writers. The documentation helps to give substance and color to  those wisps and whispers, or as my friend, Efton, puts it so beautifully: The "putting in words" somehow gels the flurry of blurred memories - turning a bit of a fogged past into a very clear moment - one moment otherwise lost in the storm of going on with life.

What wisps and fogged pasts do you have that could use some articulation?