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Jello Surprise by Marie Hendry

December 21, 2012

SA Current Flash Fiction Blog LogoConnections to the past are important (well, maybe not so much today, the last day of the world). Especially as you get older. But sometimes you prefer to have the connection, say a recipe, without the human interaction. Then it’s time to put your memory (a close relation to imagination) to the test. It turns out to be a complex web of truth and fiction and neither one knows what the other one is.

Send in your complex webs. Flashfiction@sacurrent.com: looking for approximately 500 words or less.

Lyle Rosdahl

Jello Surprise by Marie Hendry

She didn’t know her Aunt well enough to call and ask for the recipe. She hadn’t been to Thanksgiving in years, not since she moved out of state. If she called, would she have to narrate seven years of history, or could she say:

“Hi, how are you? I’m fine. Do you have the recipe for Grandma’s jello mould? Thanks you, goodbye. No, I don’t see my parents very often, but when I do, I will say hi, thanks again.”

The one-sided conversation ran through her head with no return dialogue because all she wanted was the recipe and she had no idea what her Aunt would say.

Well, that was not true. She would say: jello, cool whip (maybe it was cool whip) and walnuts. No walnuts, pecans. The pecans were always largely chopped, that’s why they looked like walnuts.

Thinking she had a clue, she wrote it down on a post-it and stuck it to the fridge.

The fridge represented poor forensics of the recipe. She had wrote 1950 by itself on a neon post-it note as an assumed date of when the recipe was created (roughly) because her father said they always had it at Thanksgiving every year his mother (Mama, heavy accent on the first “ma”—he never used that stressing at any other time) was alive. He was born in the 50’s, so the 50’s was a good place to start.

She went online and bought a few vintage (expensive) cookbooks and was confused by the ingredients. Oleo was disgusting to think about. She couldn’t imagine scraping it from a bucket and eating it. Buckets were reserved for fried chicken (she was now grimly aware that Oleo was a chicken-or-egg situation). Perhaps they reused the bucket?

The next clue, jello, was surprisingly difficult. She bought every color that approximated the purplish hue, only to realize that the expensive cookbooks kept mentioning gelatin. She found it in a container above the easy jello. When she got it home she was surprised by its grainy texture. This was marrow.

It would be easier if she knew the name of the dish but no one ever called it anything. It was there, always there, and gone. Same bowl, gone by the end of the gathering, if not (rarely) she would scoop the contents away into a container and enjoy it that evening, never thinking about it as an entity, just an experience. A fact of nature.

Blueberries. There were blueberries, right?

She started thinking of price. Her grandmother was always poor, so the ingredients had to be “cheap” for 1950 standards. But did she go cheap on Thanksgiving? She suddenly wished she could go back in time to have a conversation about finances and the holidays. Her Grandma would answer, under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, with hand crocheted ornaments from three generations back:

“Well now, we tried to make the holidays as nice as we could. I always loved the holidays.”

The memory of her Grandmother was eluding the question.

Wait; why not just ask for the recipe? Would the recipe solve the riddle or would it be in “code” like so many of her grandmother’s recipes. Pinch of this, jar-of-cheese-whiz that. Unholy combinations of deliciousness that make no sense to her own bland-and-easy-to-follow Betty Crocker sensibilities of one cup, one tablespoon, one teaspoon.

Weeks of research and the trail was cold. The killer was getting away. Had gotten away. Was dead for seven years. There’s no DNA in the 1950’s. Well there was, is, maybe.

Maybe the Aunt’s on Facebook?

***

Marie Hendry is a PhD candidate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She was co-editor, along with Christine DeVine, of the collection of essays: Turning Points and Transformations. She was Writing Center Director at ULL from 2010-2012. Currently, she is the assistant fiction editor for Rougarou: An Online Journal, working on a revised edition of her department’s freshman guide, as well as the graduate school editor for theses and dissertations at the same institution.

***

Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.

Send your flash to flashfiction@sacurrent.com.

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  • Laura H.

    This is great! I have those imaginary conversations with family all the time when peparing to hunt for information. And I have a few of my great-grandmother’s recipes, so I know what you mean by code. The ending is wonderful.

  • Darwin

    This is a good story for the holidays that brings up memories from the past. Thanks!

  • ALove4Benny

    I almost had this exact same frustration during Thanksgiving this year…..the recipe didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. Recipes are so tricky, especially when you *know* someone you don’t *want* to talk to has it. Great job capturing that frustration!!!