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Posts Tagged ‘childhood memories’

What I know about Velveeta cheese is the color. More pale orange than most cheeses. The texture. A gelatinous blob, jiggles when you shake it. The taste, well, not so much uncooked as cooked.

One would be hard-pressed to get a slice of Velveeta, taken off the block, to melt in the mouth. It’d take a glass of milk, I bet, to wash it down, adhered as it would be to the roof of the mouth, like those tart molds I remember the dentist once made of my teeth. Or the body of Christ, embodied in a white round host, wedged at the top, the choking, almost suffocating from manipulating the tongue to dislodge it while the priest walked through the slow process of drinking the last of the blood of Christ and then wiping out the chalice with a green cloth that seemed too nice to treat as a washrag.

And I suppose it’s fitting that Velveeta would lead me to memories of teeth molds and Communion hosts. They were all wrapped up together in my mind, the days of Hogan’s Heroes and grilled cheese sandwiches with Shasta cola after school. Friday nights at the bowling alley with Mom and Dad, me tucked under a pinball machine watching tan cordury bell bottoms of teenage boys. Sundays spent sitting with bony knees in a pew wishing I didn’t have to eat a round wafer that tasted like paper but softer.

Things that melt in the mouth, or don’t, and why is it that Velveeta melts so well in a pan over heat? The mouth, isn’t it a constant 90+ degree oven?, but I guess the temperature just isn’t high enough to activate the wheys and milkfats to dance that swirling dance from solid to liquid. And what about biting into Velveeta? Already I can feel the film on my teeth, like washing globs of Elmer’s glue from one’s fingers.

I don’t have qualms about eating Velveeta in sauces, dips, or casseroles. It was one of the foods of my youth, as familiar to me as potato chips or mayonnaise. Although I grew up with a natural bent for natural everything. Made my own granola out of raw oats and sesame seeds, honey and California sun-kissed raisins, when I was still a teen. Gravitated to halibut when given a choice for any selection on the long main-entree counter at Furr’s Cafeteria. Hated red meats for the veins and shunned eggs and chicken because Mom had enough of slaughtered birds and fertilized eggs when she was young, and when she was older she passed on her food aversions to us.

But I still ate processed food, still ate whatever I could find in the fridge after school, even when it was a box of aging Velveeta, the open end hardened and discolored, cracked and in need of amputation. Grilled cheese sandwiches were one of the few things I could make by myself, and I picked up Janet’s preference for cutting them diagonally and then dipping the end in a puddle of ketchup before biting off a piece.

I still love grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in ketchup, although I’m not a regular consumer of Velveeta nowadays. I like a sharp cheddar cheese and just this afternoon I made a green chile relleno casserole that I suppose could have been done with Velveeta, although I mixed yellow and white sharp cheddar. The cheeses melted a sort of deep amber, and being as how I’ve burned Velveeta in the crock pot, I know that even cheese that melts well over heat can turn brown if you let it get too hot.




-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — VELVEETA CHEESE

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Fresh flannel sheets on the bed last night, I closed the top to my computer and crawled in with ice cube feet and the sheets were like warm layers of cotton. Sometimes when my feet are cold I’ll take them and rub them on Jim’s legs, try to insert little feet between shins or thighs the way I used to with Mom whenever I had leg aches.

Leg aches plagued me more than other ailments as a child, maybe lack of great nutrition—I liked candy necklaces and sugar straws—although I think it was hereditary. Mom’s parents took her to the healing waters of Ojo Caliente and soaked her legs in the pools to drive away the demons.

We sleep with a set of flannel sheets, a blue herringbone blanket made for a double bed not queen (Jim always pulls it too far over, or I do), a quilt Jim’s mom made him in 1981, has a simple rising sun design and a sewn inscripton, Happy Birthday Jim, Love Mom. He loves that quilt. Then a bed cover I got at Linens-n-Things, which Patty C. calls “Sheets-n-Shit.” They’re going out of business.

I like down comforters, Jim dies of heatstroke in them. His mom gave us one for Christmas long ago with a white eyelet cover, pretty and delicate, and when it finally died and the feathers aggregated in thick clumps in the corners, we let it go with one of our annual spring cleaning purges.

I remember most the bedding at Grandma’s house, layers of homemade quilted blankets and bright afghans. There was never rhyme nor reason to her colors. I have an old blanket of hers now with angled edges that Mom sewed where it had ripped and gave to me. Pink checkerboard, lime green, bright orange and red. I see two patches of patterned cloth I recognize from the simple dresses Grandma wore in the mornings while frying bacon, potatoes, and eggs. Each section held with thread in the center, the ends popping up like errant hairs on a chin. I love that blanket, I lie on the couch and cover myself with it whenever we watch movies. Em always gravitates to me during those times and I spoon her the way Mom spooned me, tiny legs tucked into big.

But the thing I remember most about Grandma’s bedding is how it held me down, the weight of it all, pressing me into my dreams. How later on whenever I got X-rays at Dr. Thurman’s office and they placed that iron-like blanket over my small body it would remind me of reams of color, patches of Grandma’s dresses and crocheted yarn, weighing down on me, not like a burden but a release, allowing sleep, finally, to come.




-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – FLANNEL SHEETS

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Abandoned is a place, and for a moment I hear these words in my head (as if from a Country-Western song): Abandoned is a place where I come from.

I remember taking a trip to Costilla with Dad, the first time I saw where he came from. We were with Uncle Nemey, Suzanne, and Kathy. I see us piling out of the VW van and walking in a line through a narrow doorway. The house is two rooms and a closet, more a shack than a house. I can tell you what I was wearing — blue shorts made of soft cotton and a striped t-shirt — yet I can’t tell you what we saw in the house. There’s a photo I took recently of an empty room with boards and building materials (an abandoned renovation job) and that’s the image I see when I think of the house Dad grew up in. Dark, small windows, empty potato chip bag on the floor. 

