Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jaki Jean on Jean & Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over this past weekend, as cable news relentlessly discussed the president’s lack of participation in or recognition of a federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., Jean asked why no one was broadcasting King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
She also began to advocate to hear it again.

While I assured her that if no one broadcast it, I would find it on the Internet & plug my computer into her television, Jean was dubious.

Monday morning, she firmly demanded to hear King’s speech in a voice I recognized from my childhood: 

I want to hear the speech.

It was the same voice that would say Some one needs to feed the dogs.

I remembered the time Jean said Some one needs to feed the dogs one too many times without the expected response to her call for action. 

I protested that it was not my turn to feed the dogs.

 Jean threw a shoe across the room at me & said:

 I don't care whose turn it is, go feed the damned dogs.

Jean's voice yesterday morning, & the possibility of a flying object in my direction, inspired an instant response to  her call for action.

I began to scour the web.

Jean’s admiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. began in the 1960’s, during the Civil Rights movement.

I can remember watching a broadcast of the 1963 March on Washington with Jean, hearing King's  I Have a Dream speech for the first time.

When it was over, she said:

I would follow that man anywhere.

That day, hearing King & Jean, my nine-year-old self began to awaken to the realization that difference in skin color resulted in something unfair & inequitable.

(Although I am quite sure I did not use the word inequitable.)

That day laid the groundwork for the person I grew into; the groundwork for the mantra that would define the person I continuously try to be:

Integration without assimilation, union without loss of self, 
difference without dominance.

I found a documentary on MLK, but when Jean watched it, it did not contain his I have a Dream speech.

But, through the wonders of You Tube, I had a backup plan -  a video of The Speech.

We watched it together.

As we watched, Jean's focus never wavered, her eyes never left the screen.

LIsening, I was reminded that Martin Luther King was about inclusion – for all of God’s children.  For all of God’s children to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Martin Luther King’s work was not about building walls designed to exclude & divide.
King's legacy is the antithesis of the current administration’s need to inflame identity politics & promote racial, ethnic & socio-economic division across the country.

For the Vice-President to usurp King’s words to compare the efforts of an inept President to promote an ineffective Wall along the southern border was not merely audacious & unconscionable. 

It was obscene.

Jean was not amused.

My father Jack instilled a fervent interest in politics in my inquiring mind.  My mother Jean opened a different exploration.

An intense need to understand inequity & injustice.  A need to reconcile division & subjection with what I knew in my soul could be a very different, a finer, world.

I have shared almost 65 years of Jean’s 83 years in this realm.  I have marveled that this loving & intelligent & witty woman guided by a deeply rooted faith & convictions is my mother.

As we watched & listened to King today, I thought about this journey I am sharing with Jean.  A journey I am honored & privileged to share with the remarkable woman who is my mother.

When the You Tube video was over, I said I wish we had a thousand more of him.  Jean responded So do I.

One day, a day that will be all too soon for me, Jean will join her parents, her siblings & their spouses, her husband & the son they brought into the world, in a new realm.

And she will join the man she would follow anywhere.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dick & Jane & a Sixth Grade Reader from Helen

This past October, my BFF from the second grade, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, forwarded this Do You Remember ?  post on Facebook:

Of course, I do remember Dick & Jane.  Dick went up the hill.  See Dick go up the hill.  Dick came down the hill.  See Dick go down the hill.  Jane went up the hill . . Dick & Jane went up the hill . . .see Dick & Jane go down the hill.

Dick & Jane (Dick first, Jane second) are firmly etched in shared memories of the elementary school education Sue & I experienced.

In my fifties, I became obsessed with Dick & Jane when I first became aware of how elementary & young adult fiction has changed since those days I shared with Sue at Cabell Elementary.

For a long time, my perception was that I went from Dick & Jane to Jane Eyre.  Of course, that perception is a memory morphed into myth.

But none of texts I read between Dick & Jane & Jane Eyre imprinted themselves into my text.

There is, of course, a certain sweet serendipity in a mythic move from one Jane to another.

Sue & I were in the smart class at Cabell Elementary.  In those days, it was not called accelerated or advanced or gifted & talented or AP.  Just the same group of advanced, gifted & talented kids promoted together each year.

Our fourth-grade teacher deemed us incorrigible. 

Our reading comprehensive skills were taught via the SRA (Science Research Associates) reading program.  

Our reading was tracked by how many levels we successfully mastered.  It was not necessarily about how fast we read, but by how well we comprehended the material.

So we went from Dick & Jane to a competitive program that took our reading scores levels beyond our grade level.

We were the smart kids.

My grandmother Helen gave me copies of Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights when I was still in elementary school.  They were exquisite volumes, illustrated with detailed etchings.  The volumes had been Helen’s when she was a young girl.

