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? :)
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.
butter: 100 gr.
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.
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Tracked: August 21, 2004 12:09 AM