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.
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.
PS — If you would like to get a hold of Nathan’s books, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him I sent you.