The Rikabi’s first “real summer” is in the books. We made some memories, while avoiding the make it the best summer ever! trap. We had a bucket list that included big things for us like swimming lessons and trip to Fayetteville, and small things like shop at Trader Joe’s and learn to tie shoes.
If summers are about making childhood memories, then I’m sure we made some this year. I think about what memories my girls will hold onto and how they’ll be formed by them. In the end, the memories they keep are out of my control, but I do try, because of how mine formed me. My favorite summer memories were about hard work and forbidden food.
Growing up, part of my summers were spent at my grandparent’s farm in central Texas. My parents would drop my little brother and me off for a couple of weeks at a time, and my Papa would put us to work. On these days, I didn’t mind getting up early… always to the smell of bacon. Granny would send me out to the barn to dig out eggs from between hay bails, then she’d fry them up for breakfast. Throw in the biscuits with lots of butter and honey, and her breakfasts were royal feasts compared to the cold, milk-wet Cheerios mom fed us back home.
When Papa finally finished his second cup of coffee and cigarette, it was off to work. Feeding chickens and hogs in the barnyard, checking on cows in the pasture, riding the tractor down to the creek to work on a fence. He’d be so patient with us, as we’d hammer nail after nail in crooked, needing him to pull it out and help us start over. Or when we’d drop bags of feed and they’d spill open. Stuff like that. But he never stopped showing us how to do it; never got flustered or upset.
As the morning wore on and the bacon and eggs worn off, we’d head back up to the house for what Papa called a “Snicker snack.”
He kept large, 2 liter glass bottles of Coke and a bag of little Snickers bars in the fridge. He’d twist open the top and hold the bottle as me and my brother took turns… the icy burn hitting the back of my throat before the flavor hit my tongue. Then he’d tear open a little bar or two, and we’d chomp down hard on the cold candy sticking to our teeth.
While we headed back out to work the farm, Granny worked the kitchen. The meal plan at the farm was a big breakfast, dinner in the afternoon, and supper in the evening. So lunch was the full spread: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and cornbread.
After naps to ride out the hottest part of the day, we’d grab another sip of Coke and a couple more Snickers bars, then head out to finish the day’s tasks. In the early evening we’d go down to the stock tank to fish bass, perch and catfish. If we caught anything, Granny would help us clean it and save it to fry for tomorrow’s dinner.
Then came supper… Papa’s specialty.
He’d grab a cutting board and his Buck knife, and slice up cantaloupe seasoned with salt and pepper, bell pepper cut in half and stuffed with chunky peanut butter, summer sausage on saltines with pepper-jack cheese, and leftover cornbread swimming in a big glass of buttermilk.
I’m pretty sure I would never try any of those things for the first time today unless it was on a dare. But at six-years-old, whatever Papa did, I did (except the buttermilk). And I loved it. (I still eat these concoctions, even when my wife watches me pepper cantaloupe or spread peanut butter on a bell pepper and say, “That’s disgusting.”).
And to polish it all off, he’d scoop up a bowl of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, and one last Snicker bar. Always a Snickers bar.
We never got Cokes and candy at home. Not a chance. But we were in Papa’s house, and we were his. Granny and Papa were the grandparent’s of our feast, and the farm was our sanctuary… our holy ground.
Today, my grandparents are gone, and with them much of the magic of the farm. I’ve taken the girls, but it’s not quite the same.
Thankfully, through our taste buds, tummies, and traditions, connections can still be made.
Last month we had a family meeting: all the aunts, uncles and cousins together, and I brought a bag of Snickers and some bottles of the imported Coke from Mexico… the ones still made with pure cane sugar like they all were when Papa was alive.
As we tore the wrappers and popped the tops, my aunt said, “This really is our family communion, isn’t it? Do you let your little girls eat these?”
I hadn’t thought about it, but this is our family sacrament: Our chocolate covered, peanut and caramel filled bread. Our pure cane sugar, carbonated cup of wine. Together they are the tangible mystery, inviting the next generation into the same story that gives us identity and makes us family.
So I came home, found Papa’s old knife, and set the table.
The girls love cantaloupe, but they questioned the salt and pepper. My oldest loves bell peppers, but adding the peanut butter will take time. The middle one inhaled the summer sausage, but nothing else.
And that’s the way it works… we need time to taste and see. But not to belong.
That’s why we share the sacraments.