Memory Lane

My grandfather owned a drive-in restaurant for many years.  It was a small, family run business in the town of Bloomington, Illinois.  The restaurant was called Kip’s and it was a mainstay of the local community.  It was one of those small town place’s where everyone knew each other, and all the employees kept their jobs for years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the restaurant lately.  Mostly about my family history there.  The years I spent sitting in the back booth, close to my grandfather’s office.  The dark wood paneling of the dining room, a throw back to the 70’s and probably the last time the dining room had been remodeled, and the orange formica tables and booths; the booth benches were hard, without cushions, but easy to clean and sanitize with bleach.  My grandparents were meticulous when it came to the cleanliness of the restaurant.  Like their home, there was always a faint but pleasant smell of bleach in the air.  It just smelled fresh.  I also recall the times I spent in the back kitchen, helping my grandmother make the Cole Slaw, or peeling potatoes.  My reward for a job well done was a delicious lunch of Coney Dogs, Cole Slaw and an ice-cold frosty mug of Root Beer.  Heaven to a ten year old.

My grandfather passed away in the ’90’s, and the restaurant was handed down to my father who ran it for another handful of years.  Unfortunately, with the growth of the town and the restaurant boom that hit Bloomington in those years, Kip’s was unable to keep up with the many chain restaurants that had become popular at that time.  Even the most loyal locals like to add diversity to their dining options, and my father was forced to close.  To the heartbreak of our family, Kip’s faded into the history of the town, but not before people came out in droves to enjoy their favorite comfort foods, one last time.

It’s been many years since I’ve enjoyed my favorite meals at Kip’s.  My father kept all the family recipes, but for one reason or another, we stopped making them.  So the recipes have sat unused, the paper turning yellow, thinning over time, and the print of my grandfather’s handwriting fading with each decade.

Last week my kids and I went to Dallas for our Spring Break.  My dad and brother live there with their families, and we spent the week enjoying the hot Texas sun and swimming in my brother’s pool.  I suggested to my father that we do a Kip’s family dinner night.  My kids had never tasted a Coney Dog, or the Cole Slaw that I loved so much as a kid.  I wanted them to experience that part of my childhood.  I wanted them to taste the food their great-grandparents created, built a successful business around, and understand that this was part of their family legacy.

So my brother, my father and I spent an afternoon cooking.  My dad unfolded the recipe for the Coney sauce, and it was the most fragile thing I’ve seen in years.  The paper bearing my grandfather’s distinct handwriting was yellow and splotched with years of use.  The creases in the paper were so worn from being folded and unfolded that even the tape applied years ago to hold it together had begun to deteriorate.  How many years had it been since he had written out this recipe?  Sixty, maybe?  We had to convert the recipe down to a useable quantity, as the original recipe was written to produce ten gallons of sauce for the restaurant.

And then we cooked.  The three of us banged out the Coney sauce and Cole Slaw within a couple of hours, and it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.  We laughed and reminisced about our childhood and the years spent in the restaurant.  My dad told us stories of his teenage years working the curb service.  At one point, I looked at them both and said, “I bet Nanny and Paw-Paw are so happy we are doing this right now.”  Then my dad handed me a spoonful of Coney sauce to taste.  The moment the flavor hit my tongue, I was absolutely transported.  Back to the booth with the orange formica tabletop.  I was ten years old again.  And I could hear my grandfather’s voice and the sounds of the kitchen and feel the slide of the ice down the frosty mug full of foaming, ice-cold Root Beer.  It always amazes me how a smell or a taste of something meaningful can take you back to a time or place long gone.

We assembled the family that evening, excited to force our food memories upon them.  They were skeptical at first.  A few of the girls don’t eat hot dogs, and a Coney Dog is essentially a hot dog smothered in Coney sauce.  The teenagers were also not too excited about being forced to eat Cole Slaw.  It wasn’t their thing.  But we insisted they try both.  Annnnnd……it was a hit!  My son ate four Coney dogs!  And even my niece, who hates Cole Slaw, said she would eat this Cole Slaw, any day.  Coming from her, that was high praise.

