When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.
I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.
These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!
No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.
One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.
Frozen Orange Daiquiri
But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?
While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.
The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.
I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.
It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.
It was exquisite.
Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!
This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.
I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.
Where Are They Now?
I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.
Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.
I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.
Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!
“Be kind to the children, for they are close to the other side.” – unknown
When my father was given 3 months to live when he had the intestinal cancer, everyone had an idea of what he should do. Take this herb! Try chiropractic! I was in the “Call Hospice” camp. But my father had a different plan. Instead, he wanted to do chemotherapy. Those of us in the medical arena of his life, holding the labs in our hands, shook our heads at the futility of that… and it might/probably will make him feel much worse. We did what he wanted anyway.
My dad did 2 sessions of chemo and then said, “Call Hospice.”
His death 2.5 months later was peaceful and gentle. And he was so so loved.
When We Need to Listen
In my life right now are a couple of people who have family or friends with terminal diagnoses. Those around them are rushing to help with all sorts of remedies, diets and even insisting on the “power of positive thinking.”
Instead, perhaps this is a time to ask the dying person what they want, not foist on them what we want.
Being near those that are dying is an amazing honor and privilege. For one thing, it isn’t a sudden, unexpected moment where there are always regrets about things not said or done. When you are at the side of a dying person, you have the opportunity for completion and the giving of your heart in a way you might never have before.
It is not a time for airing grievances that will never be resolved. Not a time for your confessions of guilt (find a Priest for that). It isn’t even a time to just sit keening and crying your eyes out, the dying person trying to comfort you in their time of need.
Holding the Space is a concept I learned in midwifery, but had been doing a long time already with men dying of AIDS decades ago. Holding the Space is sitting quietly, perhaps praying silently, seeing golden light of love surrounding them or just Be-ing with the person heading to the other side (into parenthood/through death/in illness/etc.). Allowing the person to say what they want… rambling speech or exquisite poetry. I like to keep notes, but not at the expense of my complete attention.
One caveat: Take as many pictures as you can… with each person separately, everyone together… take pictures holding the person’s hand… get video of them if they are still talking. I have nothing with my dad’s voice on it and regret that terribly.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but if there was ever a time to be Mindful, it is when with someone in transition. Not worrying about getting to the store, checking your phone or even talking to others in the room about mundane life crap. BE with the person. Give your full attention to them. Watch them. Witness their transition completely.
If you get tired, you rest. No one can be expected to be Mindful or present 100% of the time. Do go for walks outside. Walk the dog. Eat a good meal. Be mindful of your needs, too.
There But for the Grace of God Go I
When I am with someone in this holy place (which does include childbirth, of course), I want to share with them how I hope to be treated during my own transition through death. Not that it is my prescribed way of dying, but simply respectful and kind attention.
My family knows how I want to go. At home. People happy, laughing, music blaring, telling fun stories, remembering all the wondrous things I have done in this life. I also want to be read to. Read to me when I am tired and need to close my eyes for a moment.
But that is me. Not everyone wants the levity part that I have requested.
Perhaps the person you are with wants to smoke again, drink until they are drunk every day, wants to go out to a forest and dig their toes in the dirt one more time. Take them! Even if you have to hire an ambulance service and need to push dirt through their toes while they are on a gurney. Be creative to give the dying their wishes. If they want to watch a favorite movie on a 24-hour loop and it makes you crazy…
…so what?!? Let them!
Talk to your loved one. Ask them what they want and need from you.
Then do it.
An added note: I understand that children dying slowly can be another aspect entirely. I have not lost a child to cancer or another illness or malformation, so cannot speak to it accurately. But, as with everything anyone in the world writes or says:
I was at the Hematologist’s office the other day getting my weekly iron infusion (yeah, have not written about that yet, sorry) and afterward, I ended up waiting 2 hours for the medical transport to come pick me up.
Sitting across from me were 2 kids, a boy about 10 with an iPad and earbuds in, sitting away from, who I found out later, was his grandmother. Next to grandma was a girl who told me she was 6. She looked bored to tears.
After a few minutes, I invited her over to watch videos with me on my phone. Sheepishly, she crossed the space between us, sitting in the chair next to me. I asked her what we should watch. She shrugged. I suggested baby goat videos; they are always great for a laugh.
We spent the next 20 minutes laughing at the baby goat antics, my asking her questions every once in awhile.
“How old are you?”
“When is your birthday?”
