Wednesday, January 25, 2006

re-member, then

When I was growing up, Saturdays meant Taco Salad for lunch.

My mother made this wonderful mixture of beef, beans, lettuce, cheese, and Fritos that may have mostly consisted of opening cans and packages, but tasted like home. We never got tired of Saturday lunches. It is still one of my favorite meals. I don't make it every week (more like every couple of months), but even for Ginger and I it connects to something beyond the ingredients in the bowl.

But what?

My mother is the other cook in my family of origin. We still swap recipes and remind each other of meals gone by. How she re-members those Saturdays (how she puts the pieces of our family back together) is not the same as my re-membrance. For her, a bowl of Taco Salad recreates the memory of a family once closely knit and now scattered to the winds. I recall a family that ate and laughed together but one who did not know much how to really tell each other who we were.

Let me rephrase: I did not know how to tell them who I was.

Saturday lunch bounced back into my consciousness because I've been reading Suffer the Little Voices, a new book of poems by my friend, Nathan Brown, published by Greystone Press. (Read a review of his first book of poetry here.) This morning at breakfast, I read "Soul Savers":

I gaze back at the pain and
disdain we felt for "the lost"
in covert planning sessions
we called Bible studies. Then

I turn my head away with a jerk
from the sight of my old church
in a weak and strained attempt
to push down the past stupidity ---

a stupidity constructed through
millenniums of bad dogma,
which was "not busy livin' . . .
just busy dyin'," as Bob Dylan,

a theologian of different cut,
tried to tell us in the years
we couldn't look past his
prophetic, soul-felt addictions.

My sighs and shaking head
signify the inevitable departure
from that, from them, not Jesus
[still my favorite hippie socialist

and, yes, Son of God].
But, I do realize, I'm afraid,
that in the nouns and verbs
I now choose to express myself,

I've certainly lost them,
the "they" I once was.
And I'm struck with the fear
that now. . . it's me they're after.
Like Nathan, I grew up Southern Baptist. After years of watching the denomination implode and finding my faith community elsewhere, I am surprised how often I go back to those days to re-member them with something other than anger or disdain. I put back together the memories that helped shape me and taught me how to live in the grace of God, much like I go back for another helping of Taco Salad. Though it is not a place I could stay, it is where I am from.

The choice, it seems, is between re-membering my life -- putting the pieces together in some meaningful fashion -- and dis-membering it -- cutting off the sections that aren't comfortable, I'm not proud of, or embarrass me. But I don't want to live as an emotional or spiritual amputee. I need all of my days stacked up to help me remember who I am.

In my weaker moments, I look back on my family days and think, "They didn't understand I was not like them." Yet, I am "them." To say so doesn't mean buying into an idealized memory of what family was; we were not perfect, but we did make memories that marked each other. We are family.

I have the recipes to prove it.

Peace,
Milton

PS -- If you would like to get a hold of Nathan's books, you can contact him at nub@ou.edu. Tell him I sent you.

4 comments:

Real Live Preacher said...

Wonderful melancholy. Thank you for not always being happy. The Southern Baptist war we both lived through is history for me now. But it will always be a grief.

gander said...

"...the memory of a family once closely knit and now scattered to the winds."

I hear that. But I wonder sometimes, were we REALLY that closely knit, or did it just seem that way? Seems like about 20 years ago, the traditional holiday get-togethers just morphed and evaporated into something new. My first Christmas not at home came as a shock. I like the new ways because I have more time with my own family and less time rushing up the highway, but we gave up the old ways all too easily, I think.

I love the blog, chief.

Anonymous said...

As another one raised Southern Baptist who left to follow the hippie socialist Jesus, I appreciated this post.

Milton, maybe my favorite passage in the whole Bible is where, post-Easter, Jesus is cooking breakfast on the beach for the disciples. I love that! The whole universe has turned and one of the first things Christ does is cook up a little breakfast for his friends.

So, I love this blog. I kind of don't like to cook, which I consider a failing on my part. My husband and daughter are great whippers-up of little snacks and grand banquets.

b.

Mia said...

Your post made me think of a James Hillman quote - "our lives my be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods". Perhaps you are already familiar with his writings but I found his work on "The Myths of Family" to be very enlightening.
Mia