It is a bean salad which is reminiscent of the three-bean salad I remember from my childhood. That salad's beans were canned green beans, canned wax beans, and canned kidney beans. There were also green peppers and onions in it and the dressing was a very, very sweet vinaigrette with so much sugar in it that you could have marinated grass in it and it would have been delicious.
My salad is not quite like that. I still use canned beans but there are black beans, garbanzos, kidney, edamame, green beans, two colors of pepper and red onions. And my vinaigrette has no sugar whatsoever but the balsamic and rice wine vinegars give it some sweetness.
I think back to my childhood when every recipe had cups of white sugar and sticks of butter and cream cheese and mayonnaise and cream and that included the salads. Or what passed for salads in those days. And I don't recall that many fat people, either. Except for me. I was the fat child. The one my grandmother's friends would give gifts of jump ropes to encourage exercise. The one they would say of, "She has such a pretty face."
Ah. Cliche. Hurtful and sharp, still to this day. But, they were the same ladies who gave me copies of books to read- Treasure Island, for one, the same ladies who told me I was smart and I believed them. Some of them had blue hair and cat glasses. Some of them wore silver bangles and rhinestone pins and simple strings of pearls. Many of them kept their little cardigans attached like a cape with a chain and clip device which was also bejeweled. Their accessories fascinated me, and when they all started wearing hair nets with tiny beads on them, I thought that they were beautiful and I asked my grandmother to get one, too. Most of them had long hair which they wore up in complicated buns and braids but some of them, like my grandmother, simply went and got their hair trimmed and permed and set and dyed blue.
And they all wore hair nets, night and day I think, in order to protect their hairdos.
Well. I am just thinking, for some reason, about those ladies. Maybe the bean salad, or maybe it's just that I am approaching the age they were then when I thought they were so very, very old. Ancient. And yet, I thought they were beautiful too. And some of them, without a doubt, were.
They have made sharp comments at times, but they meant them kindly, and even then I knew that. And when I look back on those days in Roseland, which is where we lived when I knew these women, I realize that it was mostly they who cushioned my existence. If there was any human comfort, a great deal of it came from them.
I remember their names.
Helen and Irene and Katie and Betty and Rosa and Garnet and Ruth. There were others, I am sure, but these are the ones I remember.
There were other women who made my life better, younger women. Aunt Dottie who ran a daycare and made clothes for my Barbie doll and took me camping and taught me to swim and Martha Hendry, my most beloved school teacher. Aunt Flonny, who drove the school bus and let me work in the cafeteria with her during the worst year of my life. I believe they saw something very needy in me and because they had great souls, they offered me what they could and if I am a person of any worth, they and the older women are the reasons.
So. There. Just that.
Make bean salad and a childhood appears, the river, the jungle, the birds, the other children, the snakes, the armadillos and my grandfather and his tuneless whistling as he worked his compost. The school with its oiled wood floors and two staircases, the kitchen of the cafeteria where Aunt Flonny made huge batches of yeast rolls and I scraped plates into the trash and dried and stacked those green plastic, partitioned lunch plates, turned chairs up onto tables and swept the floors.
Mostly though, today I am thinking of the women and silky dresses, their hair nets, their soft voices and wrinkled skin, their face powder, their eyes, magnified beyond all reason behind the lenses of their cat glasses.
I am remembering them. I am realizing, as I cut and chop and mix and bake the great debt I owe them.
These words aren't much, but today, they are what I have to offer to that debt.
I thank them, even as they are long, long gone. They are not gone to me, though but in some ways are as living and alive as anyone I know because as cliched as THIS is, they live on in me. The best parts of me. They gave freely and I somehow knew enough to take.
And I am so eternally grateful.