It had just passed, so I asked her if she received any gifts and she excitedly told me…
… something I asked her to repeat several times. Confused, I pleadingly looked at Grandma for help.
I was still clueless, so told the little girl I had to Google it to see what that was. She looked at me, incredulous I could possibly have gone one day without this knowledge.
They are teeny-tiny toys… that revolve around… grocery shopping? Marketing groceries to a 6-year old? Good lord.
Oh, and there’s a whole Shopkins series of cartoons, too. My new friend wanted to watch one. I vetoed that.
My head was swimming after the Shopkins talk, so I decided to show her pictures of my grandkids. She liked that, pointing out various things.
I got to my grandson at a fairy birthday party, wearing wings and a crown. I told her who it was and she said, “But, he’s a BOY! Boys can’t be fairies!” I said there he is, so clearly he could be a fairy. She didn’t believe me.
I scrolled further and found the one with my grandson covered in mud and said, “See? He can be a fairy and covered in mud. Everyone gets to do that if they want to.”
(That turned out to be the kernel I’d hoped I could impart on her young mind.)
Soon after, grandma was called back and the little girl had to go with her (my ride should have been there at any moment anyway) and she ran to go through the door.
But not before she turned around and waved one last time.
I’m having a flood of food memories and thought I should write them down for my kidlets and others who remember these crazy things.
Red Velvet Cake
I remember the first piece of Red Velvet Cake I ever had. First grade. The perfect square of deep red with white frosting. When I picked up a piece with my metal fork and slid it into my mouth, I’m sure I made a childish moan of delight.
I never saw Red Velvet Cake outside of the south until about 30 years ago. Reading, it seems that the movie Steel Magnolias (a movie I have memorized) brought the dessert out of the southern states about 1989 when the Groom’s Cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was blood red from the cake inside.
I haven’t seen the Jell-O cake in decades, but remember how to make it as if it was yesterday.
• Make a yellow cake in a 9×13 pan
• Let it cool
• Use the back end of a wooden spoon to make a few holes around the cake
• Make 2-3 different kinds (and colors!) of Jell-O
• While the Jell-O is still liquid, randomly pour it into the holes
• Put the now kinda colored cake in the refrigerator for a few hours
• Once the cake is cold, frost it with Cool Whip. (It has to be Cool Whip! Not real whipped cream, but Cool Whip.
I prefer the multi-colored cakes, but I see online it is common to make this for red, white & blue holidays.
Besides how to make this cake, I can taste it as if it was sitting in front of me.
I used to go to Tifton, Georgia with a childhood friend, visiting her grandmother. Tifton is still really small, but back in 1974 or so, it was tiny.
Grandma lived on a farm… cows, chickens, horses, pigs, corn fields… the whole farm thing. Visiting grandma in Tifton remains the only time I’ve ever been to, visited or stayed on a farm.
It was hot as Hades at that house. Not even fans, much less air conditioning. The windows were always open, cicadas and neighing from the horses the only sounds during the windless nights.
Sitting in the kitchen was big fun. Grandma cooked everything from scratch (as most everyone did back then), 3 meals a day, 365 days a year.
Huge, amazing breakfasts of fresh bacon, eggs from the chickens and lots of thickly buttered white bread toast.
When the bacon was done, grandma poured the hot grease on top of the older grease sitting in a Ball Jar next to the stove. Grease upon grease upon grease, sitting for goodness knows how long.
If something was going to stick to the cast iron pan, a heaping spoonful of grease was added to the pan.
Because eggs were a sticky sort of food, bacon grease was the base as they were cooked… bits of bacon fat throughout.
How this bacon fat generation didn’t all die off from heart disease is beyond me.
Certainly all the hard work helped.
Still on the farm with my friend and her grandparents, we girls were sent out to the corn field to pick corn off the stalks. A novice, I had to be shown what was a good piece of corn to pick off, having chosen semi-rotten corn at first.
Once I figured it out, we went about our business and filled the giant basket we were given.
When our baskets were full, we carried them right into grandma’s kitchen where she almost immediately set to work. We were in charge of getting the “angel hair” (silk) and then passed the clean corn to grandma so she could get the kernels off the cob.
This part was the most time-consuming part. It would take hours of manual muscle to scrape, scrape, scrape the cob in order to get what she needed to make the creamed corn.
But, when all the corn was off the cob, the deliciousness really started.
