Save the Bows

It’s early and you’ve barely put in your teeth and combed your strawberry blonde hair with a plastic comb made at the factory where you work, but your velour robe and house slippers are perfectly matched.

The author's grandmother at 18 years-old

The author's grandmother at 18 years-old

Gifts are opened in order by age. There is a big, black trash bag into which all the spent wrappings are collected, and you repeatedly call out over the bustle to save the bows. You will use them again next year and the year after. Sometimes you will save the boxes and flatten them to use again. You don’t call this recycling, you just have seven children.

After gifts are opened, you will leave the boys to put on football, the children will play with their toys, and the food will come out - shrimp dip, sweet mix pickles with cheddar and pepperoni, meatballs, and ham. People will yell at the television and yell at each other because that’s how you get heard in a big family. Your house is warm and full.

The author's grandmother and mother on Christmas Eve

The author's grandmother and mother on Christmas Eve

Two days before Christmas you will be taken off of life support. Your children will be gathered around you. You will be cremated over Christmas, and share your mass with Saint Stephen. Your children, their children, and their grandchildren will all gather in your house every year to carry on your traditions. There will be shrimp dip, sweet mix pickles with cheddar and pepperoni, meatballs, and ham, every year. They will save the bows.

 

- Tamara Oliver is great at banana bread but pretty awful at Twitter. Find her there and admire her socks @sensoryoverlord

Pennies and Velvet

She was a widow longer than a wife, raised two children, but liked them better grown up. When we visited, we found textures, no toys. Not even pens and paper for drawing her pictures. Her Depression-era practicality found purpose, however, as she made what she had into something she needed. 

One room became two in her arrangement of the high-ceilinged great room: two Oriental rugs—whose borders we walked—and upholstered chairs arranged back-to-back where the rugs touched. Casual rubbed shoulders with Fancy, but did not speak. Each had a role.

The casual side held a wooden lady with carved and painted skirts, whose torso, with resistance, lifted to reveal candy corn in the hollow. A bumpy floral-patterned sofa. A dark-stained mantel clock that ticked and chimed. On the teak table sat a teak turtle, and when I turned over its smooth surface she chided me, "Put that back. It covers a spot." Each decorative object had a function. She grabbed a dishtowel to cover her face if she sensed a camera coming. 

Grandma, photographed at the author's wedding

Grandma, photographed at the author's wedding

Across the divide stood a green velvet sofa we desired but were forbidden to climb since it was "for company." Nearby was a layer of overlapping pennies, fused to create a dish. She bit into onions like apples, but her breath was never bad. A desk had a cold glass top, family pictures trapped underneath. Often, for the grown-ups’ entertainment only, she set up a card table with metal legs and a 1000-piece puzzle on it: Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.

Still, she did not completely ignore the grandchildren; she gave us baked goods to take home. Rice Krispies cookies, sometimes with walnuts, cut into perfect squares, repackaged in their blue box, lined with crumpled wax paper. She may have thought this practical, but it was like the Pop Art of the era. I loved how she transformed the packaging from cereal to treat. Although she had not let my aunt become an artist, and never acknowledged my impractical desire to be one, she unwittingly made art herself. She knew how to give new meaning to the ordinary things.

 

- Alisa Golden writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking at California College of the Arts. Her work has been published in several magazines including 100 Word Story, Diagram, and NANO, among others. She is the author of Making Handmade Books and edits Star 82 Review in the one-square mile city of Albany, CA. 

When you don’t have enough, it’s okay to substitute.

Any chef will tell you substitutions are crucial to innovation. However, in grandma’s house, innovation often tasted bitter. Grandpa would point us to the refrigerator and nearly beg us to eat whatever was in there. “Get it out of the house,” he’d say.

One of grandma’s favorites was Rice Krispy treats, a delight in nearly any other kitchen. Here, they were always rock-hard. Yet the recipe is so simple I can easily recite it from memory.[1]

In grandma’s kitchen, lining up ingredients was not part of the recipe; she’d only check the pantry as the list demanded. And she wouldn’t have enough of something. Maybe Karo syrup. So she improvised. Just add more granulated sugar. Or peanut butter. When grandma asked me to taste a spoonful, I’d think of ways to not hurt her feelings. “You can really taste the peanut butter,” I’d say, or, “Wow, what are these? Raisins?”

