29 June 2011

take 2: what she taught me {a poem, still}

Based on feedback from my writing class, I did a little revision of the poem I wrote for my grandma. The comments fell into two categories:
  • I wish there was more smell in here. You cover the other senses, but what does the high school smell like? What does your kitchen smell like when you're making a tater tot casserole?
  • I don't know what a tater tot casserole is.

Oh, you poor, casserole-deprived people, you who have never tasted the culinary delight that is a tater tot casserole.

I'm beginning to think that this casserole is a particular creation of Iowa because here in Illinois, just one state over, I get blank stares. I get: "All I see in my head is a casserole dish of tater tots. Is that it?"

But back home in Iowa, tater tot casserole is a staple of potlucks and I don't just mean church potlucks. At my high school, we had an athletic banquet at the end of every year. This was when the varsity letters and pins were handed out, and it started with a potluck.

At the banquet, there was an entire section of tater tot casseroles, just as there was a section of desserts. And no one seemed to care or be embarrassed that they'd brought the same dish as someone else: more casserole for everyone!

If you've never had a tater tot casserole, please let me know. I'll make one for you, should you live close enough for this. If you don't, I'll send you the recipe, and you can have a taste of Iowa, right in your kitchen.

And now, my poem revision—I read this last Saturday at my grandma's birthday party, and it seemed to go well. Grandma liked it; that's all I care about.

{You can read the original version here.}


What She Taught Me
for Grandma Callahan

I pull the tater tot casserole out of the oven.
My kitchen smells like home.

Home, home in the cornfields,
where seldom a casserole doesn’t use a can
of cream of mushroom soup.

I breathe in home,
and wipe my hands on a pink gingham apron.

Something in my movement,
a certain slope of the shoulders,
reminds me of her,
and I wonder:
did she pass down her gestures,
as well as her brown hair,
in the family DNA?

The beginning of an answer comes to me:
I see her in the cafeteria at the old high school,
pulling a casserole out of the oven.

It's the day of the Annual Craft Fair,
and just down the hall,
tables of quilts
handpainted “Welcome to Our Home” signs
fill the gymnasium.

And there she is,
rhinestone Jesus pin on her sweater,
smiling at everyone
everyone who passes through the cafeteria.

In this one quick glance,
I can see everything
everything she passed down to me.

She taught me
to be involved:
an Annual Craft Fair doesn't organize itself.

She taught me
to serve the community:
do unto others, whether they need food or time.

She taught me
to love God:
you can do that by loving whoever He puts around you.

I learned to:
be willing
be prepared

to work hard

to laugh.

She passed down to me
how to make this life delicious


how to make this delicious tater tot casserole
that I have just pulled out of the oven.

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