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August 20, 2004

Clap Your Hands If You Believe

I grew up superstitious. Spill salt? Gotta fling that over your left shoulder and remember to sweep it up later. Cracks in the sidewalk got avoided (although I must have failed, as both my grandfather and grandmother wound up with broken backs). Trucks rolling past me that were filled with hay got wishes made on them, and lavendar was always planted for luck.

I didn't go overboard-I think black cats are the height of perfection and I really don't give a damn about walking under a ladder. And if broken mirrors cause 7 years of bad luck, then me and my Laurel and Hardy ways are seriously fucked, seeing as I seem to be perpetually dropping and breaking things (laptop, anyone?)

My great-grandmother, a woman whose skin was wrinkled and as papery to the touch like the petals of a week-old rose, with a big set of false teeth and a droopy bosom that she loved to squish the kids to, was a psychic. Believe it or not, we would sit around her and listen in awe to what she had to say. She would read palms, look at us and tell our fortune, and was eerily correct in most of what she came up with.

I remember sitting at their kitchen table in Des Moines. Once their house have been in farmland, but over the years it became absorbed into a run-down area of the city. The kitchen was the most central room in the house, we all sat there for our talks, with the rubber-ended chairs sticking to the brown linoleum with big flowers on it. White tupperware salt and pepper shakers naked columns in the center of the table. For some reason, there was also always a tray of butter on the table, melting slightly with an oily dip in the middle.

My great-grandmother was one of the coolest women I've ever known, single-handedly taking care of everyone and everything, including my great-grandfather-a WWII vet who had the fingers of one of his hands shot off during the war, a man who had worked in a tire factory and suffered debilitating coughs with Black Lung because of it. Kids, roaming the streets with parents that ignored or detested them, would go to my great-grandparents for food, some Kool-Aid, chat, or another kind of emotional nourishment that only people with big hearts could give. She would open up a drawer of plastic pop-beads, costume jewelry and masses of Masonic pendants to us, and we would dress up like princesses.

My great-grandmother would talk about spiritual issues, ghosts and fairies, mystics and magic. She weaved the little people into stories that never once impacted her other beliefs as a rather Christian woman (some things didn't rub off on me, I guess). And it never occured to me that it wasn't real, that there weren't fairies, spectres and ghosts. She talked about them as matter-of-factly as she talked about my crazy Uncle Ray, so of course they were real. Why wouldn't they be?

Just before her death, with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, she became insanely religious to the Christian slant. The little people story well ran dry, and gone were the palm readings. I remember my mother hugging me and telling me that people, as they near death, often do become very religious. That they are looking for hope and redemption, and so they turn to it.

I missed her stories.

At her funeral, I wrote her a story and put it in her casket. To this day I can't remember what I wrote, but I sincerely hope that she liked it. She always did encourage me and love me, so I can't imagine her chucking the story across the coffin and saying: "Geez, Helen, what a waste of good double-lined paper!"

I miss my great-grandmother sometimes. I think she would have given me some great advice about my life, advice that would have been honest and heart-felt, not what I wanted to hear or what is correct in society. If there was one woman with a big heart and a head full of wisdom (albiet a complete lack of common sense, my kind of gal) it was her.

Maybe it's because of her that I also have a unique blend of modern versus ancient. Sure, I'm an adult, but I too believe that reading palms is interesting. It doesn't guide my life or anything, but it's nice to know I'm going to live a long time and have two kids. I'm not sure little fairies tiptoe through my bedroom at night, but why can't they? I don't mind, as long as they don't move my glasses, pull my hair or spill my water.

Ghosts? Yeah. Those are real, I think. Not this version of people covered in sheets, but little shadows or light that peer into corners or attract your attention. The hint of something in the corners of your mind, little sighs from the house as it moves and shrinks, thinking about the past. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, after all. Why can't people stick around? Why do ghosts have to be the stuff of Hollywood wizardry, what is it about the unknown that makes us quake and chill? Shouldn't we take comfort in itl? That around us may be others who look after us, look into us, look out for us?

I lived in a loft apartment in Dallas, which was a really strange place. Things were always going missing, I would look for a hot pad in the kitchen, only to find it in the bathroom the next day. And every night at 2 am, my dog and I would wake up. BLAM! Wide awake. My dog, curled at the bottom of my bed, would look up at the ceiling and whine. And every night, at 2 am, a little blue light would appear on the ceiling. I did masses of experiments to determine where this light came from, and after a week I gave up-it didn't come from any electrics in the house, or through the window (curtains were drawn). It was just there. Every night.

