La Belle Cuisine
Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion
cook is to create. And to create well...
"Work like you don't need the money. Love like
you've never been hurt.
Recipe of the Day Categories:
June. In addition to the predictable challenges of graduations, weddings, vacations, and
children with time
on their hands, the arrival of summer often prompts large family gatherings. Perhaps even a good old-fashioned Family
Reunion. You know. Dinner on the ground (as we say in the South), down-home cookin', fierce rivalry
among the family's top cooks, raconteurs, and two-fisted imbibers. The gossips will have a field day, the kids will
Some have already departed. "They left us far too soon," read the obituary. How tragic that a young life filled with such promise should be cut short,
we said to ourselves, and perhaps to each other. Life. What can you say? Here today, gone tomorrow, right?
Clichés begin to flow like ice-cold lemonade on a Southern front porch.
"Well, he's probably better off." Or, "I can't believe she's gone - I just saw
her last week! I do declare, how time flies..."
(Did you ever wonder how clichés become clichés? Oft-repeated simple
truths become platitudes, which then become clichés by virtue of the fact
that they are repeated because they are true. Time does fly, does it not?
How simple is that?)
This past week provided me with several poignant reminders of the swift passage of time, the fragility of life, and the inevitable immortality glaring
back at us from our mirrors. The bombardment began with an e-mail
message, as so many bombardments do. This one was entitled, "Evelyn Fondren R. I. P." What?!?!? Not possible. Not Skinless! She was always
so cheerful, so happy-go-lucky. I recalled with great fondness her infectious laugh, her captivating smile. Bear in mind I have not seen her since high
school. That's the way she was then, so surely that's the way she was as
she drew her last breath. Funny how the mind works...
After a moment or so I began to realize that if any of us in the Murrah Class
of '58 were to pass on at this stage of our lives, no doubt the most frequent cliché heard at the funeral gathering would be, "Well, bless her heart, she certainly did lead a full life, didn't she?" Yes indeedy. C'est la vie (la morte,
actually). Que sera, sera. We all gotta go sometime. Blah, blah, blah... No
doubt we mean well, but so often we have not a single clue as to what sentiment might be appropriate in such delicate situations. let alone how
to express it.
And then the reunion stuff began to appear. At least the Delta Air Lines reunion messages did not contain a number. That helped considerably.
Then came the bomb: MURRAH HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF ‘58 - FIFTY YEAR REUNION PLANNED. I never did like practical jokes,
and I certainly do not appreciate cruelty jokes! I was just about to give
good ole J. T. a piece of my not-yet-senile mind when I did the math.
Lord have mercy! Reality impinges...
Midnight found me tossing and turning, haunted by face after fresh young
face flashing before me like a commemorative slide show: Football stars, ivory-skinned Southern belles, brains, geeks, clowns, fantastic dancers...
(Do you remember the "bop"? I never did quite get the hang of it. Did not attend enough sock hops I guess.) The in-crowd, the out-crowd, the name-
less faces, the musicians, artists, writers, mad scientists and born-to-be doctors, future entrepreneurs. Then there were the smokers, the drinkers,
the "fast girls", the biker guys. (As far as I know, that's about as far as it
went in the late 50s in Jackson MS.)
I soon realized that I really did not know these people at all. I found it
profoundly sad to think that many people I greatly admired in high school could not possibly have known how I felt. Not because they were dense
or insensitive, but because I did not bother to tell them! Not even a hint...
Skinless is a prime example. What has really been bothering me about her passing is that I REALLY liked her, and she probably didn't even know it! Somehow I always expected to see her again. Why not?
Evelyn was one of my favorite classmates but I'll bet my bottom dollar she had no idea I ever gave her a passing thought one way or another. How sad
is that?!?!? What is the matter with us? Why don't we tell people we care about that their existence on planet earth makes a difference? And no, not tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or at the next reunion. Now, while there is still time! Fear of rejection and/or ridicule be damned!
The truth is that I don't go to many reunions. Now that I think of it, I guess
I don't go to ANY reunions. And just why not? Chalk it up to childhood trauma, if you must. Gotta blame it on something, right?
The gathering of the Osage Indian clan (northeast Oklahoma) is quite a sight to behold. My dad's family was not about to give up, by God! We would all get together, and we would all get along, assuming that at least the majority
of the adults were on speaking terms again, having survived the cruel and unusual castigation of reunions past.