I knew they would love the food, because good food is just good food.  But what mattered to me more was that they got to experience a part of our family history, tangible through food.  They never got to meet their great-grandfather.  He had passed before any of them were born.  But they got to experience a huge part of him, and our family, through this dinner.  Through these recipes.

Food is universal. It speaks to all of us, whether it’s about comfort, health, or enjoying a shared experience.  And for that reason I’ve decided to create a Kip’s family cookbook! I will include all the best recipes from my grandparent’s kitchen, as well as a history of the restaurant that brought so many people together across the community it shared.  I can’t wait to share it with you!  🙂

Her Eulogy

A little over a week ago we lost my beloved grandmother.

Some of you may recall that I’ve written about my visits with her every summer. Getting Old is not for Sissies  She was 96 years old and passed peacefully in her sleep.  It’s a blessing to know that her passing was quiet and quick.  It’s heartbreaking for me to accept that she is no longer with us.  A physical and emotional presence that reminded me every day to be my best self, even when I wasn’t.

This past week our family came together in her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois to celebrate her life and lay her to rest.  We are a family strong in Catholic roots, and my Nanny was a devout Christian Catholic woman to her core.  So, as you would expect, her service included a Catholic mass in the church where she was raised, and where she also raised her family.  I was baptized in this church.  My parents were married in this church.  My grandfather was memorialized in this church.  Our family’s life is intricately entwined with sacraments and services that took place in this church.  I spent countless Sundays sitting in the pew next to her, learning how to participate in the Catholic mass by watching my grandmother.  Memorizing the responses, imitating her motions of kneel, stand, sit.  Kneel, stand, sit.  This particular house of God has immeasurable significance for me in terms of emotional and physical memories.  To stand in the sanctuary, in front of her casket, was almost more than I could bear knowing it would most likely be the last time I ever had cause to visit this place.

When the service started I was beside myself with emotion.  As were the rest of my family.  My Nanny meant so much to each and every one of us.  We were all trying to manage our grief.  The service was lovely, but something was missing.  The priest gave the eulogy for my grandmother.  This is not common.  Typically, a family member would do it.  But for some reason no family member had been identified or asked prior to the service to give the eulogy.  I don’t know why, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the decision because I was not the one responsible for planning the service.  But it felt incomplete.  The priest did his best to honor my grandmother, but he did not know her. He could not convey with any depth of emotion or real intimacy the woman that she was, or what she meant to all of us.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter and talk about her without completely breaking down, and I’m talking about some serious ugly crying.  And because I need closure I decided to write my own eulogy, of a sort,  honoring her and my memory of her.  So, this is what I would have wanted people to know about my grandmother….

Kathryn, or Kay, as most people knew her was born in June of 1921.  She was an Irish Catholic Midwestern girl who grew up during the Great Depression.  She often told stories about the depression, describing food shortages and what little money most families earned at that time.  She talked about having one pair of stockings that she had to wash out by hand every night so she could wear them again the next day.  She told these stories in an attempt to help us understand how good we had it growing up.  I’m embarrassed to say that at the time we were just horrified  to learn that she had to live without things like Doritos and Taco Bell.

My Nanny was very meticulous with her appearance.  She wasn’t necessarily vain, but it was extremely important that she always look her best.  Perhaps this was something learned during the depression, as she had so little material possessions or clothing.  She learned to work with what she had.  She did her hair and make up every day.  She pressed her blouse and her slacks.  She sewed clothes for herself and her children.  Once, she made herself a beautiful camel colored wool-lined dress coat.  She loved cashmere turtle-neck sweaters and wool blazers.  She once made my cousin and I matching plaid, wool, pleated skirts to wear to Christmas Eve Mass.  I would give anything to have that skirt back.  She also slaved to ensure that her husband and children went out into the community every day as representatives of her household.  They were meticulously dressed, pressed, and laundered.  At her funeral service my cousins and I were laughing and trading stories.  One cousin told me that she came to Nanny’s house one day wearing a pair of ripped and torn jeans.  Nanny asked her if she bought the jeans like that, and when she confirmed that she did, Nanny said, “Poor girl.  Can’t even afford to buy a whole pair of pants.”

