Notes from Jan

J.E.L.L. OH!

January 6, 2022

Well, it’s been a long time since I made Jello. And, I didn’t make any this time, though Jello was my choice for the New Year’s Eve party. I’ll get to the why later, so bear with me a little longer. Oh, and it’s a long story so you may want to grab a snack along with something to sip while you read. If pressed for time, feel free to leave.

Growing up a Baptist preacher’s kid, meant we didn’t party like most folks on New Year’s Eve. We held Watch Night services in the church basement. The best part, for most of us kids, was the potluck supper when the best cooks and bakers in the church displayed their blue ribbon winners. Desserts abounded. Baptists generally excel when it comes to food. You’d be wise not to ask us to dance but you’ll want our recipes.

We also played some games, seated in circles on metal folding chairs. As the pianist played a chorus, the forerunner to praise songs, we’d leave our seats, run around and, hopefully, land on a seat when the music stopped abruptly. You know the game. We watched Moody science films and we played Bible trivia. Usually we decorated the church with crepe paper streamers. It was about as festive as we got, other than Christmas, Valentines’s Day, Easter and weddings.

As a kid, I couldn’t imagine anything more fun than staying up late, playing some games, eating prize-winning food and hanging out with folks who mostly loved each other. Remember, nobody had TV. We kids preferred the food, movie and games. Most adults, after eating, favored the last part of the evening. It was the more watchful part when testimonies and prayers bridged the passing of one year with welcoming the next.. I don’t remember their words but somehow the faith of some marked me. Some stood and simply said,”Thank you, Jesus“,while wiping tears from weathered faces with worn hands and large handkerchiefs. I see them still, especially one faithful farmer.

Daddy timed it so we ended the year in prayer. We thanked God for helping us in the past and giving us hope for tomorrow. Somebody kept an eye on the clock so with a resounding AMEN at midnight, we rose, hugged (an approved activity) and welcomed the New Year. Then folks started gathering up casserole dishes, Jello molds, and cake plates. For the farmers in our church, chores came early. So they gave up a full night of sleep to watch a new year sprout. Nobody grumbled. Daddy was the only paid staff. So Mama, Daddy, teenagers and other good folks folded and stacked the chairs, swept up and removed all signs of a party except for leftover JOY. It stayed.

Well, back to where I started this story with Jello, New Year’s Eve in California with our family and friends. Lets just say, this was a far cry from my Baptist upbringing. First, we had a theme, thanks to my eldest Grand, Lily. We were to express ourselves through textures and come in costume. Costumes never were my forte, just ask my kids. When it came to Halloween I did my best by cutting neck and armholes in pillowcases. Thankfully, my kids took it to another level with their creativity.

Which takes me back to my quandary regarding a costume for this New Year’s Eve party at Heather and Matt’s house. Pillowcases were out, so was the familiar church basement. So, like the Grinch, “I puzzled and puzzled ’til my puzzler was sore and then I thought of something I hadn’t before.” Jell-o! It’s a texture and one that connects me to Watch Night services when Ms Thelma brought red jello with fruit cocktail, a word we only used when referring to that can of minced marvels. So, I asked Lily if she’d head to the store for a box of red jello. Which she did.

And so on the night of the party I put on a long red silky, slippery like jello, nightgown over my clothes. Then, lest some remain clueless as to my costume, I made a necklace from the box of red Jello. If interested, it’s easy, just open both ends, remove the packet of Jello. Next, I took a slender red ribbon(24 inches), slipped it through, taped up the ends of the box and tied the ribbon, then slipped it over my head. Voila! J.E.L.L.Oh!

Well, I probably got the most laughs. Maybe it’s a nod to my age. Can’t imagine what hospitals and nursing homes would do without Jello. As someone wrote, “We spend all our lives avoiding Jello but in the end, it’s there waiting for us.” As for the other costumes, some expressed themselves through wool, others leather or multi-layered fabrics, wigs,etc.

We feasted on Indian take-out. Nobody needed to impress anyone with cooking and baking skills. Been there, done that. Then before my feet remembered its stilted upbringing, music filled the house, and dancing started. First one Grand, then another, pulled me from the safety of my chair and before my Baptist brain could protest, I danced. We were “all the single ladies, demanding a ring on our fingers” we waved our hands and sang, “having the time of our lives.” And I was.

JOY became the link more than Jello. Leftover joy from those Watch Night services and joyful dancing and singing to music, most new to me. Generations woven together through love and friendship, cultures through food, creativity through costumes. And music, that amazing gift that loosens feet and lifts spirits spun its magic until the oldest felt linked with the youngest.

At one point in the evening, I sat beside Para, peer of my kids and part of our extended family. I revealed to her more of why I picked JELLO. Well, it could’ve been because some of me resembles that wiggly substance. But it’s more about a commercial that was popular when Jello was at its peak. “There’s always room for Jell-o.” And that’s how I felt as the eldest. Room for me, for all of us gathered to celebrate the end of a year too full of sorrow, loss and controversy. And maybe that was our testimony, we still sang and danced. Together. And God showed up textured in love, hope and joy.

I fell into bed tired but not too tired to say, “Thank you, Jesus” or begin a litany of blessings, and most had faces. And like that old Norwegian farmer, dabbed at eyes that spilled over with gratitude, hope for tomorrow and utter amazement that my Baptist feet could dance.

Happy, holy epiphany!

