Taking a trip to Who Knew Me When

keep-calm-and-go-on-a-road-trip-1So I’m hitting the road this week. Me and my Mazda, Pandora on my phone, lots of coffee and water and a protein-heavy lunchbox so I can resist those nasty road snacks. (Hmm. That would make a great band name – “Appearing tonight for one night only, the Nasty Road Snacks!!!”)

But I digress.

I love road trips. When I was dating my enamorada, whose parents lived in SoCal, I thought nothing of throwing a few things in the car and heading down the 5 for the weekend. It was a quick trip from San Jose to Newhall. Had Sunday afternoon return timed perfectly, if I left by 2, I was back in NoCal in time for dinner.

Then came life/marriage/kids and that ultimate closing act, responsibility.

Life is pretty good now and the marriage is running swimmingly after 40 years (yes, he deserves a medal). Kids have spread out – Sacramento, Anaheim and Virginia. Most days, it’s just the sweetie and me and our two fur kids, 170 pounds of pit bull snuggles around the house.

So it’s a travel day, heading north to Tracy and Manteca, which are kind of near the Bay Area. Not close enough to hit The City, but that’s not why I’m going. I’m not a tourist this time.

The 5 to me is a road filled with familiar landmarks. I’m leaving really early, planning breakfast at Harris Ranch and ending up in the land of the Giants (3 World Series titles in five years, just sayin’) around lunch-thirty.

imagesI’m going to visit two women who have more dirt on me than the huzzbee himself; women who knew me when, before kids, before LAPD, before NBC, before journalism and community volunteering and politics.

They remember the rough clay when it was thrown on the wheel of learning. When I was an ardent, unquestioning supporter of what we now call a questionable conflict; when I worked for an underdog Republican challenger to a juggernaut Congressman (yes, he lost), then moved on to work on the Nixon campaign (we all know how that ended….)

Together, we learned to dance, gave each other noogies, protested pollution, held farting contests, sang ditties about janitors, anguished over having a date for the prom, studied, complained about and had crushes on teachers, athletes, and  played baseball in the intersection. We cruised down the street where two of our crushes (students, not teachers) lived in the hopes of seeing them outside, knowing we’d just die if we did.

Image-1The friend I’ve know the longest was deemed a little too risky by my mom and I wasn’t allowed to go away for the weekend with her family, but the other my parents got to know better and mom was more comfortable with. I loved them both.

Both held my secrets, laughed with me at my awkwardness and inconsistencies and all three of us proudly walked out of Washington High School in 1971 with diplomas. I threw daisies over my shoulder as I walked to the stage, which might not surprise people who know me now. But then, I was a rebel.

images-2One of them used to hit the road with me, throwing a sleeping bag in the back of the car and pulling over to the side of the road to sleep under the stars. Yes. We know we were idiots. Thank God for park rangers who kept an eye out for us.

I introduced one of them to her future husband and I was a bridesmaid at their wedding. She chose yellow for my dress in a semi-flattering cut. I still have the dress. They’re still married, and from the pictures and postings on Facebook, it looks like the years have treated them well.

The other started college at San Jose State with me, then her father died suddenly and life turned upside down. Her father’s funeral was the first I ever attended – I had to ask my parents what to do and say. I would deal with the same loss a few years later and I realized it doesn’t matter what your friends say, knowing they love you enough to show up to help you cope with the loss is everything.

I don’t remember the circumstances of her first wedding, but I remember the second one was so much better. They are still married, although that bastard Alzheimer’s is robbing her of his companionship. I see the resilience and strength that she’s always had when we chat online.

images-1That’s part of the reason I decided to make good on the promises I would make when we’d touch base – “We need to get together soon,” “I’m going to try and make it up there sometime this year,” “Gosh, life got busy and time got away from me” were easy to type, but something clicked lately, something that reminded me that life is short, there are far more people that love you out there and we need to make good on those promises. To say I’m excited is a huge understatement.