She kept her home in the same meticulous manner.  She made her bed every day.  Hospital corners.  She cooked and baked almost every meal from scratch and she always had a cake or pie prepared in case someone dropped by and she needed to offer them something.  She knew how to refinish wood floors, kept a garden, and everything had it’s place.  She tried to teach me the importance of these things.  As a teenager I would laugh.  Make my bed every day?  Well, that was just crazy talk.  But when I stepped into her home I would breath in the smell of freshness, with a hint of bleach, and it was comforting.  I loved knowing that I would crawl into a bed that night with freshly washed and ironed sheets.  And that I would wake up to the sound of eggs frying in the pan and the smell of biscuits coming out of the oven.  My own childhood home was often chaotic and unorganized, so being in her home provided a sense of old fashioned comfort.

Given that my Nanny was a devout Catholic woman, she was truly a servant of God.  She took her responsibility as a Christian seriously and every moment was a teachable moment.  She prayed openly for everyone.  She and my grandfather organized and coordinated a prayer group every week, and they were huge members of the charismatic movement within the Catholic church.  No one loved Jesus more than my Nanny.   Last summer when I was visiting her, she was worrying quite a bit about family members, and I said to her, “You know what you need to do.  Just give it to God and everything will be ok.”  That’s what she would have said to me.  She looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “You have been listening to me all these years!!!!”  Even when I didn’t want to, I was listening.

I have a strong personality, much like my grandfather.  Nanny would always remind me that my tongue could be sharper than a sword.  She would say, “Mind your words.  They are like feathers, and once you let them go, the wind takes them and you can never get them back.”  I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but over the years I found myself measuring my actions and words by whether or not she would approve.  I can honestly say that in those moments where I held back, or didn’t do something impulsive because I knew she would disapprove, I never once regretted the choice.  The thought of doing something that might embarrass her was unacceptable.  She would often say to me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and that covers a lot of territory.”  Of course, I often did thing she wouldn’t do, and in my adult years I would sometimes tell her stories of my bad behavior.  Sometimes she would laugh and other times she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, I will pray for you.”

She loved the Lawrence Welk Show.  She would sing at the top of her lungs while cooking or doing housework.  She made me homemade mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday because she knew it was my favorite.  She helped my grandfather manage their drive-in restaurant.  She coached the young people who worked for her at the restaurant on how to mind their manners, develop a strong work ethic, and represent their employer and community with pride and dignity.   She was an old fashioned, fierce, Godly woman who loved her family and loved her Jesus.  She refused to talk poorly about others because she felt it was a terrible sin.  She taught me about faith, unconditional love and how to respect myself and others through her actions.  She could talk the talk and walk the walk.  She held her loved ones to a high standard, and she voiced her disapproval when we fell short.  But there was always love.   She was love and light, with a little bit of sass.

The last time I saw her prior to her passing was last July during our annual summer trip.  Her Alzheimer’s was progressing rapidly and she had become more emotional and confused.  I knew it was the last time we would make the trip as a family.  Too many people in the room made for a rough afternoon.  As I was leaving and saying good-bye, she was the most distant she had ever been,  like she was saying good-bye to the mail man.  At the door as I was about to walk out, I turned around and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”  In an instant she lit up from the inside and said, “And that covers a lot of territory.”

She was laughing as I closed the door behind me.

Little Boy History Lessons

martin-luther-king31This morning, I asked Bryce (age 6) if he knew who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and why we celebrate him.

He responded with this…

“Yes, I know who he is.  He was a great man who went to jail, like thirty times, so that black people and white people could eat together.”

(Insert proud mom moment here.)

It’s a simple answer, yes.  A complete answer, no.  But through the eyes of a six-year-old, it’s one hell of a start.  🙂

Birthdays and Blessings

Today is my birthday!

I’m 42 today.  I just need to say it out loud and embrace the hell out of it!

