Thursday, January 31, 2008

Funeral Salad

My mom, Jan and me at my wedding, 1997

It has been just over two years since the sudden death of my mom, Jan. Lung cancer took her at the young age of 61; and unfortunately, she didn't even have the time after the diagnosis to tell anyone that she was sick. She died just five days after learning that she had less than a year to live.
Over the 14 years that she was my mom, I learned a lot from her about life. From the importance of going to school dances, to the responsibilities of living on my own, and finally, the day to day rigors, and joy, of parenting my own child. I took lessons from her on growing beans, and on growing children (both of which are usually pretty healthy!); I wish her final lesson to me would have been about growing old.
While I lived with her as a teen, she and I had our differences, and our camaraderic times; all the while she was teaching us girls how to be, well, girls. I hated being on her bad side, but I would never go into one of life's battles with anyone other than her on my side!
One of the things that I tend to carry with me from events in my life, is the foods that nourish my journey. Staples of my early childhood were whatever foods came in falling-apart banana boxes from the Food Bank every Saturday; thick, tasteless peanut butter in white cans with black print, and heavy blocks of government cheese plagued my young pallet.
Later, instant potatoes, beans and franks, and dark, overcooked broccoli graced my plate at the temporary girls home. Once I came to life with my new mom, homemade spaghetti with meat sauce, (her special touch to the sauce was a generous helping of hand-sliced black olives) and baked macaroni and cheese were my favorites of the meals she prepared six nights a week. But sometimes, there are foods from our past that come forward with us, and meet us later with a friendly "hello, remember when..." For me, it was "funeral salad."
I was about seven when I went to my first funeral. An elderly lady in our church died and we, our family, went to her funeral. I remembered how after church on Sundays, she would—without our mother’s knowledge—give my me and my brother small packets of "Sixlets," little chocolate flavored candy balls that would leave a greasy coating in my mouth to remind me of the guilt that I should have felt over taking the candy, and how she would smile, and all of the wrinkles in her face would straighten out for the smallest second and show her beauty beneath her skin.
I didn’t cry at the funeral; I don’t think that I really knew what was happening, or that she was gone and not coming back. I was wearing itchy, too-small white tights under a black, pleated skirt, and white gloves on my hands. I sat fidgeting on the hard wooden pew sandwiched between my brother and my mother, and scratched at my knees during the service, wishing for it to be over quickly so I could get out of my tights.
After the service there was a reception in the church basement. It was dark, and smelled like old coffee and old ladies perfume down there. There was a long table with things to eat on it, and people stood around it pretending that they were too sad to eat, picking up paper plates and napkins like it was a duty. All the while though, their eyes had been greedily surveying the contents of the table, hoping to get a bit of everything before it was gone.
I was in line at the food table behind a great big fat man who smelled like sweat and had white dog hair that stuck to his brown pants. I eyed the bounty on the table for myself and when I was in front of it, I picked out a dinner roll and three tiny ears of corn, and then scooped a blob of creamy, green goo onto my plate. I retreated to a metal folding chair next to my brother to eat; he wasn’t eating anything; he really was too sad to eat. I ate the green stuff with a plastic fork—there weren’t any spoons—and my brother wrinkled his nose at me.
“That looks gross,” he said.
You’re gross,” I said.

When I was fifteen, I spent my first Christmas in foster care. On the table next to the turkey gravy was a large bowl of green goo.
“Wow, funeral salad!” I said.
My foster mom, Jan, looked at me funny, and a couple of the other foster girls laughed. I was embarrassed. But Jan smiled then.
“I think I have seen this at more than one funeral,” Jan said.
Easter that year, Jan handed me a recipe card. “You should know how to make this,” she said.
The recipe had “green salad” written across the top in faded blue ink. Every year after, at all of the holiday dinners, I would go back to my old foster home to share in a meal; the recipe title on the card was replaced with, “Becky's Funeral Salad,” and the green goo was always on the menu.

Monday, January 28, 2008

How I Lost My Mother to Cancer, and Found Her through My Garden

Bush Beans, Summer 2006
I didn't start gardening until I was 29. To be truthful, my husband started gardening when I was 29; I became "gardening support." It started with one sad and wilted tomato plant last spring, and ended with a freezer full of garden-fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and beans that fall.
"Look!" My husband, James said. He had just come in from work, he was holding up a black, plastic pot with a wilted tomato plant that hung limply to the side. He was smiling like a twelve-year-old boy with a huge toad bulging out of his fist. I eyed the tomato plant with far less enthusiasm than he, and didn't say anything.
"It's a tomato plant!" He said, thrusting it toward me. I reached out to take it, and then changed my mind, dropping my hand back down to my side. Our two-year old son, Ben, plowed into my husband's legs at that moment, and the sad tomato plant flopped from side to side.
"I can see that it's a tomato plant," I said. "What is it doing here?"
"We're gonna plant it! We'll get more, and we'll have a vegetable garden this year," he said. He knelt down on the floor to show Ben the plant, "look, Ben, tomato plant," he said to the toddler, who promptly grabbed at the limp greens.
"'Mato pants,” said Ben. "'Mato pants... Mato pants!" He chanted, dancing a jig around my husband.
That was the beginning of our garden. Plots were dug, the soil was prepared, gardening books of all kinds started showing up around the house; books piled up on the bathroom counter, in the office, and in the kitchen. Nearly every day brought James home from work with some new plant, or more seed packets. More and more vegetables, fruits and herbs were planted, and started to grow in our back yard garden.
James was thrilled with each new sprout, and I was indifferent. It wasn’t that I disliked gardening so much, I had not been enthusiastic about anything then; my mother had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a ruptured tumor in her lung a few months before, and nothing I did held much pleasure for me. Gardening just seemed like another chore to do, something to be “gotten to,” during the day. I kept Ben out of the garden, watered it when it was hot, and just continued to muddle through my days, reminding myself to get up each morning and breathe.
It was a Tuesday evening when James brought home a packet of bush beans, and I began to garden.

“Mom!” I shout, running into the house from the school bus. “Mom, where are you?” I hear here answer from her room so I toss my book bag on the sofa and hurry down the hall to her door.
“Becky, what are you shouting about?” She said. She looks at what I am holding in my hand and furrows her brow. “You’re getting dirt all over the carpet! Get that thing outside!” She walks toward me and shoos me down the hall and out the back patio door. The plastic baggie in my hand had sprung a leak sometime between school and my front door, and I leave a trail through the house.
“Sorry mom, but look, can I plant them in the back?” I hold up the baggie with its treasure inside; three small bean plants peek out of the top of the leaking bag.
“What are they?” Mom asks, her brow is still furrowed.
“Beans!” I say.
“You’re a sophomore in high school and you are growing beans in a baggie? What are you learning, kindergarten botany?” Mom says.
“I don’t know, I do what Mr. Thomas says. Anyways, can I plant them in the yard?” I say. I am still excited, even though I know I will eventually have to clean the dirt from the carpet, I have visions of Jack and his beanstalk running through my thoughts. Mom likes to have flowers in the yard, but we never grow anything edible, and I want to try.
“Fine, that’s fine I guess. You’ll need to make a place,” mom says. She reaches for the caddy that holds her gardening trowels and gloves, and ushers me down the deck steps toward the back of the yard. “Near the fence will be best, there,” she points to a spot by the fence, far from the tall tree that sits in the corner of the yard.
“Why not over there, by the tree?” I ask her, gesturing with my baggie of bean plants.
“They need sun,” she says. “I had better give you a hand or they will be dead by the weekend.” She kneels on the ground next to the spot she had pointed out, and begins to instruct me to pull out various weeds and stones. Less than an hour later, we have prepared a place, planted, and watered the beans. She explains how to care for them, and we go inside together to clean up the dirt, which I do, while she makes dinner.
For the few weeks that passed and ended school for the summer, mom and I would go out to see “Becky’s Beans,” as she had named them, and we watched them grow together. With three other sisters in the house, there never seems to be enough time alone with mom, this is something that brings mom and I together; we share conversations, not just about growing beans, but about other things, some things important, and some things not, but everything just mine and mom’s.
When the beans are finally big enough to pick and eat, mom sends me out with a colander and tells me to gather beans for dinner. I do, and when we eat that night, she brags about what good beans they are, and tells all of us girls that we should plant a garden together next time. We don’t, though, and I am glad. That year, mom and I didn’t grow a garden together, we grew together.

I planted my patch of bush beans in the sun last year, and I watched them sprout and grow. When I tended to them, I would remember “Becky’s Beans” from all those years ago, and recall the conversations we had together over my little plot of garden. She would encourage me when I was down about something, and laugh with me about something else. I weeded the rows of beans with the sun on my back and remembered mom’s laughter and wisdom.
When we harvested our crop last year, and ate fresh beans for dinner the day we picked them, I remembered mom at the table going on about “Becky’s Beans,” and I was glad that I had finally taken her advice about growing another garden. I didn’t just find a love for gardening; instead, I remembered my love for my mother and found her in the rich soil that, like her life, and then her passing, fostered new growth.

The List

The List

I get annoyed with the regularity that I get surveys in my email, or on MySpace, and rarely do I take any time to read them, much less fill them out. However, this time I thought that perhaps I could take the opportunity to turn a meaningless survey into something that not only says something about me, but also reveals things to myself as well.
~Rebecca Reece

Here is my list…

1. I love: Spending early Sunday mornings curled up warm in our bed with my husband and our son, sipping coffee and talking about superheroes.

2. Right now I want: To have arrived in my new business venture, and in writing.

3. I feel like: The best parts of my life move too fast to enjoy, and the crappy parts just drag on like a rainy Monday. The worst part is that often it’s the dragging days that turn out to be the great ones, but I miss out on the best moments with selfish complaining.