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17 Comments

  • Reply Joyce Ruppell January 6, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    How well I remember the Watch Night Services at Countryside Bible Chapel in Lexington. The games were fun, the food terrific, especially the desserts and always included a Jello mold or two often made by my grandmother or mom. “Praying in the New Year” was a highlight and usually one of the elders was in charge of the timing. People were often crying as they thought of those they had lost over the year or perhaps sadness because of unfulfilled goals. Mostly I think they were glad they had survived another year…reminds me of our lives now! As we hugged and kissed we were reminded of the hope and promise of a new year and how we might better serve God and one another.
    The story of the Jello costume was hilarious and an idea I’ll certainly keep in mind when I am invited to a costume New Year’s Party!
    (with family members only!)

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 6, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      Feel free to become JELL.OH when needed. And may God bless you and the work of your hands and heart in this coming year, dear Joyce.

  • Reply Becky January 6, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    Happy holy Epiphany, Jan. May the joy of the dance —The Lord of the Dance—accompany you throughout the year.
    Love the Jell Oh idea. I may have to borrow it

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 6, 2022 at 5:37 pm

      And love to you, Will and your Family, dear Becky. Green jello would be your best color! Happy, holy Epiphany to you, as well!

  • Reply Evelyñ Morgan January 6, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    Oh my, you stirred up my 80 yr. old memories. As I sat watching fireworks out the window at midnite, I, too, refected on the Watchnite Services, which are a happy memory for me. We Baptists also have our own parties. I would rather bring in the new year in church, praising God. My granddaughter planned a wedding at that hour 4 years go. I’m glad you are still able to dance with your grands. This old body doesn’t get out at night anymore. Neuropathy has taken its toll, which is worse at night.
    Re: jello salads, I still feel no carry-in meal is complete without one. I usually make a whipped strawberry (fr.strawberries & Cool Whip whipped w/Jello). Never any left to carry home. Showing my age, I guess. Happy New Year. Keep dancing to stay young.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 6, 2022 at 7:50 pm

      Well, dear Evie, get ready to move those feet. I think heaven’s going to be full of dancing for joy. As for jello, not so sure. But my Mama thought any plain jello became mousse by a master chef when whipped cream got folded into it. As for my night of dancing, I’m still recovering but happily so.

  • Reply David Smith January 6, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    We missed seeing you at the Gordon Christmas Gala this year, which was a pared-down event but still live! With food! And song. No jello–which, some of us might just argue, belongs in a different category from food, alas!

    Anyhow, Jan, your story brings a smile and a tear and a bundle of happy memories of growing up Baptist –in a mostly French Canadian and/or Irish town in central Mass! Particularly poignant as my father departed this vale of tears just yesterday…I am sure he found a little corner of heaven where he is doing a polka or a schottisch as everybody around the throne sings along with Handel’s oratorios! Happy New Life to him and to us all.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 6, 2022 at 7:56 pm

      Well, dear David, I missed being at the Gala and seeing you, as an added gift. As for your father, how tender the heart and memories for you and your family. I suspect he’s really experiencing something way beyond “the time of his life.” Imagine dancing and singing WITH Handel! As C. S Lewis wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.” May that be true of 2022 for all of us.

  • Reply Toni Lovingood January 6, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    What a joyful story. I remembered New Years Eve services. We had a foot washing service and singing and like you spent the midnight moment in prayer. The minister and his wife shared a brief kiss when the praying was over. It was the only occasion when a display of affection like that was allowed. I’m so glad we have those memories and that you are making new ones with the next generation. They will always remember your jello costume. Good for you Jan!!! No doubt there are pictures of this joyous occasion. Happy New Year!
    Toni

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 6, 2022 at 7:58 pm

      Well, if there are any pictures, I’ll either destroy the most damaging or post one for the enjoyment of all but me. Those phones with cameras are everywhere so who knows what’s out there. Lord, have mercy!

  • Reply Dale January 6, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    There is a lot to have fun with in this blog but more to absorb and cherish. I grew up in the Mennonite culture where jello with fruit was saved for special occasions and I still like it! We could not dance but I could not (as in ability) so this 11th commandment was a blessing but not near the blessing of family (joy with faces as you note). My dad was the oldest of 14 so, with my 39 cousins, we had many family gatherings at the farm and I don’t remember anyone rejecting jello! They weren’t as fond of scrabble and pig’s stomach but the jello went down smooth. 🙂

    I appreciate how you help me get more out of life.

    Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 7, 2022 at 1:09 am

      What a rich heritage you have, Dale. We have much to learn from the Mennonite culture. And when it comes to food, they make the BEST pies, for sure. Years ago when we joined you at the Kutztown fair, my souvenir, besides great memories, was a rolling pin. It helps me roll out great crusts. I love it. It’s seasoned after more than 40 years of use. I still like jello, just haven’t made it in a long time. Its fallen out of favor. Maybe jello wrestling did it in! Jud’s Dad loved scrapple. He was born in Pennsylvania, so that explains some of his preferences in food. Always love when you add your comments to one of these blogs, brother Dale.

  • Reply Irv Levy January 7, 2022 at 10:17 am

    You are such an amazing gift!

    We love you!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 9, 2022 at 10:34 pm

      Well, dear Irv, you did my heart good. I’m always pleasantly surprised at who reads these blogs. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. Keep those fun picnics/pool parties coming in your welcoming home and backyard. Maybe next time I come, I’ll bring Jello…not wear it, just bring it. i’m not that much fun!

  • Reply Wendy January 7, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Loved reading about the past, and the present New Year’s Eve celebrations! And as others have said – would LOVE to see pictures of your most recent one!! Haha! When I begin thanking Jesus for all my blessings, I inevitably need a tissue too.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 9, 2022 at 10:38 pm

      Well, I’ll see what I can do that doesn’t totally destroy whatever credibility I have left. Meanwhile, don’t hold your breath.

      • Reply Wendy January 10, 2022 at 8:50 am

        Hahaha <3

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