the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

ok

Everything’s gonna be alright
Nothing left, but love’s in sight
Everything’s gonna be alright now
Everything’s gonna be alright
It’s gonna be alright

Lyrics by England Dan and John Ford Coley


(sign at Spruill art gallery / Dunwoody, Ga / courtesy the web)

We drove over to the northern Atlanta suburb city of Dunwoody yesterday afternoon.
My cousin’s wife, who is retiring after 41 years of teaching—high school math of all things,
was the focus of a little retirement shindig.

It had been years since I’d been to that area north of Atlanta.
So much growth and so much congestion…
I can remember when the area was nothing more than a sleepy little northern hamlet…
an area more accustomed to farms and cows than to high-end restaurants and shopping malls.

Change is inevitable I suppose…
progress so they say….

If you’re anything like me, these past several months have left you feeling….
well anxious…
and if the truth be told, you’re anxious without even realizing how truly anxious you really are.
It seems as if there’s just been an unsettling that has completely settled over our lives.

Unless you are an Orthodox monk living on Mt Athos or a Buddhist monk living in some
lost to time nook in Tibet, you have been overloaded with the caustic vehemence that
most of the world is currently hurling back and forth on itself…
so much so without even realizing just how overloaded by it all you’ve become….

It’s troubling for even the most grounded among us.

It’s been sad, depressing, agitating, frightening and even alarming.

And even if you’ve sworn off watching the news….
the heaviness is so pervasive that it has permeated deeply into not only our nation,
but it has saturated most of the greater free world.

Priorities are so screwed up that it leaves the more concerned among us wondering what
it is we can do in our own little corners of the world to makes things better, brighter,
softer, kinder and simply more sane…

So there I was driving home, following the afternoon’s celebration,
making our way back to the interstate when I spotted, with my periphery vision, the sign…

A large plain black and white painted sign on the side of an old barn….
a quaint old barn that is obviously a preserved and last standing vestige to the original
structures that once called this now uber urban city a rural country home.

“Everything will be ok”

I had to do a quick double take back to my left while focusing on getting through the
congested intersection just to make certain I had read correctly.

It was as if some wonderful paternal unseen force…
a force that was greater than anything in the world at just that very moment
had gently, soothingly and yet very matter of factly stated for all the world….
Everything is going to ok…

And so it shall be….

In you, Father all-mighty,
we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Saviour.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.
Amen

St Julian of Norwich

(A link to a nice little article about the barn and the inception of the sign
http://www.reporternewspapers.net/2016/05/26/everything-going-ok-dunwoodys-spruill-gallery/?utm_source=Reporter+Newspapers+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=b542a61cbf-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_DUN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dbd6e0112e-b542a61cbf-407315065)

Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

“I propose a toast to mirth; be merry! Let us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the digest. let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy the depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a gratuitous Elleviou.
Summer, I salute thee!”

― Victor Hugo

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot

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(a remaining squash blossom perched upon one of Michael’s cutting boards / Julie Cook / 2014)

Behold the lowly squash blossom.
An unassuming little component to something seemingly so “other than.”
And yet, were it not for this fading blossom, once opened flower, would we not have the fruits of our labour and the prized pieces of the bountiful harvest we call summer?

And as I beheld this spent, shriveling and most beguiling little remnant, I was made most aware of something that was once most delectable, memorable and grand.
And so it is with so much of life.
One thing, even the spent remains, always seem to lead back to something that was and that is so much more.

This fading little blossom, which is now but an after thought of the actual squash or zucchini fruit, which is awaiting transformation in my kitchen, was once the highlight of one of the most memorable meals I ever had the pleasure of partaking. . .

I have a dear friend in Florence. Actually I have two dear friends. Cecilia Papini and her father Paolo. The family has a beautiful leather business there, just mere steps from the “Old Bridge” and the Arno. Their family business has been serving locals and tourists a like since 1896.

Several years ago, my aunt and I had traveled to Italy on a bit of a pilgrimage at it were. We had visited Padua for the feast day of San Antonio, June 13th. Wending our way south, via the train, we stopped in Florence for a few days in order to visit my cousin as well as Cecelia and Paolo.

It was Paolo who recommended that we dine at a small restaurant directly around the corner from their business. The name of this tiny establishment has long since faded from memory but the experience has remained clear as if it were yesterday. The lasting piece of the memory from that evening was based solely on the gastronomic delights we were served, which made this truly a most memorable experience—specifically it was the fried squash blossoms.

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Amazing how one spent little curled up flower can evoke such a powerful memory. One minute I’m picking up and looking at a discarded little blossom, as I was bent over in the garden on a very hot afternoon, cutting the ripe zucchini and squash, when next I’m suddenly transported someplace else–to a different time and place. A powerful potent for the recalling of a memory.

Good food, good friends–or perhaps just a good meal shared simply by just one other. . .
Either way, the importance of what I’ve always called “feasting and fellowshiping” is a key component to what forges lasting memories and bonds. As those moments of sharing together, in the company of friends and family coupled by good food and drink, in turn becoming precious memories, are all intricately woven together.