There is a whole vocabulary having to do with abandoned places. Shattered, tattered, forlorn. Trashed and infested. Scarred, and here I think of the thing abandoned as a scar on the landscape. Vacant and alone, and is a vacant stare an abandoned one? Has curiosity left the building?

Abandoned is the dog that fell out of the closet when Dad opened the door in his childhood home. Short-haired, reddish orange, I do recall that dog and how we all jumped back. It had been upright, as if on hind legs, and when I think of it falling I imagine it crumpling in a soft slump. It hadn’t been abandoned all that long before we arrived, its body yet to decay (and there’s another one of those words). We didn’t move the dog from where it lay in a heap, heap of trash. I wonder now how it felt to see so much abandonment in a place that once meant something more. If I had been older I might have thought to put my arm on Dad’s shoulder, and all I can say is I’m glad he was younger then. I don’t think he could stand seeing that dog now.

Even boards have souls, photo taken August 5, 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedWhen I started this practice I had a notion in my head. It went something like, Abandoned is not so much sad as it is intriguing. And that’s the part of me that wonders what happened in a place that’s been left behind. Did a man younger than I am now come home from loading sacks of potatoes onto trucks all day, sit in a chair and lament that he was working his heart to death? Did a boy watch his mother die of cancer?

I’m thinking about Dad’s old house again. All of us standing in that house and it seeming like the ceilings and walls were closing in. Dad said, This is where my mother died, and he pointed to a spot on the dirt floor. We stood in circle peering into nothing but dirt. No stained mattress or rusty boxsprings. I sat down on my haunches, the way I always did as a girl, and I imagined Dad’s mother becoming smaller and smaller, disappearing like a whirlpool in a bathtub or a funnel the sand lion makes for the ants to fall into. When Dad’s mom died, he and his brothers and sisters were left alone.

Abandon has a permanence to it, yet don’t abandoned buildings go back to the earth? Weeds grow through the cracks and walls crumble. Someone eventually bought Dad’s childhood home. They must have cleaned up the dog and the debris (another word). Dad got married, had a family.

Abandoned is impermanent. Abandoned is never alone. Abandoned is my toes, is my hair, is me at this moment shipwrecked on my chair, my empty, empty mind.

-Based on a ten-minute practice on Topic post, Abandoned

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Your mother turned 69 yesterday, my father 83 on November 5. I’d like to believe he, Elias, will live to be 100. That I can mine the DNA from his frail bones for years to come.

But each time I see him, I see him slip away, slow and almost imperceptible. His cataract eyes have that watery, faraway look, a silver film over intense black. On his birthday I meant to peer into those crystal ball eyes. How are you today? Are your legs strong? Will they carry you further?

But it was a festive party, enchiladas with red or green, flour tortillas Mom made, a big pot of pinto beans. Between forkfuls, I admire Mom’s choker, a spiky thing made with narrow triangles of oyster shell, bones from the sea. She takes it off, tells me it’s mine.

“I wore it so I could give it to one of you,” she tells my sisters when they chime to me, “Hey, wasn’t that Mom’s necklace??” I shrug. I didn’t mean to covet it before anyone else had a chance to.

Mom is generous. What is Dad?

I still remember, and now bones on my mind, sitting in Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, staring down at my knobby knees while Dad listens to Father Cassidy’s homily. (And now, my mind catches the word “homily,” jumps to “hominy,” which in my family we make into “posole,” white kernals like big teeth. Everything goes back to food. Plain, hearty food. Not much meat in my lineage, is that why my bones are fine and my teeth achy when I drink anything cold?)

But back to the church. Dad and I go alone. Mom gave up faith after I was born and a priest slammed the confessional window in her face for telling him she was going on birth control. Dad picks a middle pew. Not too eager to please. Not a laggard, either. That’s Dad. Middle way. He sits rapt. He’s a pious man, comes from penitente stock. I stick my feet out in front of me, notice my shins have downy, light brown hair. I’m eleven. I still wear hand-me-down dresses. Brunswick patterns sewn by Mom. Old-fashioned dresses with big white bibs front and back, rickrack along the bottom. I like how my kneecaps move to and fro when I lift my legs up and down.

Then I see it. My right knee is bigger than my left. Something round is in there, like a marble or a golf ball under my brown skin. For the rest of Father Cassidy’s meandering sermon I am engrossed in this discovery, a moveable part in my leg. I’m like the Barbies I sneak out of my sister’s Barbie Doll case. Discrete joints, elbows-knees-and-shoulders. I can move me this way and that, pose me how I wish.

Up to now Dad is in his dreamy place above my small world. He can see over parishioners’ heads to Christ hanging on his crucifix, to the chalices and gold and white cloth. Now Dad looks down to where I am. He notices me popping my knee. I place his big, warm hand over the lump, show him how it rolls around under my skin. Suddenly he, too, gets engrossed in my bones. “What’s is it?” he asks in an urgent whisper, and I am alarmed by fear I hear in his voice.

Bones. It turns out to be a benign tumor. The kind of bone tumor common in horses’ knees, according to the orthopedic surgeon who eventually removes it. Bones. Who we are deep inside? Strong yet permeable. Small and obtrusive. Innocent, tainted, scared.

What was Dad thinking that day in the church? If I ask him today, will he remember? I am a writer, frantically seeking to capture memories from my 45 years. Who will help me see his gentle strength when Dad is gone?

It’s good to get cracking. There are deposits to unearth.

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