Others saw it too-Kim would often stay over and at 2 am, he too would wake up instantly, and all 3 of us would look at the tiny bobbing blue light. In the morning the items on the bathroom counter would often be flung on the floor, even though they were pushed back against the wall before bed.

I didn't mind. I kind of took comfort in it, in fact. And when I finally moved, it wasn't because of the little blue light, but because the Dallas police department chased down an armed suspect and finally caught him right by my front door as I was walking to it from a trip to the grocery store.

Trust me when I say that when you hear a male voice scream at you: "Get down! Get down!" the Kroger bag of groceries gets forgotten and you get down with more speed than a breakdancer.

Wetting your pants is optional.

I have been in many places where I've looked around and felt: Think of all the ghosts in here. And it's not with the enthusiasm of someone trying to make contact with the other side (there's someone else I would've tried to long-distance dial, if that were the case). It's more of a shrug of the shoulders, a smile and thought of my great-grandmother, and the knowledge that there's room for all of us.

Just because you grow up, doesn't mean the magic has to die.


PS-I'm not saying where, but there was a brief glimpse of me on tv last night here in the UK...I wonder if anyone saw it? :)

PPS-Luuka should be headed to Eric now, Marie if you want to see if you can get her earlier, just ask Ted! :)

PPPS-This was my 400th entry, and I should reach my 6000th comment next week. Not bad, eh?

PPPPS-Beth asked for some recipes! In the extended entry is one of my faves!

Ficelle Picarde (crepes rolled up with cheese, herbs and cream in the inside)

Ingredients (don't stress about the metrics, you can vary the amounts! It's an easy recipe! You can make the crepes yourself, or buy them!)

flour: 180 gr.
(optional) cooked ham: 6 sections
mushrooms: 250 gr.
shallots: 3
butter: 100 gr.
eggs: 3
egg yolks: 2
milk: 75 Cl
fresh cream: 25 Cl
grated emmenthal: 75 gr.
grated nutmeg: 1 pinch
table salt, white pepper

Prepare the pancake batter with 150 G of flour, the eggs, the egg yolk, half of the milk and 1 pinch of salt. Let it rest a moment before cooking the crepes, putting them to the side to cool when done.
Wash the mushrooms and shallots and cut finely.
Dissolve shallots in 50 G of butter. Add mushrooms. Add salt and pepper and nutmeg.
Cook covered, on low heat, for 20 minutes.
Cook in another small saucepan 30 G of butter and 30 G of flour, until a warm brown color.
Let it cool, then incorporate the remaining milk remainder, stir until slightly fluffy.
Add cream and the mushroom/shallot mix (with the liquid).
Fill each crepe with this sauce. Deposit a ham half-section on top of this (if you want, ham is optional). Cover with more sauce. Roll the pancake and deposit it in a buttered dish.
Cover with a small layer of fresh cream and powder it with grated cheese. Grill it under high heat in the oven until brown.
Serve at once.

Posted by Everydaystranger at August 20, 2004 10:22 AM .

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.. sorry, Melanie, I didn't mean to upset you... how long am I allowed to have the hallowed babe?.. I don't want to get more of Luuka than anyone else... are there any rules to this pass-around-fun?...

... I think it would be good for Luuka to meet a bunch of bloggers having a party... but, I will bow to the will of you and Miss Helen... just let me know...

Posted by: Eric at August 24, 2004 11:05 PM

Quiet, but read everyday when I have internet access:-)

Posted by: Roger at August 24, 2004 07:03 PM

lovely entry, delicious sounding recipe, and Eric, you can't keep Luuka until October!!! No fair!! :)

Posted by: melanie at August 23, 2004 04:57 AM

Being supersitious has been passed down from my great grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, to me.

My great grandmother was a devout catholic, but believed in palm reading, tea leaves, curses and the like. She put a curse on my great uncle and he had the worst luck of anyone i have ever heard of until she died.

My grandmother was not very religious, but was very, very superstitious. She was talented at predicting the sex of an unborn child. She would put a ring on a string and hold it above the woman's belly. The way the ring swung would reveal the sex. I suppose her chances were 50-50, but she was very good at it.

My mother is devout like her grandmother, but she still gets her chart read. She has seen the ghosts of people a few days following their death. When i was very young there was a ghost in our house who used to hide things from her and then put them in her bedroom.

I am as superstitous as the rest of them. Although I haven't laid any curses, predicted any babies, or seen dead people, i do often dream of things only to have them happen a few days later. It's creepy, but i like it.