What a strange phenomenon, I thought. Downright bizarre. My mother's Kansas relatives made no such attempt. A quiet, reserved, straitlaced lot they were. By and large, they did not get along all that well either, which suited them just fine as long as they could keep it to themselves. They would not
be caught airing their dirty laundry, no sir! They declared to one another (in varying degrees of haughtiness) that conflict was for the less genteel. I cannot resist adding that my oh-so-prim-and-proper female Kansas kinfolk admired their own gentility, but tended to marry a more fascinating breed of men. To avoid being bored to death, no doubt.
Eventually I asked one of the Osage elders (who appeared quite wise indeed with his flowing silver mane and chiseled bronze features) to explain why this annual family congregation was so important.
"Such occasions are not to be missed," he replied in a most serious tone.
"Child, if you are not present to experience for yourself what is said and
done, how do you expect to be able to separate truth from fiction for generations to come? And even then there will be a need for discreet censorship..."
Interesting. I was soon to find out precisely what he meant by "the need
for discreet censorship".
I don't suppose you could call it a brawl, exactly, but what I was subjected
to that sizzling summer afternoon in the name of family "togetherness"
shocked my 8-year-old sensibilities considerably. I still don't know for sure
what really happened, who slung the first insult, who first crossed the fine
line separating a tad tiddly from downright smashed, but I do know for
certain that this fracas was still being rehashed that night around my great-aunt's huge kitchen table. Voices began to rise, and then anger seethed, threatening a nasty explosion. Soon tears were flowing profusely, rivaling
the beer and bourbon of the sweltering afternoon.
Okay. Enough was enough. All of a sudden I found myself standing up and shouting in my most mature tone of voice, "WHY CAN'T YOU GROWN-UPS BE QUIET AND START ACTING YOUR AGE?!?!?"
Well. The proverbial dropping of the pin, etc. Dead silence. (Picture a large family gathered around a table in ancient Pompeii shortly after the eruption
of Mt. Vesuvius.) You can imagine the stunned expressions. My dad was struck speechless. My Grandmother's eyes were about to pop out of her
head. Her mouth was partially open as though she fully intended to speak,
but could not quite manage to utter the first syllable. (It's just as well...)
It soon became apparent to me that I had the floor, like it or not. No com- petition whatsoever. The "adults" either would not or could not come up
with an appropriately chastising rejoinder, so I was compelled to continue.
(Certainly I would not leave the room and miss this once-in-a-childhood opportunity. For the first time in my life, I had the undivided attention of
an entire room full of dumbfounded adults!)
The truth is that I really do not recall what I said, other than that it centered around the fact that families should TREAT EACH OTHER WELL! Families should respect each other's rights and opinions, and do everything possible to avoid hurting each other. They should always do their very best to GET ALONG! I do remember quipping, "That's what you always tell US to do!" (No one dared contradict.) And I know I ended with "FAMILIES ARE SUPPOSED TO LOVE EACH OTHER!!!"
Too bad we could not have recorded whole thing on video tape. Might have turned into a hit movie. Just think, we were way ahead of our time. We were dysfunctional when dysfunction wasn't cool!
That was my last family reunion. The entertainment left a lot to be desired, but the food (in the great Oklahoma tradition), was to die for. My horde of relatives and I saw each other in a brand new light. I now had a Reputation.
I was actually applauded, but I do not recall taking a bow.
As for high school reunions, all I can say is that my Uncle Bud (God rest
his soul) attended his first and last such event a year or so prior to his
death. He reported that is was one of the worst mistakes he'd ever made.
He declined to discuss it with any of us (by which I mean the family), but
we got the scoop from one of his fellow classmates.
Seems that the most anticipated event of this venerable gathering was the
reunion of THE couple, THE high school sweethearts, greatly envied and highly regarded by all. No doubt Hollywood would have recorded the
scene for posterity in slow motion, to the accompaniment of music no less
esteemed than that of Les Brown and His Band of Renown. In reality
however, not only were there no serenades or fireworks, there was not
even the faintest flicker of recognition. Nothing! They just walked right
past each other!
From that moment on those present could conjure up no other topic of conversation. "Can y'all even beLIEVE it? They didn't even RECognize
each other! And they were SO much in love! I declare, that's the saddest
thing I ever heard of!"
Yeah you right, as they say in N'awlins. And if you knew the whole story,
no doubt you would agree that theirs was indeed a tragic love affair, from beginning to end.
So. I rest my case. What do you think? Should I attend the Fifty Year Reunion of the Murrah Class of 1958? Probably. Will I attend? Remains
to be seen. It would have been great to see Skinless again, if only she had lived long enough.
Reunion Food - like yo' mama used to make!
More Reunion Food:
"Comfort the disturbed;
Summer Holiday Recipe Index
Daily Recipe Index
Recipe Archives Index