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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