Posted by: Laura at August 22, 2004 11:18 PM

I am half full blown Southern on my Daddy's side. I grew up with he superstition. My Great Grandaddy used to go outside with a shotgun if he heard an owl. If an owl was heard at night, that meant someone close to you would die, unless the owl was killed. Don't know how successful he was in his owl hunt.

I believe in ghosts. Just as you described. I've had too many experiences not to. And every person in my family believes in them. We just don't call them ghosts. Spirits. Some of them have names.

Posted by: Boudicca at August 22, 2004 09:48 PM

Helen, I do the same thing with cracks, not sure its really superstitious, it just seems wrong to set on them *shrug* And cats, I always look for a nice tabby to cross in front of me figuring it must bring good luck, heh.

Be it our parents, elders, or even people younger with more experience, I listen intently, but its darn hard to actually take advice. Something about acting on the suggestions of others goes dead aganst my usual desire to act only on my own experiences. If you can learn to listen to advice, and make the effort to apply it to yourself you are miles ahead of the game I think.

TV helen? did they run a special on road rage? *snicker*


Posted by: Dane at August 22, 2004 05:10 AM

Helen, how dare you post such a decadent recipe! *mournful look* We're trying to be so good with our salads and our snazzy new "sporty" lifestyle. Of course I copied and pasted it, so I can make it this weekend. Cannot wait....I'm so sick of carrots. Sue me.

Little blue lights, eh? You've reminded me of a forgotten memory when I was a teen. I saw a blue light on the wall too, my friends and I both did. There was no explanation for it. We closed the curtains and we went all around the room, making sure there was nothing reflecting it. Weird. I'd forgotten all about this until you wrote that.

Now that you've creeped me out, have a great weekend. ;-)

Posted by: Amber at August 21, 2004 12:28 AM

... Luuka is headed my way?... outstanding news, Helen... I wonder if I should take her to the Jawja Blogmeet in Helen, GA in October?... instead of a photo of her on the Tennessee River, would the Chattahoochie River suffice?.... Velociman, Acidman, Single Southern Guy, Suburban Blight, Grouchy Old Cripple, Dax Montana, Key Monroe, and many others will be meeting up... quite a photo op... I wish you could come...

Posted by: Eric at August 20, 2004 11:01 PM

I agree with what has been said about people older than us. I recently went on a road trip from Little Rock, AR to Florida. We stopped in a small town for a break and this old man just started talking to me in the gas station. He told me that he and his wife had visited every state in the US and relayed tales about WWII. He went on and on, sharing his wisdom, knowledge and experiences that he possessed from 80? years of life. All of these lessons in a Shell station in Eudora, AR! By the time I left there, I had tears in my eyes, as I do know recalling the incident. Sorry for the novel, but I think it is great that we realize how fascinating older people are and how much they can teach us, no matter what our age. Helen, I am happy that you have those memories and treasures.

Posted by: The Baroness at August 20, 2004 10:52 PM

I beleive in Magick. :-) And reading this post I know that you would love the book Moonlight and Vines by Charles de Lint.

Posted by: Ember at August 20, 2004 03:49 PM

Roger, I think I love you.

You've been quiet a while, too!

Posted by: Helen at August 20, 2004 03:49 PM

Your new pic. Kind of magical. For any guy, it takes about 5 minutes before the historical building complex appears:-)

Posted by: Roger at August 20, 2004 03:47 PM

What TV show were you on?????

Posted by: sasoozie at August 20, 2004 03:38 PM

Its always interesting to listen to older people go on about fantasy stories that mystify us as children. But I wonder today as a society if things will be like that for my kids, or will the instant tv news, nintendo, and the special playing cards sponsored by coke take away from it.

Posted by: pylorns at August 20, 2004 01:49 PM

I really loath how they treat age in my country. I always get the impression that people are happy to ship off our oldest and wisest generation simply because they are a little older, a little slower and need a little more looking after.

Your Great Grandmother sounds like a very nice warm person. I hope that when we all move on from this place we meet up with those who mean the most of us. As my mom says my grandfather is already in heaven building a house for us all to live in when we join him.


Posted by: drew at August 20, 2004 01:09 PM

1irst of all, that upd8ed pic of you rox kiddo. I've been away.

With regard to your Great-Grandmother:

"There are no atheists in foxholes"

Perhaps the case, perhaps not; I hope I don't fall within.

Rather discern beliefs upon experience when the time comes.

Alas, your relationship with Her was grand by all accounts per your dialogue.

Posted by: Curator at August 20, 2004 10:40 AM
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