The day started amazing.  Dan got the kids up early and they were all ready and waiting to celebrate the morning with me before school.  I had my coffee and opened some very thoughtful gifts from my kids and husband.  We got the kids off to school and I sat down to work on my blog, while receiving several phone calls from family and friends.

I’m a lucky girl.

I then met Dan at one of our favorite local Mexican restaurants for lunch.  We had an awesome meal, and although he had to get back to work, neither of us really wanted lunch to end.  We really enjoy each other’s company, and today was one of those days that just felt perfect, in the moment.

I’m a lucky girl.

We said good-bye and I walked to my car.  I climbed in, closed the door and looked at my phone to answer a text message.  Suddenly, my entire car was shoved up and lifted forward, then to the right.  It was a hard slam and I was bounced in my seat as the car settled.  Somewhat stunned, I got out of the car and saw another car slowly driving away.  The driver seemed to stop, then started driving like they planned to leave, then stopped again.  The driver backed up, then pulled into a parking spot.

Dan was immediately out of his car and walking toward the other driver.  It was a woman in her 60’s and she appeared to be experiencing symptoms of a stroke.  She said she lost sight in her left eye right before she hit me.  Another witness said she hit some private property at their store the next parking lot over.  Dan called the paramedics and the police, and the entire experience of processing the accident began.  The woman was taken away in an ambulance and Dan and I were left to deal with the mangled mess that was the back of my car.

This is the first accident I’ve ever experienced in one of my own vehicles since I got my driver’s license at 16.  As I was speaking to the police officer, answering his questions, several things became clear to me.  I was parked.  I was safely inside the vehicle when she hit me, when ten seconds before I was standing at the back of my car.  I wasn’t injured.  The air bag didn’t deploy, which would have punched me right in the face, and could have potentially broken my nose, as they often do.  I have insurance.  It’s just a car.  No one else was hurt, and she didn’t hit any pedestrians as she was careening toward my vehicle.  Again, I wasn’t hurt, and it’s just a car.

I’m a lucky girl.

It’s the little things.  It’s perspective.  My kids could have been with me, and they weren’t.  I don’t take this life Dan and I have created together for granted.  Again, it’s the little things.

I’m a lucky girl, and I know it.  🙂

Little Boy Laughs #1

This is the conversation I just had with my son, Bryce (age 6).

Bryce:  Mom, I love this rock!  (It’s a plain river rock.)  Can I carry it with me everywhere?  Even on vacation?

Me:  Sure.  You really seem to love rocks.  Maybe you’ll be a geologist when you grow up.   (Case in point, I fished three rocks out of my washing machine this morning, because he picks them up everywhere he goes and leaves them in his pockets.  One of them wasn’t even a rock, it was a broken bit of concrete.)

Bryce:  What’s a geologist?

Me:  A scientist who studies rocks.

Bryce:  Oh, cool.  But can I also still be a secret agent?

Me:  Sure, buddy.  You can do both.

Bryce:  Sweet!

Kids are awesome.  🙂

Life is Good.

Hello, world!

The summer has flown by, as I knew it would, and as I predicted, I only got about three posts up all summer.  Figures.

But life continues to be busy.  Since I got home from my grandparent’s house at the end of July, I hosted my college roommate and her family for a few days, was sick for two weeks with a nasty virus that closely resembled strep throat, threw a birthday party for my son and twenty of his closest six-year old friends, and got both of my kids back to school.  So yeah, life and children continue to dominate my time and attention.   Blogging has been on the back burner for a long time, and I’m hoping now that I have both of my kids in school full-time that I’ll have more time and attention for both myself and all of you.

