Jelly Beans

Easter morning Momma would wake us, telling my sister and me to get up because the Easter Bunny had come and left behind eggs for us to find. We’d hurriedly get dressed in our new Easter outfit of spring dress and white shoes. Some years the temperature outside felt more like winter than spring, and we would add a sweater or coat; other years were rainy, meaning the eggs had been hidden inside. Then there were the years that were just right – sunny and warm, the air filled with the scent of blooming spring flowers.

Grabbing our Easter baskets filled with green Easter grass, we’d excitedly hurry outside, and begin searching our large yard among the clumps of daffodils, in lower crotches of the apple trees, and beneath the giant oaks whose gnarled, weathered roots protruded from the ground, creating the perfect space to cradle an Easter egg. It didn’t take us long to fill our baskets with hard-boiled eggs, dyed a rainbow of pastel colors, and for the more brightly colored plastic eggs that pulled apart to reveal jelly beans, one of my favorite Easter treats.

I’ve always been more of a chocolate eater when it comes to candy, so I’m not sure why I looked forward to jelly beans. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat them very often. Maybe it was the sweet taste of the different flavors: grape, lemon, orange, lime, and cherry. Perhaps it was the slight crunch of the outer shell that gave way to the jelly center. Whatever the reason, I always looked forward to finding them on Easter morning.

Sometimes I ate them one at a time, slowly savoring the flavors. Other times, I put two of the same flavor in my mouth, creating a stronger flavor. I also experimented with different flavor combinations to see what they would taste like. While my favorites have always been red cherry and green lime and I would save a couple of each to eat last, I enjoyed all of them, gladly taking the black licorice-flavored ones my sister didn’t like.

As my sister and I got older, hunting eggs was replaced by receiving an Easter basket holding a chocolate Easter Bunny and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I occasionally ate jelly beans occasionally after that, especially after Jelly Belly jelly beans were introduced in 1976. I was fascinated that jelly beans really could taste like peanut butter, root beer, and buttered popcorn. Smaller than traditional jelly beans, it was easy to put several in your mouth at once, the package even giving flavor combinations to enhance the experience.

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One Sunday in February when I was 28, I woke up with a throbbing, pounding pain above my left eye. Unlike any headache I had ever experienced, the intense pain drained my energy and left my stomach queasy. Aspirin didn’t help, and I could only escape the pain by going to sleep. The next day my doctor diagnosed it as a migraine.

It was the first of many, coming every other month and lasting for three days. After trying several prescriptions, I eventually found that over-the-counter medicines provided enough relief to allow me to work and that keeping food in my stomach eased the queasiness. What I craved most was something sweet, the sugar perhaps giving me some energy when I hurt so badly, and after trying gumdrops, candy corn, M&M’s and other chocolates, I found that traditional jelly beans provided the most relief. And it had to be traditional jelly beans, not Jelly Belly jelly beans, the flavors from my past giving the most relief.

My migraines still come, but with less frequency and intensity. I still find it helps to keep food in my stomach, but no longer crave jelly beans. I am also trying to cut back on sugar, so I rarely buy them, or any candy, these days. But every so often, I walk down the aisle in the grocery store, notice the rows and rows of candy, and see the bags of colorful jelly beans hanging there. I smile, recall enjoying them on Easter mornings, and also finding relief from migraine pain. Maybe it is time for a treat, I think. So I grab a bag, put it in my cart, and look forward to enjoying the sweet taste of jelly beans.

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Painted Bones

Growing up in the country, we always had a couple of dogs, our version of an alarm system. For a treat, Momma would give them bones leftover after cooking roasts and pork chops, and they’d carry them into the yard and happily gnaw on them for hours. Sometimes my sister and I would step on them while playing outside. It hurt for a minute but was just a part of our life.

Until that afternoon.

I was five or 6, my sister three years younger. Daddy was mowing the yard, and Great-Aunt Kate, who lived with us, was walking around outside checking on her chickens and flowers. Suddenly, there was a loud “clunk” as the mower picked up a bone and forcefully threw it out the side of the mower and into Aunt Kate. Daddy stopped the mower and jumped off while yelling to Momma to come help. Aunt Kate had been badly hurt.