Helen & I had a complicated relationship.  But she was amazing.  

As a child, Helen lost her hearing.  I no longer remember the entire circumstances, but from the moment I first knew her, she wore a hearing aid.  When I was very young, the hearing aid was attached by wire to a box she tucked inside her bra.  Eventually, hearing aid technology advanced & the box & wire disappeared.
When Helen was young, the hearing aid boxes were larger, too large to fit inside a bra.  They were worn on the side, like a large, ugly hanging purse.

After she finished teacher’s college, Helen taught school.  Wearing that enormous box strapped to her when she stood before her sixth-grade students.

I think about that young teacher, so much of her life defined by what she could & could not hear.  About how brave it was to go to college; how brave it was to stand before her students with her hearing challenges.

Helen gave me a book I still possess.  Copyright:  1919  Still available on Amazon.

The Boys and Girls Readers, Sixth Reader
By Emma Miller Bolenius

In our childhood, I used to recruit my younger sister & brother to play School.  I was, of course, the teacher & they were the class.  If they declined my invitation, I simply taught imaginary children.

Although I was too young to understand the To the Teacher section or the book’s six parts & subsections, possessing the book gave me confidence.

Exploring its contents now, I am amazed at what sixth graders were expected to read. 

Because I remember sixth grade well – & I do not remember reading Sir Walter Scott, Emerson, Walt Whitman, Ben Johnson, Cervantes, Ovid, or Tolstoy.

I marvel now at the current wealth of young adult fiction available.  The Higher Power of Lucky – which I read because it was banned from school libraries – it used the word scrotum about a dog.

The Girl Who Could Fly, Rules, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chasing Vermeer, Wonderstruck, The Book Thief, The Giver, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Gaby Lost & Found, Allie First at Last, Me Frida & the Secret of the Peacock Ring - & wedged between the very adult Foucault & Eagleton’s Literary Theory, my seven volumes of Harry Potter on my shelves

And always, always, A Wrinkle in Time.

When I turned sixty, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, the same BFF from second grade who inspired this missive, created a Raggedy Ann Jaki Jean.  Sue is famous among those lucky enough to wander into her orbit & receive one of her Raggedy Anns or Andys.

Raggedy Jaki Jean has red hair & freckles, sparkly blue shoes, lady bugs, a calming jar, a pocket of Smurfs & a book bag with three books.

Jane Eyre, To the Lighthouse, A Wrinkle in Time

Memory, as I have mentioned, often morphs into myth.

My sweet friend Sue’s post about Dick & Jane initiated a time travel.  Not by tessering, but by rethinking & reexamining.

Rethinking my complicated relationship with my grandmother Helen.  Who gave me books.  Who gave her only son’s family Reader’s Digest Condensed Books & Reader Digest Condensed Children’s Books.

Condensed books that always sent me to the library to read the full version.

I read, not because of a program from my childhood, but because my parents read, both sets of my grandparents read.  I read because of libraries.  

In a time when book stores were rare & out of reach, my mother took her children to the library.  I read because library time was important in the public schools of my childhood. 

I read because I cannot imagine not reading.

And because I am still waiting for Jane to go up & down the hill without any thoughts about Dick, all on her own. 

Jaki Jean on Cornichons & the Traditional Ettinger Relish Tray

When I was growing up, Jean’s Thanksgiving & Christmas Dinner Menus always included certain culinary items: 

Turkey, gravy from a roux, Southern cornbread dressing, LeSuer Green Peas, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows, white dinner rolls, mincemeat pie, pumpkin pie, cherry pie & a relish tray. 

The Ettinger relish tray of my childhood included sweet gherkins, dill pickles, green olives, radishes & (as my sister Janet Ettinger Douglas reminded me) celery stuffed with pimento & cheese.

When Jean & I began to cook together after my father Jack died, the relish tray began to evolve.  The stuffed celery was abandoned, replaced by black olives, pickled okra & pepperoncini. 

On at least one occasion, the relish tray morphed into something unrecognizable:  an appetizer of green bell papers positioned in a hallowed out red pepper, slices of yellow, orange, red & green peppers, green onions, baby carrots – all surrounding a hallowed out purple cabbage filled with blue cheese dressing augmented by crumbled blue cheese.

I wish I could take credit for that particular creation – but I purloined it from my friend Connie Dressner Tuthill, who served it at her daughter Kim’s First Birthday party.

At some point, the relish tray disappeared in favor of appetizers.  When the appetizers were abandoned, the relish tray was not resurrected.

I have a vague memory of a discussion with my sister or perhaps my mother, assuring Janet or Jean that the traditional Ettinger relish tray was no longer necessary.

