Posts Tagged ‘memories’

If I were to write about petunias I would be writing about my mother. She grew them in these narrow wooden raised beds my father made for her. It was easy for us to go out near dusk and pick the spent blooms. I think it was a pleasant activity for her. So each time I walk past this container and the others in the yard, I stoop to look for blossoms to pick and I think of her with a smile.

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Pinto beans simmering in a pot with a ham hock and bay leaf. To my young mind, those beans seemed to cook all day. Then we ate it served over white rice. My father and I had sweet tooths. We spooned sugar on top of our beans and rice. It is the only dry bean I remember my mother cooking. I heard about red beans but she only cooked pinto (except, I forgot, for the black eyed peas you have to cook to ring in the New Year). I don’t remember if there was a particular day of the week for cooking beans and rice. For instance, pot roast, baked chicken, baked rice pudding, for example, they were Sunday foods, something special. I suspect beans were a weekday food because she could put the pot on the stove on a low flame and do all those other household tasks. Kale or collard greens might be served on the side. Probably mustard greens, too, but I didn’t like her mustard greens (another dish where my father would sprinkle some sugar). I remember the taste of kale seasoned with pork and spooning the potlikker that was left in the bottom of the pan. Once my younger brother was banished from the table for doing something rude and so I had the potlikker all to myself. That little hellion came up behind me and tossed in a handful of food scraps meant for Fuzzy, our dog. I was furious but I stilled loved him afterwards. That was in Virginia. Forty years later living in New England I’ve learned to play with my beans, making bean salads, mixing the colors and textures, sometimes getting so caught up in “painting” with the colors — red, white, black, green — that I lose sight of taste. But I have not done a thing with pinto beans. Until now. Why now? Because the Whole Foods shopper substituted a can of pinto beans for my requested can of white beans. The can is sitting on the kitchen counter. It makes me smile when I look at it. Soon I’ll open it. Served on the side will likely be kale cooked with olive oil and garlic. Brown rice most likely. No sugar anymore. Just good food and good memories to share.



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… it should not go away because it keeps me away from my little garden and that lets the herbs and veggies do what they need to do which is simply grow. I do have to go out and snip this and that to encourage further growth, and thin this and that so that I don’t have plants competing too much, and I do have some more seedlings to plant, and some seeds came in the mail and I have to be strategic in what I do with them because I’ve got this plan, you see, to create a wall of vines, some that bloom in the morning, some that bloom during the day, and the ones that bloom at night. Whoa! I’m trying to balance gardening in support of birds and the bees while respecting that a certain person in the household who is digging my raised beds doesn’t mind beauty but he’s really into edibles, especially tomatoes and basil. But he does understand that my growing cardinal vines and borage (which is edible but he doesn’t like the cucumber flavor) will help get his tomatoes properly pollinated. In this wierdest of all years in my living memory, I’m not gardening for sustenance necessarily; I’m gardening for sanity. I know, growing up in Virginia, that my dad’s vegetable garden definitely put food on the table. I remember helping him plant seed potatoes, beans, squash, peppers, onions and he grew his tomatoes, too. He gardened to feed his family but I suspect he gardened to find peace as well.


lemon basil


spearmint, basil and marigold


orange mint, marigold, curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, oregano and a wonderfully empty red pot waiting to be filled

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This is a ramble with no meaning except I felt a need to put fingers to the keyboard and share an experience from this day.  I’ve been saving watermelon rind trying to decide if I will try to make some watermelon pickles. Now, I have never eaten such a pickle in my life though when I was little I used to admire their beauty in big jars on store counters. As a child I ate plenty of the fruit itself. My oldest brother still reminisces about the big ones with the big black seeds. I think I remember watermelons so big I could sit on them. Those are hard to find. Small, round, seedless (and in my humble opinion oftentimes tasteless) has become the store norm. I’ve lost my taste for watermelon flesh though I’ve been buying watermelon slices of late. Not for me but for a certain person in my life who needs to drink more water but doesn’t and so I simply place saucers of sliced cold watermelon in front of him. Hydration is hydration.

