Hot tamale!

All that's left of the drive-in is this sign.

There’s not much left of it anymore, but growing up we had a drive-in movie theater, the Tonto Drive-In. It classic Winslow-style it was built right next to the train tracks. At least once during every freaking movie screened there (but usually more like two or three times) a train would go past clackety-clack, clackety-clack getting louder and louder making it impossible to hear the scratchy audio from the drive-in speakers hanging in the car window. You would be forced to read lips for the several minutes it took the train to pass. One night Jan was headed for the low cinder-block concession stand located in the middle of the red dirt parking lot. “Anybody want anything?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Tom, “I’ll take some hot tamales.”
Jan went to the concession stand, then came back handing Tom two foil-wrapped bundles.
“What’s this?” said Tom.
“It’s tamales. I didn’t know what kind you wanted so I got a green and a red.”
He started laughing, “What? I meant the candy!”
Jan laughed too. “You want me to take them back?”
“No,” said Tom “I’ll eat them.”
Only in Winslow could someone go to a drive-in movie concession and come back with actual, homemade, steaming hot tamales.

Transactive memory

“Oh that Aunt Jan, she shouldn’t be getting me anything,” I say while tearing the wrapping off of a white shirt box on Christmas morning. I lift the lid and find a worn Ziploc baggie. “What’s this?” Inside is a writing tablet with my grandma’s name stamped on it twice and two brittle handmade cookbooks.

When I unseal the top of the Ziploc bag, it smells! It’s chemically sweet like dryer sheets and Aqua Net.  It’s the smell of visiting my grandma at the Beauty Shop behind her house; of shop towels in the laundry; of pretending to “sit under the dryer” while watching her roll hair into rows of rollers. I want to hoard this smell.

I delicately thumb through one of the cookbooks, “Relief Society Recipe Book”. There is a handwritten page tucked inside for Coconut Marshmallow Layer Cake. I smell you and I hoard you.

The second of the recipe books is two-hole punched; red plastic rings holding the loose typed double-sided pages.  The recipes are from Winslow women, I recognize some of these names. I like the name Goldie Cooke, I think she was a friend of grandma’s. It has no cover and no date, could it be the 50’s, 60’s – not sure who collected these and put them together. Some women’s club I imagine, but which one?

Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Food For The Gods


Grandma’s contribution: Spoon Bread Tamale Pie, also South of the Border Casserole, and a Cranberry Salad with celery and marshmallows.  I’ve eaten you.

Many of the women’s recipes use the word “scant”. Scant cup sugar, scant cup oil.  Why scant?

Which brings me to this thought: I’m beginning a New Year thinking about Transactive memory – a system of explaining how we rely on our family, friends, and community to store information for us.  Each person doesn’t need to remember everything the group needs to know, it’s the capacity to know who knows what. How people in close relationships “coordinate” memory and tasks. These recipe books unlock transactive memories about food and community, and a shared culinary heritage.

Like a family story that is laughter plus smells plus food. The whole is greater than the sum.  I think this might mean that my iPhone is part of my transactive memory? And this blog?

I’m going to try to remember that what I know includes what those around me know. I’m thinking about this while smelling old crumbly recipe books, trying to conjure my grandma’s expertise and areas of specialization, part of the memory of my childhood, and wondering what there is to learn from making that Coconut Marshmallow Layer Cake?  And smelling Aqua net?


Take it easy

As I was driving to work my Aunt Jan called to say she had just scored two free tickets to see the Eagles and did I want to go? Well . . . shit. What could I do? I would pretty much follow Aunt Jan to the ends of the Earth if she needed me to. I’m feeling worn-out lately but I don’t want to be the girl who turns down free concert tickets, even if it is the Eagles. Or maybe, especially, because it is the Eagles.

I mean it’s no secret that my hometown is Winslow, AZ — as in “Standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ”.

“Oh god. The Eagles,” says my friend Amy, “you must really never want to hear them again after growing up in a town with at least one store that plays that song on a continuous loop”.

That song would be “Take It Easy”.

Standin’ on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona.
Such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl my lord, in a flatbed Ford,
slowing down to take a look at me

For a while, this was years ago, I was contemplating getting a horseshoe tattoo with the word Winslow written in fancy script inside the bend. I wanted the ink-work to look like tooled leather. Like a western belt that has a cowboy’s name squarely stated on his backside, like “Chad” or “Justin” or “Clayton”. I felt that strongly about my hometown’s hooks in me.

Winslow doesn’t have a lot to crow about, but we try to make the most of it. Which is why the townspeople have taken that one lyrical mention and carved out a whole cottage industry.

In downtown Winslow a “Standin’ (there is no g) on the Corner Park” was built in the early 90’s. Complete with a painted mural of a girl in a flatbed ford and a bronze statue of a man with a guitar standing on the corner.

And every September the town celebrates a Standin’ on the Corner Festival. It’s a two-day music festival culminating on Saturday night with the performance of an Eagles cover band, Hotel California.

There are food vendors, beer, music and lots and lots of dust. The town is packed.

The summer my mom passed away she had arranged for the extended family to take a cruise together in Alaska. One of the more memorable stories of the whole trip involves my Uncle Tom, his sister (my Aunt Jan), and Liam getting drunk together and troubling some poor piano player in the bar to play “Take it Easy”. When the piano player did play the song, Tom announced in a loud voice to the entire ship’s casino, “That’s us. We’re from Winslow!” Which has become a sort of mantra for us all.

Anyway, all of this should explain why this concert with Aunt Jan is not to be missed. Turns out, we have good seats and as the show gets under way Aunt Jan reaches over to give me a hug and I think, “This is the closest I will get to hugging my mom again”. Aunt Jan’s body feels familiar, similar.

When the band starts playing “Hotel California” I am transported. I am 6, maybe 7 years old, and I am cruising through the bright desert with my mother on our way to New Mexico. She is wearing Famolare sandals and big sunglasses, which she considered very chic. I have on knee-high socks with sandals. She is singing this song and we are cruising through the desert and it is just the two of us.

My Aunt Jan is a natural cheerleader. She whoops and cheers at T-ball games or ballet recitals louder than anyone. When any one of us graduates high school or scores a goal it is Aunt Jan who we will hear. She is the kind of woman who sticks four-fingers in her mouth when she whistles.

That night there were plenty of whistles from my seat-mate. The Eagles sang for three and a half hours and we had to wait until the encore to get our moment. As the band re-took the stage and began to sing “Take it Easy” it was our moment to say, “That’s us. We’re from Winslow”.