After they got her in bed, my sister and I were given the job of walking through the yard and picking up all the pieces of bones we could find, to prevent this happening again. As we found bits and pieces, we proudly piled them on the steps to the back door. When we thought we had found them all, I told Momma, who thanked me and told me we could go back to playing.

My sister, however, had another idea.

Gathering her watercolors and brushes, she proceeded to paint the bones we had collected. Nothing fancy, just transparent blotches of colors on the dirty, chewed bones. Momma came out as she was finishing, and oohed and aahed over them, telling her what a good job she had done.

A few days later, a friend visited to see how Aunt Kate was doing. As Momma described all that had happened, she showed her the painted bones. The friend looked at them 0and said, “how creative!”

It was creative to see the bones differently, not as trash, but as a canvas to create on. It was creative take something that had caused pain and beautify it. And what I felt was that since I didn’t think of it, I was not creative. I think I’ve always believed that you either are creative, or you aren’t. It isn’t something to be learned or developed. And since I didn’t have the idea to paint the bones, I wasn’t creative.

Every time I have difficulty writing my stories, my first thought is I’m not meant to be writing and need to just move on to something else. Every time I look at Instagram and see the beautiful photographs, see the creative ideas people have for sharing their stories, I wonder why I have trouble coming up with ideas to post, and think, yet again, that I’m not creative. But I am tired of holding myself back, tired of assuming I’m not creative and want to challenge the assumption I’ve held for too many years.

I want to expand my definition of what creativity is. It isn’t just about seeing old bones as a surface that can be decorated. Taking leftovers and making a good meal out of them is creative. Finding a way to bring in more money is creative. Finding a way to change your life, however slowly, is creative. Some of us may naturally be more creative, but it is a skill we can all learn. Maybe it is more like a muscle that needs to be exercised, developed, refined.

In 2018 I want to challenge myself to explore being creative. Tell myself, as often as I need to, that I am a creative person. Accept that some days writing is hard, and keep working on it anyway, because that is what creative people do – keep working and trying different things.

Let’s see where a creative mindset will lead me!

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Ruffled Feathers

My great aunt had lived on the family farm her entire life, and each day she followed a regular routine for doing her daily chores. One morning, when I was about six, I followed her to one of the small buildings behind our house to see if I could help. As I watched, she unlatched the door, swung it open, and stepped inside. I paused at the threshold, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darker interior, then followed her in. Turning right, she walked to the wall, put her hand in one of the openings, and quickly withdrew it, holding what she had been after. It seemed easy enough and I wanted to try. Imitating her motions, I tentatively reached out my hand, put it into the next opening, and began feeling for one of my own to grab. But I was slower than my great aunt. Too slow. Ouch! The hen sitting in her nesting box did not want me to reach under her and remove the warm, smooth, freshly-laid egg. Disappointed in myself, I wondered if I would ever attempt gathering eggs again. Why did something that seemed easy have to be hard and painful?

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Thanksgiving Memories

How I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving has changed through the years. Some years I’ve been with family, some years alone; some years I’ve been filled with gratitude, while other years I’ve had to work hard to truly give thanks. Sometimes I’ve thanked what has come into my life, sometimes what has left my life, and sometimes I realize how thankful I am for what did not happen. I guess that’s life.

Here are some of my memories of celebrating Thanksgiving:

I was 2 months old my first Thanksgiving. My parents took me to northwest Arkansas to show me off to my grandmothers, great aunts, and numerous family friends. I have no memory of this, but there is a photo of me sitting with my grandmothers (whom I was named after).

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When I was two or 3, the table was set with the china, silver, and crystal. The relish tray, with pickles and pimento-stuffed green olives, was also on the table. The story goes that my mom walked into the dining room and saw me sitting at the table. On my plate were four or 5 olives. When asked why I had them there, my reply was I wanted to be sure I got some. It has become a family joke about putting the relish tray next to be so I can get my olives.

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Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much the same every year: roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans (later, green bean casserole), mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, relish tray with pimento-stuffed green olives and sweet gherkins, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and cranberry sauce from the can. Dessert was pie – usually pumpkin and pecan.

I don’t remember traveling for Thanksgiving. When I was 5, my maternal grandmother moved to my hometown, so we celebrated holidays with her. I remember Thanksgiving being a fairly quiet day. The kitchen was where the hustle and bustle was, the heat from the oven warming the dining room and den, where the TV was on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then football games. The formal china, silver, and crystal came off the china cabinet shelves to grace our table.