But now I have these rinds … and I’m in a creative place in my life right now … and so I told him I might try my hand at pickles. And when this person heard my intentions, he remembered words from a poem. “Reflections on a gift of watermelon pickles,” he said. We looked it up, a poem by John Tobias.  As I began to read it out loud, Steve, who has a wicked memory for poetry, stopped me to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the poem. I just know those few words.” And so I finished reading the poem and he was silent and when I looked up I saw that he had been moved to tears.

I think my big brother who is near Steve’s age would cry too. Not so my 12-year old friend. Her response to reflections on a life lived would be quite different than people five decades older. This is a rambling post with no photographs because there is no photograph that can compare to the rich imagery embedded throughout the poem … except maybe one day I’ll come across one of those big ol’ watermelons and split it open and let the sun shine on the pink flesh, black seeds and white rind … and maybe that would be an appropriate pairing of image with the following words. We’ll see …


Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

by John Tobias

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A friend traveled to Turkey and returned with a gift, a hand-painted bowl. The bowl inspired me to change my tablecloth from paisley to red to accent the bowl and then the colors of the bowl inspired me to buy clementines. Cherries came to mind as well except I don’t really like cherries. This morning, with light filling the bowl, I was able to reach for the fruit. As I ate the fruit and the air filled with the scent of oranges, I thought of gifts. My aunt told stories of post-Depression Virginia where her Christmas present was an orange and peppermint candies. Of late I’ve been on the cusp of worrying about all the Christmas cards not mailed, the presents not bought but as I held the fruit in my hand I let go of a bit of the guilt.

I’ve received lots of gifts this late autumn edging into winter. A shell from a young man as I walked along Revere Beach. He saw me stopping to collect and inspect and occasionally photograph, and so he came over to me and held out a speciman and simply said, “This one is beautiful.” I agreed. He kept standing there, shell in hand.  “Is this for me?” I finally asked. He nodded. I took it. We separated and spoke no more.

A woman I’ve met on occasion, who can come across as rather brusque, she stopped to talk with me. As I helped her make a purchase, I admired a bracelet she wore. “It’s tiger agate,” she said, sliding it off of her wrist. I held it and then tried to give it back. She refused. “It is yours, “she snapped. “See? It does not match any of the other jewelry I wore. Clearly God made me wear this today for you. You are a tiger.” I must say, I’ve been called many things, but that may have been the first time I’ve been called a tiger.

Gifts come in many forms. I will treasure the bracelet but mostly because of the memory it will evoke. I will treasure the shell, and all the shells given.  And, of course, the bowl and the oranges and other fruits it will hold, and the memories that rise with their fragrance.

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He kept asking for money but that I would not do.  In part, because I had too little of it myself and because I could not trust him.  He would most likely spend it on alcohol.  If he did not spend it on alcohol, I was worried that “friends” might siphon him dry.  I did want to send him something, to stay in touch, in addition to the occasional chat by phone.  I wanted him to know that I cared about him as much as I knew he cared about me.  I was still his baby sister and I respected that he was one of the big brothers who so carefully looked out for me as a child.

I think one day, with those thoughts in mind, I looked up into a cabinet and saw the dusty box.  I took out a couple of bags, dropped them into an envelope, included a note that said something like “Drink this and not that other stuff!” When I told him what I had done, he just chuckled, as delighted as a child.

I became a connoisseur of tea design and flavor profiles.  I was not especially picky.  Whenever I stayed in a hotel I’d pocket the teas left in the room for guests with a goal to send them to him later.  While grocery shopping, I’d occasionally splurge on an herbal tea sampler and split up the packs to send him different flavors.  Later, I’d quiz him about which teas he’d liked and didn’t like.  Blueberry was a favorite but all flavors were welcome, I was told.

They had to fit inside a standard envelope (which I occasionally decorated).  Ideally the weight was such that I would only need at most two stamps so that I could drop my packages in a blue box on my way into work.  I didn’t want to wait in line in the post office to mail a larger box.  Sometimes I’d jazz up the mailings with little packages of coffee but I knew from childhood memories that he was more of a tea drinker. He and my mom would sit at the kitchen table drinking Lipton tea, her dark cup sweetened with just a bit of sugar, and his almost white with milk.

