Letter F memoir encyclopedia entries on deck…
Family is important to me. And I don’t just mean my immediate family, but my extended family and friends who become your family, too. I love our family reunions every year, where all the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandmas, and grandpas come together to catch up on life, share some good food (I have some really amazing cooks in my family), and spend a weekend playing and laughing together. They’re something I look forward to each and every summer.
Nowadays I’m a city girl, but growing up, I was a country girl at heart. My grandparents’ farm, where I spent countless days, was one of my favorite places. Their huge garden yielded enough corn, peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, dewberries, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more to last the year. We would help Granddaddy and Mamaw harvest the crops, and although we probably just got in their way, they humored us and let us be their helpers. One of my strongest memories on the farm was sitting on the front porch swing at dusk, swapping stories while we shelled peas and watched the sunset. We would work at it for hours and only make a dent in the pile.
My mamaw would can vegetables and fruit, make pickles and jam, and freeze corn so that they could have food year-round. I can still remember the Ball jelly jars lined up all along the kitchen counters, waiting for the hot, fresh-made jelly to be poured in. My favorite jam that she made was dewberry, but I loved strawberry, too.
One of mine and Andrew’s jobs was to fetch the eggs in the chicken coop out back. We loved to gather the eggs, counting them to see if there were more today than yesterday. The smells in the chicken coop bothered me much more than they bothered him.
Grandaddy had cows, too, and they wandered around the 300-acre property in search of grass and hay to munch. I don’t really remember feeding them with him (maybe that was Andrew’s domain), but I do remember piling into that old beat up blue Ford pick-up to go search the back half for a lost calf or cow who hadn’t come back in a while. We’d bump along the uneven dirt track, stopping only to run out and open and shut the gates. We’d wind past the fishing pond, the trash hole (a huge gaping hole in the earth where Grandaddy would throw out any trash that couldn’t be composted or burned), and the camp house. I knew every twist and turn in that road back then. Now, I’m sad to say, it’s a bit foggy.
My dad was a fishing kinda guy and would frequently enter (and even win) bass fishing tournaments across the state. I never went with him on his tournaments, but he would take us out in his bass boat to fish on Lake Somerville or Gibbon’s Creek. Fishing was something we really enjoyed as a family.
I remember all the things we’d have to do to get ready. We’d pack a cooler full of food…turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips and dip, Nutter Butter peanut patties, cold drinks, and fresh fruit. The boat was always washed and sparkly before we went out, something I never understood because it’s just gonna get wet. We’d load up the tackle boxes, get the rods and reels ready with fresh taut line, and make sure the life vests and towels were packed.
Once we were out on the lake, my favorite thing wasn’t the fishing (I usually got bored after an hour of sitting and waiting on a fish to bite my line). The thing I loved the most was when my dad would cruise around the lake in his lightning-fast boat, going so fast the nose would shoot up in the air, the skin on our faces would flap, and we would fear for our lives. When he knew he’d scared us properly, typically when my mom would yell, “Shit!” (and she didn’t curse), he’d slow down and crack up as my mom told her how he shouldn’t drive that fast and my brother and I begged him to do it again.
As we got older, our family fishing trips petered out, but every so often, I can persuade my dad to dust off the boat and take me out again. I always love packing our snacks for the trip, and I never, ever forget the Nutter Butter peanut patties. That would just be sacrilegious.
I identify as a foodie. This wasn’t always the case though. Growing up in small town America, I wasn’t exposed to many different types of cuisine. Other than Tex-Mex, Italian, and Chinese, I had only really ever had American food until I moved abroad. At first, I was timid about trying anything that didn’t resemble something I had seen or tasted before, but as time went on and I became more adventurous, I found the fun and excitement in trying new foods. Now some of my favorite foods were things I never thought I’d even try.
I like experimenting with new flavors when I’m cooking, and I relish in introducing my friends to new flavor combinations. With a more sophisticated pallet, I can sometimes decipher various flavors in the food I’m eating. A drawback of a more sophisticated pallet means I’m no longer satisfied with mediocre food. I want every meal to be deliciously pleasing. As a foodie, I’ve become that girl who photographs her food and puts it on Instagram. I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes, but I’m not ashamed. Beautiful, delicious food should be shared.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
In fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Decell, read aloud what would become one of my favorite books of all time, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s the tale of Claudia and Jamie, siblings from Connecticut who, due to the injustices of their world, run away to NYC and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout the story, you find out how the survived (and where they slept, ate, and showered) without getting caught. Along the way, they work to solve a mystery that takes them on an epic adventure.
I remember wishing I was Claudia, on this grand adventure. I didn’t want to run away, but the idea of living in a museum sounded like a lot of fun! I also enjoyed their resourcefulness; without much money, they managed to figure out how to stretch it to the fullest.
I read this book aloud each year to my classes (grades 3 and 4), and shared the magic with them. Some of my students loved it as much as I did, others didn’t, but they could see how special this book is to me. When my mom and I took a trip to NYC in 2014, I took her to the Met, and I was transported back to that fourth grade class and the excitement of that first reading as I took my mom to all of the places Claudia and Jamie visited, slept, ate, and showered in the book. It was perfect.