Boiled Peanuts are a part of the Deep South. You are nearly required to say the words with a Southern accent: “Bolt Peanuts.”
Roadside stands are everywhere.
For those who’ve never had the opportunity to taste boiled peanuts, you can also get them in the store… canned!
Here’s what they look like when being made at one of the outdoor locations.
People eat them in different ways. Some will remove the peanut out of the shell with their fingers, others take the peanut out once it is in their mouth… but many, many eat them without removing the squishy shell.
My thoughts on boiled peanuts: THEY ARE REVOLTING. Slimy shells are incredibly gross. Foodie, beware.
Pickled Pigs Feet
Yet another Southern delicacy is Pickled Pigs Feet. Not kidding.
Now, while I’ve never put these in my mouth, they are incredibly popular in all stores, large and small.
Anecdote: My niece was about 3-years old and there was a lower bin filled with pigs’ feet. She asked what they were and mom told her, “Pig’s feet!” My niece looked at the bin, back to mom, then back to the bin and asked, “Then how do the piggies walk?” Smart child.
My childhood friend Angel taught me how to eat grits.
Grits are made from corn (no clue how) and used to have to be cooked, but now come in the instant variety. To me, there’s no difference in the taste, so bring on the instant grits!
Angel first made me grits with sugar in them. Blech.
Then she introduced me to grits with butter. So much butter, the bowl was floating and a bright yellow color.
Restaurants in the south often make grits with cheese. Meh. Bring on the butter.
Swimming in butter is how I eat them to this day.
Simple sandwiches are usually made because by noon it is bloody hot outside. In the olden days, we had no air conditioner. On my friend’s grandparent’s farm, there was never any air conditioner.’
It was not uncommon to eat this simple sandwich: Tomato & Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.
Note the old plate the sandwich is on in the above picture… gilt around the edge. No one does that anymore because it would spark a fire in the microwave.
And then, the bane of my southern party existence: Pimento Cheese on Wonder Bread.
Pimentos. DisGUSTing. And then some sort of cheese (not real… can’t be real) all mashed together with mayonnaise. Blech!
When I was pre-teen, we’d cram luggage, then ourselves, into the Chevy station wagon (seat belts? HA!) and trek to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend part of the summer with the Cuban side of the family: grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins.
During one particular visit, the 2 oldest cousins dragged 8-year old me into their clubhouse, wall-papered with Playboy pictures (the first I’d ever seen) and took it upon themselves to tell me how babies were made.
I was so confused.
And once I really learned, I saw they got several facts incorrect. I hope they’ve figured that all out by now.
My parents and aunt and uncle went fishing a couple of times during the summer. I salivated just seeing the fishing poles being put into the cars.
They always came home with gobs of fresh catfish & perch. Still today, catfish is pretty much the only fish I enjoy (memories are strong motivators!).
I remember the scaling of the perch as a messy, gross activity that I stayed far away from lest I be covered in the silvery scales. Whomever was scaling at the moment, when they were tired, were hosed off in the yard to get those tiny flecks of fish-covering off their face and arms, then someone took up the spoon and continued the tedious work.
Happily, catfish have no scales.
Finally, the enormous Bar-B-Que was fired up and I hung around it, feeling the intense heat, watching the cooking catfish, just stopping myself from begging for the first fish off the grill.
Being first in line, I often received those burning hot slabs of flesh.
I learned how to eat fish around the bones fast, not remembering ever eating a hard fish bone. (The soft ones are often just swallowed.)
Besides the BBQ, the catfish was often fried. Which I loved even more. You can never go wrong with breading and being fried in a cast iron pan.
I can taste it even now.
The always-offered hush puppies were also made. I gobbled those suckers up, too. Dipped in ketchup.
A wonderful book I came across many years ago was White Trash Cooking. Between the covers, recipes and photos brought back visceral memories, making me close my eyes for a moment, and feeling/smelling/tasting exactly what I saw in a mere picture.
What a fun revisit to my food memories. Thanks for coming along!
The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.
My Sordid Family Legacy
These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.
I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
USA. North Carolina. 1950.
In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.
Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”
Add the KKK to My History
I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well. I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.
How I Was Raised
My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.
For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.
It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.
Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.
After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.
In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.
Confronting My Own Racism
It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.
I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.
pausing some more
I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.
“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”
Amendment: Out loud.
After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?
The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.
(This is much harder to write than I expected.)
I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.
Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.
I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.
Some Things I’ve Learned
“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”
Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.
It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.