“Juju, there’s a woman out in the parking lot setting up the party, but that has to be your grandmother,” said Mrs. Short, Mrs. Short was Juju’s second grade teacher. Nope, said Juju, that’s my momma! Juju didn’t even have to look out the window, she knew Jewel was out there unloading the 62 Tan Cadillac that was loaded with cookies and big restaurant size drink dispenser.
Juju further knew that her 78-year-old grandmother was probably securely seated in her favorite chair at her house in Haltom City, watching “Days of Our Lives” or another one of her programs…she had never learned to drive ruling her out immediately. Juju was used to people thinking her parents were her grandparents. She was number seven of seven, coming at a time when her mother was 40 and her father was 49. Juju’s mother had a large swath of grey hair starting at her forehead and flowing all the way to the rear of her head. People were recently calling Juju’s mother “Maude” after a popular TV show. The two women had two similarities…hair and attitude. Juju’s mother did not care for the moniker, telling Juju that people like to put down women that were smart and spoke their mind. “Never let anyone silence your opinions Juju!” said Jewel.
The Harrison Lane Elementary second grade class was putting on a performance of Little Red Riding Hood for the school. Juju played the lead because Mrs. Short said she was the only girl who could memorize all the lines.
Jewel did not come into the school to watch the performance. She worked for one hour out in the parking lot, setting up a long table for a treat buffet. By the time the play was over and the entire second grade was lined up, the table was perfect. Colored paper decorations were attached to the pressed, white linen table-cloth with the floral design. Dozens of cookies were displayed on shiny silver platters. Juju’s father was a chef and he had “donated” some the equipment from his restaurant. He even took the time to carve radishes into pretty little roses that complimented the icing on the trays of cookies. The big drink dispenser was full of iced cold lemonade, just sweet enough for all the kids to line up for seconds.
Mrs. Short was speechless, when Juju had volunteered her parents to cater the event, she had no idea what the result would be.
After all the kids dispatched with the table full of goodies, they marched single file back into the second-grade hall, no one looking forward to the afternoon math class. Juju enjoyed being the girl in the spotlight that day, but the funny thing was, it was the party in the parking lot that made her swell with pride…not her starring role. Her parents had taken great pains in ensuring that the table was decked out and looked just as fancy as the buffet did at the place where her father worked.
Juju sat down at her desk in Mrs. Forrester’s math class and looked out the window. There was her mother, now folding up the long table that would stick out the back trunk of the Cadillac, on her trek back home. Juju watched as her mother turned the car south onto Harrison Lane, back towards the modest ranch-style house her large family shared.
Years later two of Juju’s friends remembered that day and the fancy snacks served on silver platters. Juju asked them if they remembered the play before the snacks….they did not. It seems Juju’s parents were on to something. People remember good food and presentation….they incorporate it into their memories. Juju knew this to be true because almost all of her childhood memories were attached in some way to food. Her family were “foodies” long before the term became fashionable.
Remember that Christmas eve? The one where we had 80 people over for dinner? Yeah, that one. Remember your third birthday? The one where momma made the birthday cake to look like a lamb? Oh yeah, right! Remember when we went down to ride inner tubes down the Comal River? Yes, when dad made a huge fruit boat with lunch that Saturday and grilled those pork steaks? Yeah…..yeah.
Juju doesn’t remember much of the play at all, not her costume or anything. She does remember sitting on the curb chomping on a cookie that was almost too pretty to eat.
Juju was watching the Food Channel last week and felt a tear rolling down her right cheek. Forget chopping onions, carved radishes can do that to you too, even after several decades. Those radishes were food for thought…the thought of a greying mother of seven, working hard in a hot, Texas parking lot. Creating a memory that remains of a sweet afternoon so long ago, as sweet as that lemonade…and that was some mighty fine lemonade.