Why does this story surface?  Well, it has been a long summer in some ways.  Aside from a few mailings of seeds to family and friends and postcards to my kids club, I did not do much other mailing.  This weekend I was on the phone with this brother. We were having a good chat and as I was about to hang up he said, “Hold it. What happened to it?”

“What happened to what?”

“My tea,” he said.  “You haven’t sent me my tea.  It does help, you know.  When I have tea, I don’t drink.”

“Okay,” I said brightly. “I’m on it.”  Both laughing, we hung up. And then I cried.

That night I pulled together a short pile of envelopes and addressed them all to him.  The next day I bought a box of tea, many flavors.  Yesterday, I mailed him honey vanilla.  We’ll see what the next week holds.  Maybe strawberry. I think a big box of blueberry will wait until Christmas.



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There is an elderly woman who lives in my childhood home in Virginia.  My brother tells me that she loves to grow tomatoes like some people grow wildflowers.  In every available space, as a border to the porch, in the spots where the roses and hydrangeas grew, all now tomatoes.  While wonderful to see such eccentric growth, it was also hard for my brother to see.  There was a part of him that wanted the old yard back, the flower beds and vegetable garden and the swathe of green grass just big enough for children to run about with clothes lines arching above.  He wanted the fence line back that separated our property from the neighbor’s, a wire fence covered in honeysuckle and milkweed and edged with wild mint.  And he wanted the trees, the maple, the plum and that short-lived apricot.

All had been gone for near two decades but in that moment, of seeing those tomatoes, he fiercely wanted it all back and with it the parents now deceased and the siblings spread far and wide.  “You alright, Daddy?” his son asked.  He looked down at his five-year old who was sprouting up like an oak.  “Yes, son.  Daddy was just remembering.  Remind me to tell you about the seeds I planted in this place.” The son nodded and then said, “Okay, but can we go to the playground first?” My brother laughed, tickled his son, and let the past fade knowing it would never disappear.  “Yes, son, let’s go.  We must have our priorities.”

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As a child I remember a wire fence separating our house and yard from that of the neighbor’s.  Along this fence twined the milkweed vines so thick that we were sometimes a stop for errant monarch butterflies.  And there entwined amidst these sturdy vines were the delicate strands of the honeysuckle.

A friend taught me how to harvest the nectar.  Quite tasty though I did wonder how long would it take to fill a glass or even just a thimble.

Sometimes I’d attempt to braid the vines to make tiny crowns for my dolls’ heads (because my brothers would not deign to wear them).  The flowers adorned play dough cakes and moist mud pies.  With hindsight, I wish that I had placed them upon the dark red mulberries that I once handed to my dad on a tea set plate.

Just some of the thoughts that came to mind as I recently stood next to a wall of honeysuckle.

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A side salad of sorts made with fresh grown flowers and sprouts from around the house, with a bit of red onion from the fridge.  These salads have become a creative outlet.  Luckily, so far, they are tasty too.  Growing up, the only salads I ate were made of torn iceberg lettuce, sliced red tomatoes and maybe a chopped cucumber.  The dressing was usually mayonnaise from a jar until my mom got into creamy bottled dressings.  Recently, at a restaurant, I saw a salad being served.  On a lovely china saucer sat a wedge of iceberg lettuce and upon its light green surface was drizzled a bit of white dressing.  When I checked the menu for its price, I was a bit startled and could only think of my mom and had to chuckle.

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… I do see nebula …

… and supernovas …

… and all sorts of stellar events …

… all within a single leaf, found on the ground yesterday, as I walked home.

And as I carried that single leaf in one hand and all of my groceries in the other hand, I had to chuckle because I was reminded of how my parents worried when I went out walking by myself.  They thought that my head would be lost in the clouds.  How right they were.  Anyway … have a good day, folks. 😉

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