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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Green Drink - another Mama Christmas Memory

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
   ..........  Ecclesiastes  1:4-11

You may call it a green smoothie but in 1962 it was known in The Palace off Jhanke Rd., infamously and miserably, as Green Drink. Our aunt, the health food nut, had talked our I-Hate-To-Cook mother into trying her concoction of bitter greens and other sour flavors with the promise of rejuvenation and everlasting health.  "You just put it all in a blender and whip it up"

And so, for Christmas that year, Mama asked for a blender. I knew it was coming. The eavesdropping snoopy girl was bound to hang around when grownups were talking - especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I seriously doubted it would taste good. I was already learning that Mama was not much of a cook and Aunt Ellen was very much a kook. I crossed my fingers but ... doubt remained.

Christmas day dawned and the blender was there under the tree but Mama didn't leap right into action. In fact, we had our usual cookies, candy, desserts and gravy for Christmas day and it wasn't until the 28th that the dread whir of the blender struck doom into our quaking hearts.  That was my baby sister's birthday and the anxiety was palpable - what child likes green food? Dr. Seuss knew of which he spoke when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham.

Into the blender went 1/2 a cup of pineapple juice, a hand full of almonds and heaping mounds of green leaves; curly kale, parsley, flat collards.  It smelled funny. It looked the consistency of poi - another nasty taste she'd offered us, as party food, for goodness sake, one benighted summer afternoon. That was in 1959, the year of everything Hawaiian,  in honor of the new state. Thank goodness no Alaskan food was being celebrated - I can just see my bad cook of a mother trying to make walrus blubber palatable.

But I digress - back to the Green Drink. She poured the evil stuff into juice glasses and told us to drink up. Ugh. The kale made it bitter, the parsley made it pungent, and the thick texture made it particularly difficult to swallow. Poor Baby Sister. Even I thought that it was unfair to force a child to drink nasty green stuff on a birthday. She wept, loudly, copious tears, and begged to be let off just for one day. How could mama torture her on her birthday?!?

At this point Daddy stepped in with his ever offered inducement to "do it or else .... "
A threat to which we always submitted because we knew he'd carry it out. A spanking in addition to the green drink - on a birthday - was really beyond endurance ... for the birthday girl or her siblings.

And so began the regime of daily Green Drinks; always nasty, though now and then just barely endurable, if she accidentally put in too much pineapple juice. A whole winter went by to be followed by the addition of a juicer and hideous celery juice cocktails, another wickedly bitter beverage that we were told to drink all summer long "to keep you cool".

Thank goodness Mama was mostly disinterested in food, unless it was candy, cake or ice cream, because by the following winter the blender was retired to a back cabinet and we were Green Drink-free. Of  course, we'd moved to the city that summer.  There's nothing like moving into a new house to ring in new routines. I suspect Daddy hated Green Drink as much as the rest of us - I never saw him willingly eat a green vegetable except peas.  Green Drink went down in the family lexicon as the epitome of cruel punishment - a reference that carried the threat of misery and also exemplified the awfulness of Mama's cooking - I mean - in addition to the butterscotch chips in the pumpkin pie.  What WAS she thinking?

Her reply - when we threw it in her face was "that was the year none of you had a single cold" which was another reason we hated Green Drink. What child doesn't want an excuse to stay home from school - and a cold? A cold doesn't even hurt all that much and if your throat is sore you get ice cream for lunch!

Fast forward a few decades and one day I began to think about Green Drink.  No. Wait. I began to crave Green Drink. I know. Don't ask me. I haven't any idea where that urge came from but it prompted me to buy a blender, some pineapple juice and some green vegetables.  It took very little tinkering with the recipe to make it into something quite tasty. And you don't have to stick with pineapple juice - not a particular favorite of mine. You can use milk, almond milk, Greek yogurt (my go-to choice right now), V8 fusion lite - if you don't mind artificial sweeteners. And if the store's greens are a little sad looking there are frozen greens and if you use the frozen ones you end up with a green Slurpee.

