Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trick or Treat Tradition

When my boys were little, I decided to start a Halloween tradition. While my husband took our sons around to Trick or Treat the neighbors, I stayed home and made homemade hot chocolate. I could hardly wait for my pint-sized Indiana Jones and Tigger to get home. I imagined the four of us, sipping hot cocoa from stoneware mugs as the boys sorted their candy and described the costumes they'd seen. They would always remember our Halloween hot cocoa! We would treasure this tradition. I barely gave them time to dump their treats out of their jack-o-lantern buckets and onto the counter before asking, "One marshmallow or two?"
Jack burned his tongue on his first sip; and Will was much too interested in the little bag of Halloween trinkets the neighbor had dropped into his bucket to even give his hot cocoa a taste.
The tradition didn't take.
The next year, I tried a different tactic...the "Make Yourself Sick Milkshake." I bought a gallon of vanilla ice cream, set up the blender, and invited the boys to toss in whatever candy they wanted for a one-of-a-kind Halloween taste sensation!
Jack chose cookies and cream Hershey bars and a Reese's cup. Will tossed in Butterfingers and a couple of Gummy Bears. Both boys were thrilled at the idea of making themselves sick on their original milkshake flavors. A tradition was born.
Word spread fast. The next year, Jack's friend, Zach, joined in. Each year since, additional friends have enjoyed our unusual tradition. Not only do my sons invent new and more disgustingly delicious milkshake combinations each Halloween, but more and more of their friends have started stopping by after Trick or Treat to toss a handful of candy into my blender.
Last year, six teenaged boys crowded around my kitchen, gulping down various ice cream and candy concoctions.
To date, no one has actually made himself sick; but they certainly have put forth their best effort...Snickers and York Peppermint Patties; candy corn, Hershey's kisses, and caramels; Skittles and Sour Patch Kids. It might not be the Hallmark Halloween moment I had in mind when I laboriously melted chocolate in a saucer on my stovetop all those years ago; but our annual "Make Yourself Sick Milkshakes" have done exactly what traditions should do...provided us with something to look forward to and something to remember.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Passing Through

Yesterday, my family had lunch in Tyronza, Arkansas, population 762. 
My husband's grandmother passed away late last week. She was 89. A retired cook for the Ingram Barge Company, G.G. lived for many years near the Mississippi River before retiring to her home state of Texas. At some point, she and her husband, Chester, bought burial plots in the little farming community of Tyronza. Chester has been buried there since 1973. Yesterday, the funeral director from Donnelly's Colonial Funeral Home in Irving, Texas, drove G.G. to Tyronza.
We met him there. Under a blue tent and a bluer sky, we said good bye to G.G.
Each of my sons took a pink rose from the spray on the casket so we could press the flowers in our family Bible. I gathered up a tuft of raw cotton that had blown over from the cotton fields across the road.
It was a solemn occasion, commemorating a woman who loved to laugh.
Afterward, we went to the only restaurant in town, Tyboogie's Café. We called ahead to make sure they could accommodate a party of 18. They said, "Come on over."
We all sat together at three long wooden tables. Mismatched vinyl tablecloths made it seem like a picnic. Tyboogie's was not just a café; it was an antique store, featuring a pair of size 72 men's blue jeans pinned to the wall...a warning of what might happen if one ate too often at Tyboogie's. We had to laugh.
My husband's cousin, Jana, bought a porcelain figurine holding a delicately-painted, tiny, porcelain umbrella. Her mother, Judy, bought a geode, its glittering crystal exposed, the whole thing mounted on a chunk of Styrofoam. My boys bought Tyboogie's t-shirts.
While we waited for our lunch, we admired a caricature of Willie Nelson, a cardboard box filled with pieces of petrified wood, a collection of German beer steins, pink and white Christmas ornaments, a display case holding bullets from the Civil War, an old player piano (all the way from Chicago, Illinois!), and a collection of antique baby dolls.
We ate fried catfish, homemade hushpuppies, country-fried chicken covered in white gravy, cheeseburgers piled high with slices of red onion.
We didn't even have room for dessert.
We needed Tyboogie's yesterday...the atmosphere, the comfort food, the laughter. We ate in the middle of an unfamiliar room, surrounded by family. We took in (and took home) reminders of past times and other lives, reminders that we are all just passing through...passing through the little town of Tyronza, passing through this big life. It comforted us to realize we were all leaving behind bits of ourselves, some as soft as tufts of cotton, others as surprising as crystals hidden in a stone; some as fragile as a porcelain umbrella, others as solid as a piece of wood turned to rock.
G.G. would have loved Tyboogie's.