cold germsBeing sick for two weeks wasn’t fun.  I went to the doctor about five days into it and she ran all the typical tests to rule out bacterial infections.  It felt like my head was going to explode, and every time I swallowed it felt like my eardrums were bursting and I was trying to swallow crushed glass.  Fever, fatigue, and all the glamorous parts of feeling like total shit.  My husband had to be out-of-town for work for several days, so taking care of the house, kids, and all the pets when all you want to do is lay down and die was no picnic.  Unfortunately, the doc couldn’t give me any drugs because it was a viral infection, and it took a solid two weeks before I felt human again.  To add insult to injury, going to the doctor in the first place is always such a mind-fuck.  I already felt like shit, and have you ever noticed that going to the doctor makes you fat?  Seriously.  I walk in and immediately feel like I’ve gained ten pounds.  Then the nurse puts you on the scale and you realize that in the two hours since you got dressed and hauled your sick-ass to the clinic, you really must have gained ten pounds because their ancient scale, that must be counter-balanced with massive invisible boulders, says so.  Why don’t doctors use modern digital scales that will weigh me the same as when I’m at home?  And now that I feel like a sick, ginormous, fat cow, I have to sit, forever, in the little room and wait.  imageAnd there’s a mirror in there that is now confirming what the scale said.  Somehow my face looks heavier.  My ass seems to be climbing up my back and my muffin top is more muffin-y.  And now I want to cry because my throat hurts, my ears hurt, I can’t get any meds, and just walking in the door made me feel like Martha Dump Truck.

Damn, I’m glad that’s over.

My son’s birthday party was fun, and humiliating.  But I found my self-respect at the top of a bounce house, so that was an unexpected bonus.  We had the party at Pump It Up.  If you’re unfamiliar with the Pump It Up franchise, it’s basically a party venue with giant inflatables.  Each room is a massive, two-story room with multiple indoor inflatables, like bounce houses, obstacle courses, rock climbing walls, and things like that.  We had the Glow Party, which is like a super cool rave for kids with music and glow in the dark everything.  I had promised my daughter that I would do some of the inflatables with her because as the big sister, she was the oldest kid at the party and didn’t really want to hang with the six-year olds.  Thank God it was dark in there.  I was a little dressed up for the party and my nice jeans were somewhat confining.  Also, you have to wear socks in these things, and I quickly realized that with

This looks a lot like the structure I was attempting to climb

This looks similar to the structure I was attempting to climb. The picture doesn’t do the height justice, though.

socks on it’s hard to get any grip on the structure with your feet.  So,  I was attempting to climb this two-story monstrosity that was part rock climbing wall and part slide in tight jeans and slippery socks.  You see where I’m going with this?  You had to put your feet on these small squares and then use alternating tether straps for your hands to climb up.  Well, the tiny-made-for-five-year-old-feet squares would collapse under you if you didn’t move fast enough.  Half-way up there was this ledge you had to get over, and then another ledge all the way at the top.  I fell trying to get over the first ledge.  Kids were flying past me and laughing as I flailed and dangled by the tether straps.  Did I mention it was also pretty steep?  And also that I’m not a ten-year old?  Anyway, I dug deep and hauled myself to the top, and as I was struggling to get over the second ledge, and considering saying fuck it and just letting go, my son’s friend from his class was sitting at the top of the ledge, and she was watching me as I hung on the tethers.  She’s an adorable little girl and she says, “Keep going Mrs. B!  You can do it!”  Sweet Jesus.  How do I fail in front of her now?  I couldn’t, and it was ugly, and I’m glad it was dark in that room, but I managed to get my fat ass over that ledge and to the top.  I was sweating and tired, and when I went down the slide it was so steep and fast it actually launched me out of the shoot and I landed in a heap in front of several parents watching from below.  There was no way to play it cool, so I laid there like a lump, catching my breath.  Thankfully, several parents said how impressed they were that I even attempted to get to the top, so at least I got some street cred out of it.  Or they were just trying to make me feel better.  Either way, only one other parent attempted the same structure and made it to the top, so that makes me one of the cool moms.

My kids went back to school on August 31st, so I had three days last week of blissful alone time.  I’ve never had that, and I savored it.  I read several of your blogs, did some housework, ran errands without children, and met friends for lunch.  It was heaven.  I’m really looking forward to this school year.  And for the first time since my oldest daughter started school eight years ago, I didn’t cry at drop off on the first day.  I fucking celebrated and went out for sushi!

Life is good, people.  Life is Good!!!!!!