The persistence of memory: boiled seafood and family

boiled seafood

I’m headed to visit extended family in my hometown in Louisiana this weekend, and I admit, with no shame, that one of my top priorities is sitting down to a table heaped with hot boiled crawfish and crabs, corn, potatoes, and sausage. My mouth waters for a year in advance between each trip south, especially as I peruse Facebook photos of the ongoing crawfish boils starting in the spring. It’s like looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, but this is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

I don’t remember the first time I tasted boiled seafood, but I know it was probably before I could walk or even talk. To that end, I can’t remember when I first would have truly enjoyed, or looked forward to sitting down to a seafood boil, an essential element to family gatherings back home. I only know how much I’ve craved it and relished it in the years since.

But there is one particular image that sticks in my head and won’t go away: I was a little girl, perhaps about seven or eight, and my parents and I had already moved from Louisiana, so we were in on a visit, probably at Christmas. We are at my grandparents’ house, in their avocado-colored kitchen and avocado dining room (The chairs, the buffet, the bar, the table, the cushions, the carpet, the cabinets, the countertops! All avocado.). My grandfather, Richard, obtained a few dozen crabs, and probably as many pounds of shrimp, and it was all laid out on newspapers. I recall my mother drinking a beer, and at that young age, it seemed surprising. “I like a beer with seafood,” she told me. I wouldn’t understand that until I was of drinking age myself years later.

This is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

There was no music and no commotion; I think it was only a handful of us eating. I remember PawPaw cracking crab claws in a way that produced the most amount of meat, and saving the good ones for me. I remember my tongue and lips burning, and the juice squirting onto my shirt and down my forearms. I hear the small talk at the table, my mom and MawMaw catching up, and PawPaw chiming in here and there, in between crabs. I already knew how to use a butter knife to crack crabs and clean out the meat, and that I dared not to waste any of it, or someone would call me out. I knew to pinch, twist, and pull the tail off the shrimp, and that it’s best dipped in cocktail sauce. I knew the potatoes were a great way to take a break from the spicy meat, but if you didn’t let them cool enough, they too, would burn your tongue.

That evening eating a favorite meal with my grandparents was uneventful, yet momentous. It was simple, yet delicious. And it was fleeting, yet ever-lasting in my mind. Perhaps that was the first time that I truly appreciated the deliciousness of boiled seafood – and the delight in a family tradition. While I have eaten crabs and crawfish and shrimp many times since, and will in the future, that early enduring memory provides nourishment to this day, to my belly, and to my soul.

The Other Millennial: Searching Beyond the Stuff

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Yesterday, I read a piece in The Washington Post about a “seismic shift” happening all across America: Boomers are cleaning out their clutter and updating their décor, but their Millennial kids don’t want their stuff. The article goes on to discuss the various element at play, that we have read about again and again in nearly every story about Millennials for the last few years – we want to downsize and take less stuff with us, we capture important moments digitally, and, according to one quoted Millennial, we prefer to “spend money on experiences.” (I read another article this morning on this last point.)

While these things may be true for many Millennials, I find that the article is one-side, as most of these pieces are. What about those of us (me, obviously) who capture our moments digitally, but also do still carry around boxes of cherished items to feed our nostalgia and experiences? What about those of us who spend money on experiences but also spend money on such old-fashioned things like records, stationery, and (gasp!) books? And not to neglect the Boomers – what about parents like mine who don’t have clutter and whose decorative tastes are actually quite appealing?

I emailed the author of the article to express these thoughts. Her response: “Thanks. Interesting idea.” I don’t expect to see the other side of the story anytime soon. According to the article, eight out of 10 Millennials don’t want their parents’ boxes of memories and furniture. And again, while this may be true, it’s also stating the obvious. Just like all of the pieces about Millennials moving back in with their parents focus on the “majority” – those who are in debt, lost their jobs, in school, etc. What about the other side to that coin? What about the Millennials like me who make personal choices to spend more time with family, to explore a new career path, and to get a change of scenery? What about the Millennials who use this time to browse the old photo albums, read the old letters, and bust out the heirloom blankets for the bed?

With each of our collective numerous moves, my parents and I have donated or trashed a lot of stuff—whether it was knickknacks, collectables, furniture, etc. But there’s always that box or two of papers and ribbons and notes and other chachkies that we just can’t let go. And when my grandparents passed away in the 90s, I relished being able to discover their own cherished possessions, some of which became my own. There’s something to be said about these reminders of our past that use all of our senses—the smells, the touch, the colors—they can do a lot more for our memories than rifling through thousands of digital photos on a hard drive.

In an age when what’s old is new again, the real story should be about those Boomer parents and Millennial kids who are connecting over their precious moments from the past and the present, both through physical mementos and digital files. In an age when we shake our heads at the lack of connection between these two generations that are supposedly miles apart in ideology and tastes and behaviors, why not take a closer look and find the families that are bonding over classic Johnny Cash vinyl, taking selfies with a Polaroid, and supporting each others’ hobbies and passions (even if it means creating more “stuff” for the house).

I may be in the minority, but there’s something beneath all of this “stuff.” I think there’s a lot of soul.

Do you have any stories to share about your own experiences of keeping your or your parents’ old “stuff”?

29 years of caring for my soul

birthdays

I blinked and now it’s my 29th birthday. It may be one of the most low key I’ve had in my 29 years – a lovely day with my parents and dogs, a way I haven’t been able to spend my birthday in several years.