Pictured: T  he author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. T  he fact that we have no pictures of   her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not   immortalized there.

Pictured: The author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. The fact that we have no pictures of her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not immortalized there.

Now that I’ve learned to cook, I want to take her into my kitchen, to resurrect her from memory and make her real again. We’ll spend an afternoon skipping work, playing in the kitchen. She’ll ask where the rolling pin has gone, and I’ll tell her it’s in a box back in Spokane, along with her china and matching silverware. She’ll pet the cat and ask if I’ll ever move back home. And while we make our batches of gooey, peanutty treats, I’ll tell her that I would if she would be there, too.


I would, even for her home-cooked meals.


[1] See author bio.



- Jenne Knight’s Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats are made with 1c granulated sugar, 1c Karo syrup, 1c creamy peanut butter, and 6c Rice Krispies cereal. On the stove, slowly melt the sugars and peanut butter in a large soup pan. Remove from heat. Stir in the cereal. Once coated, immediately pack the mixture into an 8 by 8 pan. Let cool. Eat. Find more at www.jenneknight.com.




How to Have Nice Things

To protect yourself, have Nice Things. With Nice Things you can build a wall of cobalt glass, pink carpet, tiny souvenir spoons. Raise this wall between yourself and Poverty, the Dust Bowl, the Capital-N-Nothing of your childhood.

When your daughter (who does not need Nice Things to protect her; you have protected her) comes for stories with her secondhand recorder, you need not speak of the Nothing. It is walled out.

You eat dust and Nothing, but someday you will have a pink carpet. Vacuum it each time you have visitors, in two-foot strokes against the grain and then across. Repeat this before and after your visitors come; the carpet is a Nice Thing.

illustration by the author

illustration by the author

Nice Things must be displayed at all times. If a Nice Thing breaks it becomes Nothing. You must never patch up a broken Nice Thing; always replace it with a new Nice Thing.

When you are angry you must not damage your Nice Things. When you need a weapon, use your hands, your fingernails, the family dachshund but not the cobalt glass. Go mad in the uncarpeted bathroom with the white glass case that holds your dusting-powder. The scent is called Chantilly Lace.

Take your grandchildren antiquing. Try to explain the difference between things and Nice Things; their mother will not. Her carpet is brown and threadbare. She fears nothing- not Nothing.

Your youngest granddaughter is fearless. She breaks Nice Things without caring that the Nothing comes in. Her elder sister tries to repair broken Nice Things. You need not explain that it is too late. She will discover this on her own. The last time you see her, tell her you are proud of her. That her life, her accomplishments, are a Nice Thing. It will be the only time you understand each other.

Before you die, make sure your granddaughters have tiny spoons.

 

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is outnumbered in Oregon by a menagerie and spouse. She tells truths at crossknit.wordpress.com and lies at textwall.wordpress.com and has been known to have opinions on the internet.

Dress Like a Lady

Carry yourself like a lady. Dress like a lady. Don’t take foolishness from anyone.

I learned those things from my paternal grandmother, a tiny woman who was always well-dressed and –coiffed, and whose tolerance for the antics of others was miniscule.

I carelessly put on a poorly ironed (perhaps un-ironed) shirt once during a summer visit to her spotless home.  Because I was a teenager, and therefore a young lady, this was simply unacceptable.  She pulled out her ironing board and iron, and gave me a thorough lesson in proper pressing.

"My grandmother is dabbing her eyes at my parents' wedding and looks perfectly put-together. She may as well have been crying about my future lack of ironing skills."

"My grandmother is dabbing her eyes at my parents' wedding and looks perfectly put-together. She may as well have been crying about my future lack of ironing skills."

1.     Start with the collar. Use plenty of elbow grease. She didn’t have starch when she learned to iron, so I didn’t need it, either.

2.     Iron the collar flat, then fold it down on its crease and iron that.

3.     Next the back.

4.     Then the sleeves.

5.     Finally, the front. This is what people will see first. Saving it for last makes it less likely to get wrinkled before you hang it up or put it on.

I put my freshly pressed shirt back on. She told me I had done a good job. My arm was stiffening up from all of that elbow grease.

Then she added a final step.

6.      When you get married, do not iron your husband’s shirts. If you start, you will be ironing his shirts forever. Take his shirts to the dry cleaner.

My husband irons his own shirts. I’ve watched, and he does it wrong.

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell