Edible Memories: Laughter

Sometimes I leap first.

When my online writing friend Stacey asked me to consider signing up for a 14-day writing group via the Inky Path, my first instinct was to say no. I barely have enough time to work on my novel, not to mention the grief course I’m creating, let alone the safety skills class I’m organizing – oh, and then there’s that whole mother/wife gig, plus my nemesis, the bottomless laundry basket.

But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. A tell-tale sign. As I kept tabs on the rising enrollment, I felt an itch, a twinge, but couldn’t tell if it was a competitive-fear-of-missing-out or the I-need-to-do-this kind of feeling. Looking back, it was probably a little of both.

One week into the Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories, and I’m fully immersed. It’s pretty impossible to keep up with the group’s Facebook posts (over 100 people registered, though not all post daily) but I’m trying to hold fast to my own commitment, one writing prompt each day. This isn’t easy – my kids are young and life is full, but I’m delighted to say that – so far at least – I’m making it happen. I’ve always felt like my memory is kind of bad, but each prompt seems to unlock one, two, more scenes in my mind, and I’m taking notes like mad, for both the prompts and the possibility of memoir.

I’d like to share with you my most recent prompt. The theme was Laughter (with an emphasis always on food) yet somehow I managed to turn it around to sadness (just like the character on Inside Out!). But that’s how I’ve always been. Drawn to the bittersweet, both in food and life.

Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories

Laughter

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. As a kid we took turns having it at our house, but after my mother’s MS diagnosis, we always hosted. My uncle, king of turkey and CEO of stuffing, would come to our house in the morning with bags of supplies, plus a bonus bag filled with appetizers from Zabar’s: salami, cheeses, crackers, olives, lox spread, and bagels.

He’d pop the prepared turkey in the oven and it would cook all day while we snacked and cracked jokes. When it came time to eat, my father would hoist my mother into her scooter and drive her into the dining room after she could no longer do so herself. We’d eat and laugh, and when all us kids were of legal age, or close enough, drink some wine.

My memories of Thanksgiving were almost always punctuated by laughter. Especially in the earlier years, before my mother’s pain became unbearable.

This was from Passover, but same crew, without the matzoh.

This was from Passover, but the same characters.

The house was always filled with warmth and smelled of roasting turkey and marshmallow topped yams. My uncle would always cook the main meal. My cousin Pia would always bring dessert. My mom always insisted on making, or instructing me how to make, her favorite side dish, green bean casserole. And I always had to have a slice (or two, three) of pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip.

Maybe that’s what I loved most about Thanksgiving – the “always’s,” the traditions we had curated and nurtured over the years. We were Jewish and didn’t have the show stopper of Christmas to look forward to, so I banked all my love and hope on Thanksgiving.

Things weren’t always so rosy, of course. There were fights and tantrums, angry words and slammed doors, more so as the years edged on to darker times, but mostly I remember the laughter.

The time when my cousin Ari and I stumbled upon a very strange AOL chat room in the late 90s. Don’t ask me why or how this happened, but let’s just say we were beside ourselves with hilarity when we ended up in a conversation about fruit fetishes, among other things.

Then there was the time my grandmother got drunk. Alcohol was pretty minimal at our house, even on the holidays, but somehow she had gotten her glass refilled one time too many and ended up divulging a bizarre genetic glitch afflicting several relatives. I’m almost positive somebody spit out their mashed potatoes, or at least choked on their soda.

Laughter filled the rooms and rang through the kitchen and seeped into the walls, so that when it ended, I could feel its echo.

My mother’s last Thanksgiving was hard. There was little laughter. The mood was dour, tense. My husband and I thought it might be helpful to order dinner from Fresh Direct and bring it from Brooklyn, rather than have my uncle cook in the house since my mom was feeling worse. The king of turkey did not take kindly to what felt like a personal affront. He sulked in the kitchen eating his “take-out” meal while the rest of us sat in the family room with my mother, who was too uncomfortable to transfer from her reclining chair.

I remember feeling desperate for some levity, anything to lighten the mood, to coax my uncle out of the kitchen, to ease the tension with my brother, to make my mother laugh. But nothing worked. We sat on the couch for what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time, and I rolled my eyes at my cousin Pia when our brothers began talking of sports, not with any vigor or enthusiasm, but dully, as if they had nothing else to say. Perhaps because they didn’t.

When everyone finally left, I felt a heavy weight settle around my shoulders as I dumped the leftovers in the trash. Looking back, I wonder if my sadness was actually a sign, a warning. It left me uncomfortable. A sense of foreboding prickled up my spine.

I thought, next year will be better. Next year has to be better.

But it wasn’t, because my mother was dead.

 

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Thank you to Maddy over at Writing Bubble for hosting her What I’m Writing link-up. Check it out for more wonderful words.

What I’m Writing

One of the reasons I started this blog was to find and foster community among my fellow mother-writers, and I’ve already found a lovely one in Maddy over at Writing Bubble. She invited me to join her weekly link up that she co-hosts with Chrissie over at Muddled Manuscript (oh, I love that name) called, “What I’m Writing,” which of course I can’t resist.

This week I’ve spent much of my (minimal) writing time polishing up the rusty bits of a blog post and formatting my very first newsletter (!) that I will be sending out shortly. I really enjoyed writing the newsletter, but felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t working on the novel.

Oh, the novel! It’s like my albatross, but a very special and beloved albatross that I tend to with absolute devotion despite its overwhelming weight and refusal to budge off my neck.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc They look so innocent flying in the air.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc
They look so innocent flying in the air.

But I will say, I’ve made progress on it this year. Last January I dusted off my woefully neglected albatross, I mean, manuscript – one that sat in a safe (literally, a safe!) for five years. I had finished it just two days before giving birth to my daughter…who is now six and a half. Do the math if you must. It’s not pretty.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Compfight cc Ok, it wasn't this old.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Comp fight cc
Ok, it wasn’t quite this old.

One day while my daughter was in kindergarten and my son with his sitter, I read the whole thing, from start to finish. I don’t know what I expected, certainly not perfection or genius (I’m not that deluded), but I also didn’t think it would be total garbage (though parts came close). When I finally put the pages down I felt a strange sense of relief. I knew what I had to do. Start again.

I salvaged what I could, about sixty pages, and then cut the rest of it. There is still a file on my computer with 200+ pages that should for all intents and purposes be deleted but I can’t bear to do so, yet. Since then I’ve written many, many more pages, some of which have made the cut while many more have not.

You have to be ruthless as a writer, but you also have to hold onto a certain naiveté or willful ignorance. Dani Shapiro says it well in her book, Still Writing:

“So how do we make peace with the knowledge that every word, every sentence we write may very well hit the cutting room floor? Well, we don’t make peace with this knowledge. We willfully disregard it.”

That’s what I’m doing as I work on my novel. Some days the task feels so monumental, so overwhelming, it’s like chipping away at a glacier with a toothpick.

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

But I keep on going, not knowing what will be saved or cut, not knowing if this latest draft will be good enough to merit an edit, and then, after that, if it will ever be read by eyes other than my own.

I’m writing in the dark, slow and steady like the tortoise because my kids are young and underfoot, and that’s how it has to be, for now.

But I sense with a kind of animal instinct, or maybe just a writerly one, that I’m approaching something with my novel. There is a quickening, a slight uptake in the beating of my heart. I feel as though I’m on a roller coaster, ratcheting up the tracks. Before all I could hear was the steady clacking sound, but now I can see something too, a glimmering in the distance. I am getting closer to the top. Closer than I have been. If I keep going I will finish. And that is my goal.

What are you working on? Are you chipping away a sliver at a time or are you making great gouges?

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