But this past Thanksgiving, my feelings about that tradition changed.

My sister & brother in law David hosted Thanksgiving at their house this year.  Their daughter Emily & son-in-law Zach, my Alpha Son Nick & wife Jane, my Omega Son Sam, my brother Jason & three dogs attended.  And of course, Jean & Jaki Jean.

I was in charge of dressing, cranberry sauce & brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar & shallots.  I tried to sell everyone on the fig & jalapeno preserves.

No takers.

An epic culinary fail.

In our conversations before & throughout the meal, memories of past Thanksgiving culinary wonders emerged.  My niece Emily asked her mother about mashed potatoes. 

My sister turned to me & asked me to explain why there were no mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

I had not anticipated the question – in my slightly demented mind, dressing & mashed potatoes are mutually exclusive.  I like mashed potatoes.  I grew up eating mashed potatoes.  I fed my sons mashed potatoes.  I still mash potatoes.

But never as a side dish with a side dish of dressing.

I cannot say when or where or why I developed my objections to serving the two dishes at the same meal.

But then, while I am avidly fond of barbecue served with both roasted corn & potato salad, I do not understand a meal served with both corn & mashed potatoes.

I took a breath before articulating my explanation for the absence of mashed potatoes. 

My objection to serving dressing & mashed potatoes is an idiosyncratic, personal culinary choice.

My niece Emily announced that she was in charge of the next holiday meal & that there would be both mashed potatoes & dressing.

I asked if the two dishes could be served at opposite ends of the table.

I doubt I made any Aunt points with that suggestion.

Eventually the conversation turned to the traditional Ettinger relish tray & my intention to revive it.

My Alpha Son Nick requested cornichons, those little French pickles.

As I listened to the conversation – I never got the deal about pickled okra – Save all the pickle okra for me – What kind of olives – I thought about how Nick was introduced to cornichons. 

Most people who know me are aware that my Alpha Son’s father is French.  And I am quite certain that Nick acquired a taste for cornichons from his father Jacques.

(I know, Jaki & Jacques.   Jaki Jean & Jacques Jean.  Too adorable. Too many J’s.)

When Nick was not quite two, his father & I embarked on a pate making frenzy.  Not a competition, just different approaches.  I preferred country pates – he preferred more complex recipes.  Jacques introduced cornichons & a baguette to servings of pate.

This year, the requested Cornichons proved to be a challenge.

I live in what I can only describe as an immediate grocery store desert.  I claim this with all due respect to & understanding of the problems families face in true food deserts.  Places where existing stores with limited choices charge exorbitant amounts for boxed, canned & frozen foods with little or no fresh items available.

Our neighborhood Randall’s (part of the Safeway empire) closed last April.  I was used to finding almost everything I desired a few blocks around the corner from the house that Jack & Jean built.

Randall’s always carried Maille Cornichons.  Gherkins made in France since 1747.  More expensive than traditional gherkins, but not outrageous for a holiday dinner.

None of my nearby & limited grocery store choices carry French cornichons of any variety.

So, like any Amazon Prime member, I searched the options for delivery.

Most of Amazon’s sources wanted twice the amount I had every paid for cornichons. 

Even free shipping did not justify the price.

None of the major grocery chains in our area admitted online to carrying cornichons.

Walmart offered Maille cornichons for a reasonable price but shipping was more than the pickles.

So, I ended up ordering the minimum for free shipping from Wallymart (all items I needed).  The Cornichons were the last to arrive – apparently, they had to be shipped from Ontario.

I wondered as I was awaiting the arrival of the cornichons why it was so important for me to reclaim & redefine the Ettinger Relish Tray.

It was a connection to holidays past.  To my mother Jean’s menus, to something undefined but all too important.

So, I sent my menu to my sister Janet with her assignment:  Pecan Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie (my request) & Cherry Pie.  (The cherry morphed into apple – no doubt at the request of my brother-in-law David).

As I looked across & around my Christmas Dinner table – at the cranberry brie bites, sausage stuffed mushrooms, ham, warm potato salad, spicy greens, Hawaiian rolls & a relish tray, I felt a connection with all those other holiday dinners, with my parents & siblings & perhaps, with time itself.

My 2018 Relish Tray was a new creation with threads rooted in the past.  Pickled Okra, Artichoke Hearts, Grape Leaves, California Hot Mix & those elusive Cornichons.

For me, the Relish Tray was part of creating my own culinary text.  Strands from a braid of previous palatable & tempting texts into an edible story of my creation.

A reminder that everything we create is a re-braiding of what came before.

Now, about those mashed potatoes . . . blue cheese . . .