A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: D is for Dumplings #AtoZChallenge

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D is for Dumplings

[chikuh n en duhmp-linz’]

Do you have one of those foods that evokes memories as it melts in your mouth?

I don’t know, some edible that for some crazy reason manages to conspire with your taste buds to open windows into your past, to where you’d swear that for that moment, just one brief second in time, you were somewhere else entirely?

For me, it’s chicken and dumplings.

Dumplings made by my beloved Granny, who’s been gone now for almost 20 years.

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I can just look at that photo of chicken and dumplings posted above and be transported through all those years to my Granny’s kitchen table.

The room in my mind is all cozy and warm on a rainy day, the curtains and tablecloth bright splashes of orange and yellow against the grey skies framed in her bay window.

A simple white plate in front of me – steam and the heady aroma of stewed chicken and herbs rising through the air.

The first bite: white meat bird cooked so tender it shreds against your fork as you lift it to your mouth.  Mealy dumplings bland and chewy amidst the peppery sting of the gravy, hot against my teeth and tongue, every component working together to create a flavor overall greater than its individual parts.

Bliss.

In the moving picture that plays in my head, I pause for a second to feel my happiness. My contentment.  I smile, there in my past and here in my present, basking in my Granny’s love for me, the surest thing I know – both then and now.

She bustles up, breaking the reverie as she fills everyone’s glass of sweet iced tea.

“Kimberly Lynne!  You’re not eating!”

There’s a worried look on her beautiful face.

“You must not like it.  I’m gonna make you something else.  Just give me a moment.”

“No, no, Granny!  Stop! It’s perfect!”  I say.

And for this moment, everything is.

 

How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. – Marilyn Robinson

Goodbye Doesn’t Mean Forever

I wrote this post 3 years ago, in February of 2013.  David and I had been married that December and were especially thrilled that David’s dad, Dave, was able to stand beside him in the ceremony as Best Man.  We lost Dave on January 28th, barely a month later, to his battle with cancer.  

He was a great man, and the Dave-shaped-abyss he left in our worlds is enormous.  I’d like to share my tribute to him, one more time, today – the day that would have been his 82nd birthday.  He is so very greatly missed.

Re-posting from February 4, 2013

Last week, my father-in-law, Dave, passed away.

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He valiantly fought third-stage, non-small cell lung cancer for fourteen months, holding his ground through a debilitating regime of radiation and chemotherapy.

Ultimately, damage to his lungs from COPD did him in; snatching him from us with little warning and brutal speed. There was barely time to make the calls.

The whole family flew in from California, Michigan and Florida. They surrounded his bed and held his hands as he crossed over. Although he never fully woke from the heavy sedation, I know he knew they were there, and I know that made him happy. He was all about his wonderful family and each and every one of them is a living testimonial to him: in looks (I have determined there are no adopted Strohmans), personality and character.

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I was privileged to know him only a brief time, but it didn’t take me long to realize the person he was.

He was a man of high integrity and great spirit, with a story for every occasion. A man of wit and a jubilant jokester, he delivered a punchline with rapier grace.

A thoughtful and thinking man, he remembered the names of all who touched his life, no matter how briefly.

A decorated Air Force veteran, he traveled the world from Africa to China and beyond, parlaying his military experience into a career building nuclear power plants and submarines. He was so in demand for his skills and expertise that the company he worked for, Bechtel, lured him twice out of his well-earned retirement to construct or refurbish critical plants.

His greatest pride was his family: Linda, his beautiful wife of fifty-seven years; his five children, eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren: all to whom he was a living legend, a loving patriarch, the font of most knowledge, and the best friend and dad in the world.

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He didn’t give a fig for the socially prescribed rites: the somber funeral; the weepy, graveside service. Instead, he wanted a huge party, with everyone wearing crazy hats from his vast collection of brims, bonnets and chapeaus; telling tall tales and remembering him with joy.

His lifelong motto was adamantly (and famously), “No Whining,” and he was determined to go out the way he lived, with humor and grace.

We decided to honor him with a celebration of life at the family home in Augusta, so everyone could come together to venerate his legacy. In the days leading up, as people poured in from all parts, each contributed in their own way.

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The grandchildren, cousins and sons-in-law set up the tent, dragging out chairs and tables, hanging twinkle lights, draping everything with colorful vintage linens and filling the room with all the flowers and plants sent by loved ones. Vicky, Debbie and Cindy, David’s three sisters, cooked and baked for days, making pies, brownies and a massive chili bar with every kind of topping and condiment imaginable.

