Monthly Archives: January 2019

Traditions Have to Start Somewhere

I used to playfully envy my ex — his people hailed from the next batch of ships after the pilgrim’s landed, and they had a fancy family tree to prove it. I on the other hand had 2nd generation immigrants on my mom’s side and 1st on my dad’s. I would marvel at my mother-in-law’s stories about how her great-uncle was a photographer (hello, invention of the camera) and brother to Thomas Moran the painter. I had a French Canadian great-grandfather who was a poor farmer in Quebec. A little better was my Dutch great grandfather who was the captain of a passenger ferry. I was never a person who envied other peoples’ wealth, but I did envy their pedigree.

Luckily, all that envy has dissolved — with my divorce, my maturity, and just witnessing firsthand that pedigree isn’t necessarily better. I’ve learned that the more important thing is, do people around you love you, and will they give you wine and cheese willingly if you ask for it?

I mistook pedigree for traditions that matter, and traditions, such as the continuation of wine, cheese, and food with lots of butter are worth holding on to as long as you can. But families age and change; your beloved only child has absolutely no interest in the spritz cookies that defined your childhood Christmas experience and that you painstakingly make each year; so now just you and your sister eat them. He prefers the Nestle Toll-House dough you buy at the store. But truly, I’m not bitter. And parents get older and eat like birds, which is good because most of the traditional menu would make their primary care doctor put us on an “abusing elders by high salt and fat holiday food diet” watch list.

This year my family reached that point of hey, traditions are cool until they no longer serve, so what should we do this year?

I paraphrase “The Graduate” and the career advice the middle-aged neighbor gives Ben: “One word: plastics.”

Our new tradition should be one word: corn.

Like our epic tale of Beocat, this tale starts with an impossible task. To celebrate a Christmas when there is a new venue, the attendants all need to be picked up, and the holiday falls on a Tuesday in the middle of a work week. Oh, and there was a medical emergency just days before the holiday. (Everyone is OK!)

On Christmas day, my sister realized she had no vegetables to accompany the short ribs she was making in the crock pot. Or did she? Resourceful as ever, she dug around in her pantry until she found a can of creamed corn and a can of corn. Score! A quick trip around the internet revealed several viable recipes, some with cream cheese and bacon, also things my sister had on hand. Turns out folks in the South love creamed corn casseroles, cheese and corn, bacon and corn, corn and corn — it’s some kind of tradition down there. So my brother-in-law hunted down more cans of corn from the only store open on Christmas day, the CVS, and we were in business. Perhaps we have even started started a new tradition. Seems like there are plenty out to choose from, and it doesn’t take a pedigree to try them. It just takes a small panic and a stocked pantry.

Even if we don’t make it a new tradition, my sister said she always wanted to be the kind of cook who could look into her pantry and make a meal out of it. Congrats, sis, you can cross that off your bucket list.

Corn photo credit: State Street Farmers Market in Tennesse

 

 

 

 

It’s Quite Vivid

I’m all about making things fun and easy, but I amaze even myself sometimes. If you are a regular reader, you may know I’m struggling with how to wrap my arms around getting more involved in social justice and learning more about racism and white privilege. You know just small, little things like that to help beat back the Cheeto flea and his turd minions.

Part of the problem is that I think I may have used up most of my intellectual curiosity and prowess in my 20s and 30s, what with my subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (no, not Harper’s Bazaar, the smarty pants Harper’s). Then family duties called. Lapsed subscriptions were replaced with other reading. While I firmly believe that reading to your children gives them an excellent foundation for being a functioning adult with critical thinking skills, there is also a small part of me that also believes reading the Berenstain Bears 100 times over the course of several years causes permanent damage to a functioning adult’s critical thinking skills. You do your best to pick only the books you can stand to read that many times, but inevitably, the Berenstain Bears book and its kin come into your life, and like the dog who goes right for the person who dislikes dogs, your kid will pick the crap book every time.

So where was I? Right, fun and easy. So the related other part of the problem is that when I try to decide, should I read a depressing book about how messed up institutional racism is? Or the book for my book group, which is non-fiction and usually not quite as depressing as racism, but still serious and requires concentration? Or that trashy historical romance novel I just downloaded for free on Hoopla?

Guess who wins? I know. I’m the worst. Blame the Berenstain Bears.

But I’m nothing, if not wily and persistent. I had read the last historical novel by the white writer I liked and when I tried several new ones, based on Hoopla suggestions, I couldn’t get through them. I may read historical romance novels, but I do have some standards. The heaving bosoms need to belong to a strong female character and need to be part of an interesting historical plot that is based on truth. I went through many lists of writers, and one of the suggestions included a Black historical romance writer, Beverly Jenkins.

Well, hey now. Could I get a two-fer out of this? I need to learn more Black history anyway, and the book I’m currently reading Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is quite educational, and I’ve been stuck on page 36 for a while now. I know, I know, I’m the absolute worst. But I have a mission to fulfill, so I downloaded a book called Vivid. Vivid is a female physician of color who travels from California to a Black community in Grayson Cove, Michigan; they need a doctor and no one else will hire her in 1876. They also only hire her because they think she’s a man–she uses the “no first names” trick.

(As a side note, I just saw “On the Basis of Sex,” the movie about the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who nearly 100 years later after Vivid, made it into Harvard Law School and was top of her class, only to also not get hired. So, you know, there’s that. But the movie is good, so go see it, my fellow snowflakes!)

Vivid is well-written, entertaining, and not only chock full of historical details of Black people in the 1876,  Beverly also lists pages of resource material at the end of the book. Paydirt! There really were Black women doctors in the 1800s, and there were all-Black communities being established in the U.S. Sadly for my gay friends, they are no gay characters in these books, but if I find any good gay historical romances, I’ll let you know. Most of Beverly’s books I’ve read take place in all-Black communities, or in cities like Philadelphia because, as she notes in the end of one of the books, it played an important role in the Black race’s history. I’ve read about the 1800s and the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church, middle class households, ranching out west, poets and writers, and more. In other words, I’ve read about human beings being human and their specific struggles because of their color.

One of my favorites, Midnight, is set in Boston on the verge of the Revolutionary War. In it the main free male character talks about being captured by the British navy and being forced into naval service–it’s called impressment and was legal in Britain at the time. And you know those Brits–they like to carry their rules around with them to other countries, whether the other countries agree or not. Not long after reading about it, I was able to tear myself away from fascinating Beverly to my read book group book, Heirs of the Founders, by H.W. Brands, about the second generation of American politicians. An early chapter describes how in 1812 two elder statesman, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, were trying to persuade their congressional colleagues and President Madison to wage war against Britain in response to many transgressions against American sovereignty, including, you guessed it, impressment.

So, I rest my case. And I know I can’t be satisfied with just Beverly and her meticulously research novels and heaving bosoms, sigh. I’ve got more reading to do, and I also signed up for class in January called, “White People Challenging Racism.” But for the moment, I need to find out what is going to happen in the next installment of the Grayson Cove, Michigan town. Seems were going to learn more about Dr. Vivid’s brother-in-law, Eli.

And, thank you Beverly, for your wonderful books. Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia: “Beverly Jenkins (born 1951, Detroit) is an American author of historical and contemporary romance novels with a particular focus on 19th century African-American life.[1] Jenkins was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and, in 1999, was voted one of the Top 50 Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club.[2] Jenkins’s historical romances are set during a period of African-American history that she believes is often overlooked. This made it difficult to break into publishing because publishers weren’t sure what to do with stories that involved African-Americans but not slavery.[3]

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