Please welcome my birthday guest - Rhae Camdyn!
Home is Where the Hearth Is
We have a tradition around our home; when it’s your birthday you get to decide the menu for the dinner meal. It wasn’t always this way but penury, joblessness and the economy forced our hand when one year we just couldn’t afford a birthday party. Instead, we made a celebratory meal for the birthday girl (who chose my biscuit-based coffee ring instead of a birthday cake, bless her!)
Thankfully, I’ve always had on hand the makings for each child’s favorite meal. I cook from scratch as there are the ever present allergies and diet restrictions. What I never dreamt of was the creation of gourmet palates from my humble meals born of necessity. Slowly, as the years and the birthdays and the financial stability came along, there was the one year when I turned to child celebrating next to report her favorite restaurant was chock full and I had called too late for a reservation.
Her response? “Mom,” with big blue eyes nearly pleading, “Can I please have your meatballs and spaghetti? I don’t want to get dressed up, not be comfortable, and have to deal with my sisters too.” The Dane came home and I sent him out to get the fresh loaves of French bread I needed to complete the meal. He was happily surprised as well not to be spending the funds, gas and patience required for the restaurant outing. So, taking one of the kids with him, he brought home fresh French bread, a celebratory carton of ice cream and a new movie on CD while I went into the kitchen to make ‘Mama Magic.’ Everyone was happy, the house smelled like the expensive Italian restaurant, and the family was in pajamas and sock feet, zoned out in front of the movie.
I learned to cook at my great-grandmother’s apron strings and both grandmother’s laps. When I was little, my great-grandmother had both a wood-fired oven and a gas stove in her vast limestone floored kitchen. I had my place of honor atop a wooden stool pulled up to her oak work table, and of course I had my very own cheesecloth apron, later replaced by one made from feed bags. (You never threw away feed bags. Ever.)
I learned how to make buttermilk biscuits, peach cobbler, plum preserves, cream cheese frosting and all the fixings for a turkey dinner whilst sitting at that work table. I also learned the love and patience required for feeding your family; it was worked into the fabric of my soul along with churning butter and gathering eggs from the henhouse. Every casserole we baked came with its own lesson in math, marketing and agricultural science; plus a smattering of the magic born of familial recipes.
To this day, although my kids are scattered to the Four Winds and Sacred Directions, they will still call to make sure they have remembered the recipes right to all their favorite meals. Like my Nana and her mother, and all the women we share the lineage with, only a few of those recipes are written down on anything but heartstrings. But when a cold or the flu strikes a dorm mate, or a husband or a close friend, I can count on the phone call with the pleading voice on the other end, “Mom? Am I doing this right? It just doesn’t taste like yours.”
I’ll never be a pastry chef, in fact most of the cakes I’ve attempted would have placed me square in the middle of some reality television version of “Worst Cakes in America.” However, birthday dinners for my beloveds? I can smile and proudly proclaim “I got this.” Oh, yeah….the magic ingredient in all the kitchens I wandered through? Love. Pure and simple as sunshine.
Sometimes real life has a way of deferring dreams until Fate steps in and says “No” loudly, emphatically, and with a near sense of finality. Rhae Camdyn kept her love of ‘word painting’ as a deeply held secret passion until one day her brain decided that there was just too much blood flow and not enough enjoyment. Her beloved mate and three daughters sighed and reminded her that just because she could no longer count beans and pay other people’s bills, her life was not over. Now was the time to share her quirky sense of humor, storytelling, and exposing naked truth with people beyond their community. The auburn hair is greying, the blue eyes still command attention, being short and slightly nerdy has its advantages. Everything else is subject to change - with or without a giggle of warning. Oh yes, did she tell you? She’s a Texan.
You can find her on Facebook or at her blog site (undergoing revision, please be patient with me!) at rhae-camdyn.com.