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Thanksgiving my freshman year at college was my first trip back home, and after three months of dorm food, I was looking forward to our usual Thanksgiving dinner. I was not happy to get home and learn that instead of a full turkey, she was cooking some sort of turkey roll formed from turkey meat, and I let my unhappiness be known. It actually tasted fine, and the rest of the meal was what we usually had, but I had made my point. In the years to follow, my mom always let me know if she wanted to do something different (such as cook only a turkey breast, or order an already-cooked turkey from the grocery store deli) and asked if I was OK with that.

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I was a newlywed and we were going to my parents for Thanksgiving. Wanting to show that I was, indeed, grown up, I said I’d bring a pumpkin pie. Using the Betty Crocker cookbook I had “borrowed” from my mom, I bought canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spices, evaporated milk, and a pre-made pie crust. (I still haven’t mastered making a pie crust). My first effort came out rather well, with my dad taking a bite, smiling, and saying with some surprise, “Gladys, this is good pumpkin pie.” Made my day.

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While in grad school, my (now ex) husband and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend and his family. Everyone was very kind and gracious, and the food was delicious, but we were outsiders. I felt awkward the entire time and realized that I would rather stay home alone than be with people I don’t know just for the sake of not being alone.

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A couple of years later, we did stay home alone and I cooked my first turkey and all the fixings. I don’t remember why we didn’t visit family that year, but part of the reason probably was I wanted to do it myself to see if I could. I agonized over being sure the turkey was done and neither of us got sick. It all came out fine, except for the rolls. I tried a recipe I saw in the paper; while they tasted great, they didn’t rise, so were very thick and dense.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving while living in England was a different experience. A group of us Yanks who were there for a year got together to mark the occasion. It was strange watching the news that morning and realize that for almost everyone else in the country, it was just another Thursday. There was also the challenge of finding ingredients for traditional dishes: cornmeal to make cornbread for the southern dressing, sweet potatoes (there were yams, but they are not the same), canned cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin. We were able to pull it all together and had a wonderful day.

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After I got divorced, my ex and I alternated Thanksgiving with our child. And I found that the years I was alone, I just wanted to be by myself. I looked forward to eating what, and when, I wanted, watch what I wanted on TV, or read, take a nap, or whatever. Co-workers and friends always felt sorry for me and invited me over, and I always declined. I didn’t feel sorry for myself; I enjoyed the time and space alone.

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One year we were all there – me and my kid, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. My mom had premade the dressing and frozen it. In removing it from the freezer to thaw overnight, still in the glass baking dish, it slipped from her hands and crashed to the floor. Glass and cornbread stuffing went everywhere. She was distraught. My sister and I quickly cleaned up the mess, made a quick trip to the grocery store and baked a fresh batch, which we devoured with our turkey.

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My last Thanksgiving with my mom came as she was cleaning out in preparation for a move into assisted living near my sister. My dad had passed away the previous February, so it was very different than previous years. She did bake a pan of dressing but ordered the turkey from the grocery deli. What I most remember about it are watching her try to sort through years of paperwork trying to decide what to keep, what to shred, and what to give away, and of taking her to the ER on Saturday.

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My first Thanksgiving in Florida was 2 months after I moved. Alone again, I had no real plans for the day. After a cold start, the sun came out so about noon I got in my car and drove south through New Smyrna Beach and Titusville. The clouds rolled back in, and then, being late November, the sun was going down, so I headed back home to a dinner of turkey slices from the deli, stuffing made in the pan, and cranberry sauce with the berries. I ate dinner while watching DVDs on my computer and realized it had been a good day I was thankful for. The only thing missing was someone special to share it with.

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That had changed by the next Thanksgiving. I met my boyfriend in early September, and we celebrated our first Thanksgiving together by cooking. We prepared a whole turkey, stuffing ( I had always made dressing before), green bean casserole, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy… lots of gravy. A couple of friends joined us and we stuffed ourselves.

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This year we are walking down the street to have Thanksgiving with his sister and her boyfriend who moved here earlier this year. Our only responsibility is making mashed potatoes, and to show up with a big appetite. I am looking forward to not having to do much, yet it is different not spending the day cooking with my boyfriend.

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What will Thanksgiving next year be like?

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