So, 29. It’s technically kicking off my 30th year, and society tells me I’m supposed to be freaking out about all kinds of stuff — I’m single, I’m unemployed, I live with my parents, etc, etc. Maybe I am freaking out a little bit. Mostly because I suppose a year ago I didn’t expect this to be my life, and I’m still not quite sure where it’s headed in the next few months. But instead of worrying about that too much, I’d rather be thankful for what these 29 years have given me, and what the next year can bring. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this last year, it’s that plans change, and sometimes it’s okay not to have a plan. I’ve realized that although I was driven to leave DC for a change of pace and to to forge a new path, that none of it compares to the time I’ve spent with my parents, really getting to know them, not just as parents, but as people, and letting them help me take what’s essentially “me” and craft my life around that.

When we celebrate birthdays, we’re showing appreciation for being alive, and it’s a day where others express their joy at our existence. It can be self-indulgent, and I’m the first to admit that I love birthdays, and I love being showered with love on that day (or even throughout the week). But I also want to show appreciation for the moments in my 29 years that have stuck with me, no matter how I’ve changed. The memories that move us and the experiences that nourish our souls are what bring us fulfillment, and keep us grounded and whole. Good and bad, physical and emotional, these moments make us who we are. This isn’t meant to be a collection of greatest hits, but more of the everyday experiences that resonate with us through life. Here are some of mine:

  • Watching my grandmother and her sister sew one of their many quilts in the “green room.” My cousin and I would sit under the quilt rack and pick up pins from the carpet.
  • The taste of my first snowball of the summer in Louisiana. Usually spearmint.
  • Making macaroni & cheese with Velveeta in the kitchen with Dad. We’d use almost a whole block, Mom shaking her head in the background.
  • Every night before bed, listening to a story on tape my other grandmother made for me about a guardian angel taking me to a beautiful castle.
  • A reporter from The Cincinnati Enquirer visiting my class in fourth grade. I got my first reporter’s notebook and it solidified my dream of being a writer.
  • Running down the hallway and jumping into my Jimmy’s (my neighbor) arms, Dirty Dancing style.
  • Endless games of double solitaire with Mom and weekend trips to the grocery store.
  • Walking around campus at Miami University in the fall in my hoodie (still wear it today).
  • A trip to Chicago with Dad. We went to two games at Wrigley Field.
  • A now infamous meal at the Red Planet Diner in Sedona where we ate way too much food, yet still got two desserts. Mom and I ran a lap around the parking lot, cracking up the whole way, Dad taking pictures.
  • Late nights eating boiled seafood with the family and telling stories.
  • Friday night trips to Barnes & Noble after dinner.
  • White cake with lemon filling for my birthday.

Family matters: a Cajun story

In the swamp
In the swamp

Anyone that knows me knows how much I value my family. As an only child, I’m very close to my parents, and as the only “only” in my huge family, I was very close to my cousins growing up, and to all of my aunts and uncles. Moving away from my home state of Louisiana at a young age made it hard to stay close over the years, so I cherish every phone call, email, or visit with my relatives. I was fortunate enough to see both an uncle and an aunt this weekend in DC when they were passing through on business, and of course, there is always some reminiscing.

People who know me also know how much I love my Cajun heritage: with that comes our love of gathering over food, especially boiled seafood. So with that being said, at the risk of embarrassment, I’m going to share a story that I wrote in high school about one of my fondest memories growing up with my family in Louisiana — hanging out at my aunt’s camp on the lake and having a crab boil. The story itself doesn’t represent one particular day, but is more of a conglomeration of memories from over the years. It remains one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written, and when I do get together with my family for a crab or crawfish boil, I’m in my element, and at my happiest. So, please enjoy this little piece of me… lagniappe:

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Cajuns, Crabs, and Comfort

I was on my way home from a friend’s one afternoon, and I was in one of those nostalgic moods, the kind where everything suddenly seems dreamy and sad and I kept thinking about my innocent days as a child. Going forty-five on the road just before my neighborhood, I passed the familiar building which always has the two jet-skis parked out front. Usually I just think, “Oh, I wish I had a jet ski,” and drive on. This time was different. It brought me back to a place I used to go: a place of happiness, of family, and of love.

“Who wants crabs?” Aunt Denny’s rhetorical question rings out from inside the screened porch. Would anyone in this family ever not want crabs?

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Hot time, summer in the city

After weeks of waffling between cold rains and random warm days, it seems like summer is pretty much officially here in DC. We’ve had a stretch of days with temperatures into the 80s, humidity first thing in the morning, and hot breezes into the late evening. Here we go!

Summers hold some of the best memories for people everywhere, whether you get them off, or slog through them with some breaks in between. Summers are chock full of things to do and memories to be made. Here are a few of my favorite summer moments from over the years…what are some of yours?

  • Summers in Louisiana: Hot boiled crawfish spilled all over newspapers on the picnic table, and a spearmint snowball in my hand to cool off. Boat rides down the Blind River and jumping in the swamp until I realized that I could die from an alligator or snake bite. Riding my bike into the sugar cane fields with my cousin and then getting an iced treat (pushpop, popsicle or fudgepop) from MaMa’s freezer. Trips to Blue Bayou waterpark.
  • Vacations with my parents: Europe in 1996, a Carribbean cruise in 2001, Wrigley Field in 2003.
  • Adoption Day: July 3, 2001 (10 years this summer!)
  • College summers: News internships in Cincinnati, Springfield, and Columbus, Ohio. Rascal Flatts and James Taylor concerts.
  • DC summers: More concerts. Jazz in the park. Colonial Williamsburg. Tiger Woods. Wedding back at my alma mater. Wrigley Field. Two moves. Fireworks. Baseball. Breakup. New friends.