They call them green smoothies nowadays - but in the Haile House it's called Green Drink. A few years ago Baby Sister was visiting and I offered to make her one. The look she gave me was so bitter it would have frozen a soul less closely connected.  Big sisters are immune to suspicious stares. "Really - I promise - it's good. It was just Mama's awful sense of taste that made it so bad" I assured her and she acquiesced - reluctantly.

The look of delight on her face was marvelous - it erased forever that sad, cornered little birthday girl of memories. At least - it pulled the thorn out of her heart.

Green Drink is a bit tedious to make on a regular basis because the blender is the devil to clean. I'll be glad when this one wears out so I can get a cheap one that I can just put in the dishwasher. The scorned health benefits, otoh, are so welcome. Every year ThePrince and/or I have sore throats and colds by Christmas week so this year I made the decision. We will have a Green Drink every day in December.  We have missed a day or two so far, but 18 out or 20 ain't bad. And there's one in the blender right now. He likes his warmed, I like mine icy. And neither of us has had a sniffle or a cough or a sore throat - in spite of the Germs of December.

So - once again Mama proved right. Not in practice, no, but in theory - and that's good enough for me.

Thanks, Mama.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Real Gifts - More Mama Christmas Memories

I'm all through with dootiful activities for the year and this is giving me time to sink indulgently into  Christmas Brain - which, this year, includes More Mama Christmas Memories.  I am one of those disgustingly cheerful Christmas celebrants who never gets enough Christmas music, enough Christmas tree, enough Christmas cards. I love it all and I loved it all from the very beginning. I get ready for Christmas all the way up to Christmas Day and then... I stop.

But I don't think Mama was such a Christmas gal. Not that she was ever depressed or grumpy or short tempered at that time. She just seemed a wee bit detached from it all. And for all that we talked about everything, I don't believe I ever asked her outright if she liked Christmas.  I am sure it's because I couldn't believe anybody would not like Christmas. Sort of like I can't really believe in sailing - I mean - when the wind blows from the South, how is it you can also sail south - even if it's only south-ish. Or flying. How can a 50 ton airplane fly? I know how it does. I demonstrated it to my boy scouts 30 years ago. But do I believe? Believe? Well. There you have it. We can know what we don't believe.

What I know, though, and believe, is that Mama was gentle and indulgent with us about Christmas. I remember the first time I ever went shopping for Christmas presents. One of the bigger stores had a corner blocked off with a wall decorated like a gingerbread house. It had a little low door that only children could get through and we traipsed in to find, not a witch, but some pretty girls dressed as elves and lots of small things scattered about that you could purchase for tiny bits of money. We went in with a list of recipients and whatever cash we had. The pretty elf girl helped us pick from among a treasure store of things  we'd never seen before - never even imagined - to give as gifts.  I don't remember a thing I bought but I do remember the experience. It was magic. It was Daddy who took us. He was the shopper in the family. He was also the one who would get emotionally ratcheted up till he would crack and we'd have a Christmas Crisis. But he loved Christmas like I did. There never was a year he didn't tell us "we're going to have a smaller Christmas than last year" and then shop like a mad man, heaping the toy piles higher and higher.

Which might go a long way towards explaining why Mama was so ... um... detached through the holidays. Somebody had to be the grownup in that house.

When we were living on the Southside (in the Palace off of Jhanke Rd) we shopped for Christmas at Southside Plaza. Mama would give us $5 because each of us had to buy 5 presents. Once at the shopping center we'd head first to Woolworths and if we didn't find everyone a present there we'd move on to G.C. Murphy & Co. But with riches like we were spending, there was lots to choose from.

I remember selecting a blue glass bottle, shaped like a poodle, filled with bubble bath, for Mama one year. I loved dogs. I loved blue. I loved bubble bath - so surely this would be the best gift for Mama. Evidently she had a tender spot for it too, since she kept the bottle long after it was empty.

I am guessing this was purchased around 1961 because the summer I was 9 I was deep in the Little House books and that Christmas I asked Mama if:

1. We could have long flannel nightgowns instead of pajamas and
2. Could we have an Old Fashioned Christmas and make our own gifts that year?

