The forsythia and daffodils are blooming and the trees are full of buds. Soon the wind will carry the sweet scents of the flowering trees and the tulips will bloom. Well, my tulips won’t bloom. The squirrels have eaten the bulbs and left a dirty mess on the porch. That’s NOT a pretty picture, so here’s one of tulips from another place/time…
Tulips. Holland. Windmills and Dikes. The stories I heard as a child — the boy who stuck his finger in a hole in the dike and saved Holland, the Dutch girl rhymes we jumped rope to in the school yard at recess. Years later, I remember standing on a boat in the rain in Amsterdam. And eating cheese. Wonderful cheese. Growing up in Kentucky I had never tasted such as assortment of cheeses. Years later, in Mérida, Yucatan, I’m eating chiles rellenos and a dozen other dishes smothered in hot, melted cheese. Delicioso! And I have to ask — what kind? The reply: “Edam.”
Edam? Dutch cheese in Mexico? Turns out it’s a basic ingredient in many traditional dishes of Yucatan — from chiles rellenos to sweet papaya with shredded cheese to marquesitas (those wonderful rolled wafers filled with cheese and covered in caramel that are sold by street vendors in the Plaza Mayor) — all made from a special Edam-like cheese ball imported from Holland (Queso de Bola), but not available in the rest of Mexico or the United States.
In the 19th century Holland was a trading partner with Yucatan. This, when all the world needed the sisal rope made in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Mérida became one of the richest cities in the world. Boats came across the Atlantic to the Port of Progreso bearing goods to swap for sisal, and the locals loved the Dutch cheese. They still do. Me, too. It’s one of those memories that sticks to the taste buds.
When I was growing up in Kentucky the grownups often talked about the day the uncles, aunts, and cousins left for Detroit. It was sometime in the 50s, after the war. Cars packed, pulling all the belongings in trailers behind them, they left the hills with the kids leaning out the windows, waving good-bye.
Birds migrate thousands of miles. Butterflies migrate. Elephants migrate. Appalachians migrate, too.
It’s all about having a better life. Not so elusive to birds and butterflies and elephants — the better life is “here” for awhile and then it’s “there.” Not always so, if you ask the Appalachian people. There are trade-offs. The things you gain, the ones you lose, and the struggle to replace what you left behind.
I suppose this happens in immigrant communities, too. That need to reach back and retain something good from the other life. It’s hard to give up language and customs and traditions. It’s giving up identity, really.
“You can’t have everything.” I heard this a lot growing up. I didn’t take it seriously. Having it all was a matter of finding the right place, right job, right lifestyle. Young people are stubborn, innocent, believers. Until they’re not. Love, values, beliefs, friends, meaning…there is no place to purchase a box or a book or a bag filled with all those treasures that money cannot buy. There is luck involved. And hard work. And keeping one’s mind on track. There is joy in re-invention, so long as one is able to recognize treasure…
Sifting through my notes…there is a reference to Mare Nostrum, a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea.
Rapallo, Italy, 1972. Outside my window stands the Castle on the Sea with the blue-green wash of the Mediterranean tickling its stone feet; the tide comes and goes, as tides are wont to do. And sometimes people, too. Here today, gone tomorrow. But this image stays: the fireworks start, like flowers of light filling the black sky, and I watch the lit debris falling, falling into the sea. I’m standing on a balcony drinking cognac with new friends I will never see again. We’re celebrating some event that I can no longer recall…
“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have have changed. Some forever, not for better. Some have gone and some remain. All those places have their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living…In my life, I’ve loved them all…” (The Beatles released this song on my birthday in 1965.)
The late afternoon sun is pouring into the living room. Round, lighted dots dance on the walls and ceiling. I search for their origin and find it on the hearth. The green cut glass candle holder, sitting in a slant of sunlight, is catching the rays just right to reflect around the room in a dozen or more points of light, and I think about what happens when two disparate things, like the sun and the candle holder, come together and produce something new, something that does not resemble either one. On cloudy days the points of light don’t exist at all. They are not merely hidden, waiting to be found. They simply do not exist without this kind of moment, these conditions. As the sun drops further west, the light shifts and the dots fade. Temporary: a bright, shiny…moment.
When the uncles and aunts and cousins all went to Detroit to work in the car factories in the 50s, my dad and mom stayed home. They ran a store, tended a garden, bought a cow. They told us to go to school, do our work, and “Don’t bring home Cs.” I’m enormously grateful for that.
My dad said the Bible promises the “first will be last and the last first” and I wasn’t quite sure how this happened, but I was always looking forward to moving up the line. “A step at a time,” he said. Don’t worry about the odds. Odds are made to be defied. Odds don’t amount to a “hill of beans.”
Now, for those who don’t speak Appalachian, a “hill of beans” means one bean plant, not a mountain of beans. A “mess of beans,” on the other hand, means enough freshly-picked beans for supper. And someone who is said to be “full of beans” may or may not have eaten. Supper is beside the point. Suffice it to say that beans, in this case, have nothing to do with food.
And so it’s Monday. Odds are it’s going to snow!