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Aunt Kathi, Cousin Christa and I spent hours going through my mother-in-law Linda’s enormous archive of photographs. We plucked digital memories like a bouquet of blossoms, savoring the brightest and sweetest, printing them for decorations and assembling clips and pictures for my husband, David; who composed a brillant video tribute to his father, full of images, favorite songs and soundbites from years of family movies.

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Moment arrived and all gathered, fighting tears and hugging each other close, we revered his memory, acknowledging the enormous Dave-shaped hole in our homes and hearts and lives. With food and drink, laughter and song, jokes and stories, we poured out our love to him and each other.

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Linda is a member of the Red Hats, an organization of ladies dedicated to living their lives to the fullest. In an amazing gesture of  loyalty, that day at 3 p.m., hundreds of Red Hats from all over the country raised a glass of Vodka and Diet Sprite, Dave’s favorite drink, and released balloons into the heavens.

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We, too, set loose balloons and toasted Dave. Each of us bid him adieu in their own fashion: a final salute to husband, dad, father-in-law, uncle, grandfather, neighbor and friend.

As the colorful globes soared into the vast blue sky, I remembered a line from a favorite book, Richard Bach’s Illusions.

“Don’t be dismayed by goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

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It might be goodbye, but that doesn’t mean forever. Farewell and fare well, dear friend, until we meet again. Our love travels with you.

NaBloPoMo Day 22: Pick Your Power

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt: You get to choose one superpower. Pick one of these, and explain your choice:
•the ability to speak and understand any language
•the ability to travel through time
•the ability to make any two people agree with each other

I pick the ability to travel through time.

Last week, fellow blogger Priceless Joy sent a lovely letter back through time to her 8-year old self and challenged the rest of us to do the same.

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  • Had I the power, I think I would choose to go back in time and visit my 4-year old self, this sweet little girl you see here.

    She’s still unscarred from her parent’s divorce and all the meanness life throws at you as you grow up. She fully believes that everyone around her loves her because she’s lovable. I wish I could get to her before she ever lost that.

    I would tell her to be strong and stay strong. That everything’s going to be alright.

    I would let her know that she will grow into her feet.

    I would tell her not to worry so much about trying to please everyone. Bless her heart, she tied herself in knots trying to be everything for everyone for so many years. I would hug her and let her know that it’s most important that she’s happy with herself.

    I would let her know that one day she will meet the love of her life. That it’s going to take a really, really long time, and it’s going to be very lonely for a lot of that time, but not to give up because she will, finally, find her prince.

    I would advise her to spend every moment she could with her grandmother. Not to get angry or impatient when her Granny brushed her bangs out of her eyes, “so she could see her pretty face.” To ask more questions and listen to all the stories and to learn how to make fried summer squash and pot roast the same way her Granny did. To know how irreplacable her grandmother’s unquestioning love and support was and to value every single second she was with her.

    I would encourage her to dream huge. To go after her dreams with all her heart and let nothing or no one stop her. And that’s it’s okay to make mistakes – mistakes are how you learn. The important thing is to never quit.

    And I would hope that she liked me, this person she turned out to be.

    But maybe through this visit, she’d turn out a little better,
    and get there a little easier,
    and never for one single second, lose the belief that she deserves to be loved.

  • NaBloPoMo Day 19: Flashin’ Back

    Earlier tonight, I was looking for a book in my giant messy bookcase, and a photo fell out and hurtled twenty-five years through time to my feet.

    It's like a time capsule of bad hair.

    It’s like a warning to children what not to do with your hair.

    I immediately scanned it and sent it as a private message to my college besties pictured in the photo, BH and MMB. (And yes, that’s me, “pretty” in pink, waving the biohazard.)

    A slightly tweaked version of the ensuing conversation:

    Me: Look what I found! Mind if I post it?

    MMB: OMG. Go ahead. It will be a Throwback Thursday pic for certain. Man. You and BH look gorgeous. What was I thinking with those bangs? Why am I shooting a bird to the wall?

    Me: I think you are giving the finger to my crimpy comb-over.

    MMB: But where are we?

    Me: It’s Wednesday night at the Zoo, baybeeee. Let the debauchery commence.

    MMB: That’s what I thought at first…the Z, but we look too fresh, too “uncrushed.”

    Me: I’m thinkin’ this was a “before” pic.

    MMB: Look at you, Miss Environmentally Conscious, bringing your own Styrofoam cup!

    Me: It’s to balance out the hole my hairspray carved in the ozone layer.

    BH: Look at all the teeth and hair!

    Me: I’ll be sleepin’ with the lights on for weeks.