I can still feel the moment - the hopeful wonder - the breathlessness as I waited for her answer - which was an indulgent "Yes".  God knows what awful gifts I made for my sisters and parents in those early years but the experience left a lasting impact. To this day - if I didn't make it - no matter how much I spend on it - it's not a Real Gift. And of course, the spur of giving real gifts only made me work hard till I actually got good at making things. And even more of course - I will also buy gifts now and consider them real. Just not as real.

It was about this time that she gave all the cousins little cloth bags she had made, filled with drawing paper, crayons, scotch tape and round edged scissors.  It was the scissors that caused the disgruntled complaints to issue from aunts and uncles. One unsuspecting aunt later muttered in my presence "Who was it who gave those scissors last year? I could kill her. What a mess they made."

I was a famous blabbermouth, but that time, I did not speak up.

The most hilarious Christmas morning I ever experienced was the year I was 11. We'd moved into the city by then and my little sisters were in school; kindergarten and 1st grade. My youngest sister was an unusual child - precocious beyond belief and yet - with such odd ideas. Sometimes she utterly drove me batty but just as often I was enormously proud of her. That year, though, the kindergarten teacher had them collect leaves and bring a bottle cap to school. They glued the cap in the center of a paper plate and then glued the leaves around it. The whole was spray painted gold and the intended result was supposed to be a Christmas Candle Holder.

Of course - one must remember that all of the gluing had been done by a 6 year old. I am sure she used that peppermint scented paste that came in a jar. And the gift was sent home from school in a brown grocery bag for the child to wrap. An odd shape - a fragile object - Sister knew it needed to be carefully packaged. She used a cardboard box that Daddy's shirts came from the cleaners in - and she padded the gift with ... the trash from the bathroom trash can.

I told you - she was unusual.

A week of drying out in our warm house, lying beneath the tree, being picked up and shaken - for I am sure she was as proud as punch about making a Real Gift for Mama and displayed it frequently - did nothing to keep it intact. On Christmas day we sat and watched as Mama opened up the box - and began pulling out used tissues, a Reese's candy wrapper, and other assorted bits of gold flecked clutter, a crumpled paper plate with glue splotches on it - Oh La. I will never, ever forget the look on Mama's face: Her mouth an open "O", her brain feverishly trying to decide if this was a joke or a Real Gift. 

As the sisters and Daddy began to laugh (I'm actually laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this.) Baby Sister began to cry - realizing the completeness of her fiasco. Oh my goodness. Christmas. What is Christmas without a disaster or two? I do remember that Mama quickly recovered, hugged her nutty baby, and promised that she would help her re-glue everything and make it perfect.

I do not remember that I ever saw a candle in that holder but I do realize now that Mama taught me an important lesson that day. She showed me that the gift isn't the item. It's not the ring, or the dress, or the perfume. The gift is the time a person takes to think about you - contemplate your joy - long for your happiness - show you are worth stopping a busy day for. That is the real thing about gifts. That's what makes them Real Gifts.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I Ache. Therefore I Am - Missing Mama at Christmas

I have three friends who lost their mamas this same year that I was made an orphan. Each of us is facing our first Christmas without this essential hub.  If they ache as much as I do there must be a whole lotta achin' goin' on right now.  And yet - these ladies had such magnificent mamas - almost as pinnacle-like as mine - that they have to also be having the most wonderful Christmas memories floating to the surface.  I thought I'd try to list some of mine so that I have them down on virtual paper - I might even add to them as the years go by and the fleeting bits of code surface into my consciousness.

Of course, my first two memories take place at Christmas time - the trip to Florida after I'd burned my leg so badly and opening up the pink box with its cellophane window revealing Tiny Tears and all her miniature accouterments. Both Daddy and Mama were vivid in the car memory but only Mama is present in that memory of looking through the clear window and seeing that perfect babydoll. I was on the floor. Mama was behind me to my left. She told me it was 1953 so I was about 13 months old at the time.

Some memories are eternal.

My next Christmas memory had to have been before I was 5 because Sister and I were still sleeping in the downstairs bedroom. I came out of our room on Christmas morning and there was what looked like a brand new Tiny Tears sitting in a Real Baby Carriage - and I asked Mama why Santa thought I needed a second doll? She laughed and said it was my own Tiny Tears but I didn't believe her. I had to go back to my bed to see if she was still where I'd left her when I went to sleep the night before. Nope. The doll in the carriage was my very own baby.