4. I hate it when: There are things in the world that are so horrible, yet so big that I can't do anything about them; and that there are some things in the world that are horrible, but I don't do anything about them.

5. I fear: Something happening to me and leaving my son without a mother. I also fear something happening to James and being without his tenderness and joyful encouragement.

6. I'm lonely without: All of my family near me.

7. I need: To relax and treasure every moment instead of always trying to control the moments.

8. Today I: Will enjoy my family, and not stress the messes!

9. Tomorrow I'm: Back on task to make considerable forward motion in my new business because I know that it will bring my husband home from work more often.

10. I just: Put a Spiderman puzzle together with Grover and was amazed at his wicked fast puzzling abilities!

11. I want to meet: Someone who listens to my ideas about the important things in this country: Hunger, Medical Care, Unfair Taxes, and Immorality.

12. I'm hungry for: Halibut fillet with lemon and butter, and steamed vegetables and a creamy artichoke risotto accompanied by a dry chardonnay.

13. I love it when: James gets an unexpected day off and we just hang around the house in pajamas all day playing with Grove, and cooking new recipes (though not always good ones!), and enjoying one another.

14. I'm afraid of: Terrorism and the wrong president; there can't be a more scary combination.

15. I'm listening to: "Amazing Grace," Chris Tomlin's rendition.

16. I'm wearing: Thin in my resolve to be a Republican.

17. I wish I was in: France, dining where Hemingway dined and penning successful prose.

18. I'm craving: Success for the struggling, and humbling for the arrogant.

19. I want to get: Published with great earnings... Soon.

20. I can: And will, walk the 60 mile Breast Cancer 3-day this year.

21. I can't: Continue to be apathetic to my callings.

22. I have: Overcome enough in my life to be a better person than I am.

23. I haven't: Realized my full potential, but know that I will.

24. I'm nervous to: Find out what my full potential is, and what responsibilities it will surely carry with it.

25. My Mom thinks I'm: My mom died two years ago, and I know that she was more proud of me than I deserved; I hope that I would make her proud of me still.

26. My Dad thinks I: Don't exist; he never knew me.

27. I think: I have been blessed more than one person ever should be, and I think I could do much better at appreciating it!

28. I'm happy when: I am with my family.

29. I'm sad when: I think about how much I still need my Mom’s advice; sometimes I reach for the phone to call her, but then remember that she isn't there.

30. I like eating: Hmmmm... That is an entire sentence in itself, isn't it? :o)

31. I hate eating: Cooked carrots.

32. I love watching: My son learning new things.

33. I love listening to: My husband playing his guitar.

34. I like playing: The drums. (Though I am sure the neighbors could really do without!)

35. I hate waking up to: The heartache of others on the news.

36. I can see: Myself enjoying the challenges that will come, and that have already come this year!

37. I'm glad that: I am alive.

38. I'm disappointed that: I haven't quite accomplished the goal I had set for my life right now, but have enjoyed the detours!

39. I look like: A perfect creation to God; a superhero to my son, a beautiful woman to my husband, and a control-freak to myself!
40. I wish I looked like: The woman of strength, integrity, and success that I know I am meant to be.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Often, it is believed that integrity is simply living life by the rules; Whose rules, I have to wonder. For arguments sake, we will just concede that the rules consist of all of the rules about life (put forth by those who we will just call society) that are innately good, and when seen living by them, people are considered (by society) to be good people. We will even go one step further to include the unwritten rules, as well as the common sense rules; that should cover them all, and therefore, live by all of those, and there you have it, folks: Integrity!
No, I don't think so.
Integrity as society sees it is nothing more than trite garbage. Societal integrity allows for corruption of the most evil kind; a corruption that encompasses stealing, and lying, and hurtful deceit. It is supportive of suffering and social negligence. Societal integrity holds up insufferable monopolies in the name of success. Places like Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble can peddle wares harvested and pieced together by the hands of children, just to bring a necessary savings to the hands of consumers, in this great land of America, who haven't cared to learn how to live within reasonable means, and therefore cry out for lower prices and more with less effort. Right, there is integrity for you; the kind of integrity that bids you quit working with any real effort, and just put your hand out. If you wait long enough, someone will eventually hand you something.
There are more rules to life that those that society call the rules. Spiritual rules have all but been banned from the general population. Rules of strong ethical values have been buried under the truckloads of landfills that are piled deeply with foreign plastics and products that formed the junk that we Americans just had to have because it was On Sale! I cant wait to see the Antiques of this generation! Already there are antique malls filled with toys and gadgets from the eighties and nineties; it isnt because they are old enough to be antiques, it is because those things are so poorly made that they wont even be around fifty years from now.
Integrity is not about following rules and being good people; true integrity is about following the rules that no one else even know about. It isnt what you are doing when a crowd gathers to support a common cause; it is about the things you do when you are alone, and the things that you never tell about. True integrity doesnt have an audible voice.