There will be much laughter, some tears, lots of “holy cow, I forgot about that!” and “Geez, we’re getting old” over the next few days. Like I said, these girls hold the secrets. There is no pretense with them; they know the real me under the smoke and mirrors, and I can’t wait to be reminded.

My point – have that lunch with a friend you’ve been trying to see. Even if you just meet at the Bucks for a cuppa, catch up. Don’t wait until they’re sick or moving or worse. Remind yourselves how good life is and how much you love and are loved.

But now, you’ll have to excuse me. The road is calling and it’s an old familiar song.

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Please share this and let me know what you think – I love feedback!

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

On mayonnaise and coming full circle

Consistency.

A word written on a piece of paper and stapled somewhere on my “Do this” wall.

Sometimes I feel like I should turn in my Writer card when I don’t sit down at the keyboard and open a vein on a regular basis. I mean, it’s not like I’m not writing press releases for clients or publicity for one of my nonprofit groups or answering emails every day.

I mean, my fingers still know which keys are where. It’s just that the whimsy is often put aside for practicality.

And then there’s that “what should I write about?” conundrum.

So today, I’m going to talk about the value of a mayonnaise knife.

I drive my kids crazy. They say I keep too much stuff (but have never accused me of being a hoarder), which I defend by using the sentimental value tactic.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes

My kitchen counter is crammed with essentials, including three crocks holding utensils – spoons, strainers, whisks, tongs, skewers, ladles, spatulas – and one crock specifically for knives. All of them are very crowded, especially the knife one.

My kids went through the knife crock not too long ago and asked why I was holding on to knives that had cracked, weathered handles. There is one knife that they wanted to throw away, since it doesn’t cut very well any more. They urged me to simplify with better, stronger cutlery.

I countered that my mom used to make sandwiches using that knife. It’s more than 60 years old, as dull as butter and shows its age with a handle so bleached it’s nearly white, but it fits in my hand perfectly when I’m making sandwiches and spreading the condiments. The strength of the blade and its response when I’m using it to frost a cake or get the mayonnaise to every corner of the bread has a good, familiar feel.

I still hear my mom’s voice from long ago, when we’d be standing at the cutting board and making lunch. When I would be applying mustard and mayo to a creation, she’d advise “use twice as much of this” (meaning mustard) “and only half of that” (mayo). Nutritional guidance at the hands of utensils, offered with love.

There are other items in my too-shallow kitchen drawers (don’t believe the home improvement store when they sell you the standard kit, they’re NEVER deep enough) that open the memory floodgates. The pie server with the etched vines and the yellow and red-checkered handle – I see it holding my dad’s favorite, apple pie. The crazy whisk that looks like a spring gone bad at the end of a metal stick that my mom told me to bounce up and down when I helped beat the eggs to make French toast. The long metal spatula that reaches further and is my go-to tool when something sticks. Yup. Mom’s.

It bothers me that I lost the knife my grandmother used to teach me how to pit an apricot using only one hand. She could do it standing on a rickety ladder in the orchard. I try with newer, sharper models, with mixed results, standing in the safety of my kitchen.

I do visit foodie Nirvanas like William-Sonoma and Sur le Table and enjoy perusing the fancy new “must haves” that our kids take for granted. But those new blades or peelers or scoops just don’t bring back the mirepoix of my youth, the foundation on which I built my kitchen skills and those fleeting moments when I remember from where I came.

Another thing about that knife: we lived on a main road into what used to be a small town in Northern California. Transients (called “hobos” in those days) would mark the trees in our orchard because they knew my mother would always make them a sandwich. Guess which knife she used? Her belief was that no one should go to sleep hungry. I work with our local food pantry to make sure that doesn’t happen here. And when my kids lived at home, their friends knew that all were welcome for Sunday dinner. Still are. Mom taught me well.

Consistency. Like the home-cooked meals I make for family and friends. I’ll work on that.