Who knew how good a great vehicle could make a girl look?

I remember the Christmas my youngest sister was born. Daddy had to leave town on some urgent family business only days after Mama came home from the hospital. What I remember about Mama was how angry she was that he was leaving. What I remember about ME was how happy I was that my beloved godmother, Aunt Ann, was coming to stay with us. Mama had gotten a brand new all wool Oriental Rug (purchased, I am sure, from Miller and Rhodes) as a Christmas present. Walking barefoot on that rug was pure heaven. It was the softest thing my feet had ever felt. My aunt was going to cook an egg for my other younger sister when Mama called her from the bedroom. I, auntie's little shadow, stayed in the kitchen, transfixed by that white oval. I was thinking about a Saturday cartoon I'd seen of a hen, sitting in a nest on her egg, knitting and clucking the skater's waltz till the egg suddenly hatched and a little round yellow chick popped out. I began to wonder if I could make a little round yellow chick pop out of that egg on the kitchen counter. I cast about in my mind to think of something that would be soft enough to hatch a baby chick on.

Yes. You can finish that story all by yourself.

Those Christmases in that little starter home were all about the toys and the babies. I certainly remember how perfect they all were - and there are home movies of us starting about 1958 - which I believe is the year we got the pogo stick. All I really remember about Mama during that time was that she always put the tree inside the babies' play pen - which kept it from being pulled down by crawlers and toddlers, but also kept Me, the Big Girl, Who Knew Better, from getting my hands on the tree. I was glad when we no longer had babies in the house at Christmas time.

I also remember the year Daddy took us to the television station to see Santa. This is the only time I ever remember going to see Santa ... though perhaps there were other years. The gimmick was that one parent could stay home and watch her child on TV and find out what she wanted for Christmas. I am sure I got exactly what I wanted that year.

The Palace Off of Jhanke Road
Without a doubt, though, the most important Christmas Memory Of Mama didn't even happen at Christmas time. Late in the summer of 1959 we moved from Henrico to Chesterfield county - from our little brick house off Skipwith to the palace off of Jhanke Road.  In the hustle and bustle of pulling things out and packing them into moving vans all the Christmas stuff was brought into the open.  You must remember, as Jean Shepherd says, Christmas is the pivot around which the child's year rotates. I spent a lot of time as we adjusted to the new house, thinking about Christmas. One day I heard Mama out in the hall, putting clean towels into the linen closet (I told you - this was a Palace of a house - it had a whole closet just for sheets and towels!!!) and I wondered if there really was a Santa Clause. I decided to ask Mama - and if she said "yes" then I would know there really was a Santa and if she said anything else at all - I would know that Santa was really our parents.

And so I asked. And she thought a moment before answering .... a deadly sign .... and then asked me "Well. What do you think?"

And I knew. And I said - "there isn't a Santa"

And there was a moment - a tee tiny prick of disappointment - and then the wonder of our parents buying that much stuff for us kids .. parents who NEVER bought stuff for us - who ALWAYS told us to save our allowances - whose only response to a request for any sort of impulse purchase was "that's nothing but junk" - the thought of those two grownups going out and buying, not just whatever we'd asked for, but heaps of things we hadn't even dreamed of - plus gobs of candy and frittery things like those spinning Christmas trees that opened when they were going fast enough, to reveal a little metal Santa - that was a miracle light years beyond some elf sliding down a chimney in a house that didn't even have a chimney. (although the New Palace had two chimneys and two fireplaces!!!)

Wow. I mean - WOW! That was the real magic of Christmas. It was the season when constant No Sayers did an about face and said YES!

And best of all - once I knew that first grown-up truth, I realized I'd put one toe into the magic kingdom of adulthood - that longed for Shangri La where I would one day get to live - that world where I would be in charge.  There was still a lot of little girl in my almost 7 year old self, but it was only scant years before I was folded into the Christmas making part of things; when I was carried along to help with the shopping and the wrapping; when I could be a true Santa Elf.