So many of the important moments of my life seem to evolve around food, as well as those who have joined me around said food.
Why that is, I am not certain.
The one thing I do know is that I do like to eat. . . don’t we all?
And I do like eating good food which is lovingly, skillfully, and at times, artfully prepared—be it simple fare or a Michelin Star experience—combine that with the union of others–be it family, friends or both—-that very mixing of the food and company makes for an intimate union of souls, the very impetus of memories.

Sometimes I try to replicate the moment by trying my hand at a particular meal or dish that I may have had on a special trip or outing, in turn hoping to share it with others—maybe it is my attempt at simply replicating the moment. Like the heavenly tomato flan with warm basil infused olive oil I had in Cortona, Italy.

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Last summer I attempted to duplicate this feast for the tastebuds of my husband using our garden’s tomatoes.

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And who ever says it has to be something fancy or decadent? A humble hot dog turned brazen in that windiest of cities, can be just as divine and just as memorable, –behold the Chicago Dog. . .

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Followed then by my own version I prepared for my most grateful husband who is a huge Chicago Dog fan:
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Yet some things are best savored at the initial sitting and the initial sitting alone, as a replication could and would only pale in comparison–as in, some moments are meant to be just that, a moment, a single and only once in a lifetime moment. . . case in point is my usual breakfast meal at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla—a delectable breakfast of their version of cheese blintzes. The slightly sweetened orange accented cheese filing, wrapped ever so lovingly in a thin crepe like, lightly fried, shell coupled by local fresh fruit of the season, real sour cream and brown sugar–to be consumed bleary eyed while donning shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap as the throngs of locals and tourist line up vying for one of the limited tables while the heavenly scent of freshly prepared doughnuts gently wafts in the air. . .one cannot replicate that.

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I’ve never tried my hand at blintzes nor many of the other marvelous wonders out there . . .never thinking I could come close to such tasty treats as those Parisain delectables the French Macarons, or Italy’s light and airy fried squash blossoms or even a hearty pot of Swiss fondue—some things are best left to the pros and some things just need to remain as that single special memory.

As I sit here remembering memorable meals and moments which have come and gone, I am poignantly reminded of a humble platter of store bought fried chicken.

I think I’ve shared this story with you before. . .it is worth sharing again.

September will mark 28 years since my mom passed away from a short bout with cancer. That heavy and sad Tuesday, following her funeral, everyone had gathered back at my childhood home for a Wake. Mother would have enjoyed the gathering. As Mom had been sick for a while, without any of us realizing why she had slowed down so much, the house and its upkeep fell woefully behind. I was not living in Atlanta and would drive over on Saturdays usually taking her out to lunch—as I would wonder why she was eating less and less or hardly eating anything at all.

When she went into the hospital, for what turned into her final 6 weeks, the poor house and its upkeep simply went to pot. The washing machine in the basement had been leaking, creating a small river and pond on the basement floor. Do you think Dad had even taken notice?!

When it came time for the Wake, friends and family all brought in a banquet of food. The time honored tradition of “the covered dish.” It’s what we do so well here in the South, a gathering, be it happy or sad is always surrounded by the best casseroles, dishes, cakes and pies—- but I suspect this ritual to be a global affair.

I would shuttle all the food up and down the precarious basement stairs to the extra refrigerator perched near the leaking washing machine in the dungeon like basement. One of my oldest and most dear life-long friends, who had loved mother dearly, had brought over a platter of fried chicken she had gotten at Kroger (or as we like to say in the South, “The Krogers”

As everyone began gathering for the Wake, my friend accompanied me down to the basement to assist me in transporting all the platters and casseroles back up to the kitchen. As my friend took hold of her platter of chicken, something caused the platter to shift, suddenly sending all the chicken crashing to the floor, landing in the stagnant pond of washing machine water. My friend immediately burst into tears. The surreal moment of our having lost mother who, at the time, was so young at 53, coupled by the sorrow of why were in that basement in the first place with a mountain of food, my friend’s pride in her contribution to mother and this most surreal moment all came crashing into one another as a platter of chicken now sat on a wet basement floor.

Always known as the one who is the rock and who keeps things together, I quickly told my friend “it’s okay, it’s all okay. . . and now we’re going to pick up that chicken and put it all back on the platter.” Of which we did. Drying it off, as well as her drying her face, we artfully rearranged each piece of chicken on the platter. We arrive back up the stairs, placing the platter of chicken on the kitchen table amidst the hams, casseroles, pots of beans, bowls of slaw, hot and cold dishes, rolls, cold cuts, etc.

As everyone was spending the afternoon mixing tears with laughter, I spy my cousin, out of the corner of my eye, making a bee line for the chicken. I nonchalantly but quickly make a quick pass by the table and hiss “don’t eat the chicken, put it back and eat the ham” before moving on to visit with the others.

That platter of store bought chicken, which fell in a pond of washing machine water, lovingly brought to my mother’s wake by a cherished life long friend, and a clueless cousin will always be a meal which makes me smile, as I brush away a tear.