A mama's real job is to help her children develop into functioning, capable, independent adults and that August afternoon my own precious Mama helped me make that giant step forward. It's a memory I cherish.

There are other Christmas memories that involve Mama and I will be back to write about them soon because I am 62. I am ever so slightly afraid that I will begin to lose these bits of code - that they will degrade to the point they can't be retrieved and I think that would be a great loss.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Thoughts and a Mama Memory

So here we are - dipping our toes into the last month of 2014. December is a month that melts like snow in the sunshine, it disappears so swiftly it's often gone before I realize I've experienced it. And yet it's crammed so full of things to do I can't help but wonder if it will ever end. And I wouldn't miss a single moment of it. December is De Craziest time of year.

Here at TheCastle we ( c'est moi ) have pulled out the Christmas CDs, beginning with The Nutcracker and flowing on into Bach's Sleeper's Awake cantata 140 - which is not a Christmas piece but it shares space on a disc we own with the Magnificat. After that it's all Eugene Ormandy, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby and Elivs. Oh yes. And John McCutcheon. LOL - and the Chipmunks. And Yorgi Yorgenson  - or however it's spelled - too lazy to go look and see.

Christmas music - you get the picture?

I'm being kind to the people who live here and allowing suitable uplifting music that is not Christmas themed into the house - but there will be no Stravinski, no Shastakovich, no Glen Gould with his piano. We do have the Bach lute suites on the player right now. And I ease up a little after the 25th. Just - keep to the heart of the season and I am okay.

I heard on the all Christmas Carol radio station the other day a quote worthy of sharing. "Saying you like Christmas music, but only in December is like saying you love puppies - but only in January."

Decorating TheCastle is always something I put off till the end of the month but I did want to adorn the pretty new front door with the long lusted for Virginia boxwood wreath. Those things are pricey as all get-out and always in the past I had two doors to adorn. This year I popped for the lavish beauty of boxwoods, decorated with red and gold. It's enough to get me outside in the dark just to admire the photo shoot perfection.

It also reminds me that one year I am definitely going to book a hotel room in Colonial Williamsburg and watch the Grand Illumination.   Not this year - but one year soon.

Work this month is going to be decidedly Un-Christmassy - with a computer class to teach and a parks and rec program to partner with and ugh - the state statistical form to be completed. That one has a Thursday deadline on it too. But I am hoping that come Friday, when I catch up with a girlfriend,  I can have an All Christmas Brain All Day Long.

Still and all - things are different this year. Mama is not here this year and a part of me is numb to it all. Mama had faded so much since Daddy's death that time spent with her was definitely recast into a sort of Visit the Sick experience. It was still a visit. It was still warm and heavenly and I could still bask in her utter love and approval. I could be myself, only better, when I was with her.

Mama wasn't a big Christmas fan - though she wasn't a scrooge either. I never asked her about her lukewarm reaction to it all - if it was something she took on in her youth or something she adopted after her marriage, since Daddy always went berserk at some point in the holidays. I know she dreaded the fuss and mess of a tree and never let us put anything up earlier than 2 weeks before Christmas ... sometimes not even that early.

She told me a funny story about Christmas when she was little. The year she was 4 or 5 she wanted a tricycle more than anything in the world. And of course, in this secret time of the year what child doesn't one day think "I wonder what's up in the attic? I haven't been up there in a long time."  That certainly happened to me in December and I had to learn to just keep out of everything after Thanksgiving.  It was so for Mama too and she discovered up in the attic The Glorious Red Tricycle ... a perfect gift for a little girl. And she spent the next hour or so riding it all over the attic floor.

Alas - on Christmas day there was No Tricycle beneath the tree. She told me she was devastated and I often wondered if that disappointment sort of colored her holiday expectations ever after. She also told me that 3 weeks later, on her birthday, she felt something hard poking her in bed as she awoke. Rolling over she discovered The Red Tricycle!

Well - served her right, that little nosy parker. Got just what she deserved - on Christmas Day and on her birthday.



That was then. This is now. And there is a lot to do this Christmas - and all of it will be beautiful and filled with love. And dogs.

Juno is thinking about what she wants for Christmas