-Marion Roach Smith, The Memoir Project
I promised you an announcement, and the day is here. Over the last few months, I have been planning something special, turning it over and over, in my mind, and in conversation. I called in reinforcements, surrounding myself with lovely voices. At last, it is time to share it with you.
I started as a fiction writer, and the details of any piece are always what grab me. I love knowing that it’s a plum cake, or that her apron had yellow polka-dots. This has followed me into the rest of my life, and now, when I hear stories, I am always interested in the details that set them apart, the little touches that remind me that God is creative and poetic (and specific).
I’m hosting a series of guest posts around this idea, called de(tales). This idea captivates me, and I hope it does you, as well. This is a series that I want to read, so I’m curating it. I’ve asked some lovely writers to tell me about a detail with meaning to them, something that captures them, begging to be written about, often, to be turned into metaphor. I have started receiving the pieces and I cannot wait to share them with you. I find myself smiling as I drive and walk down the street, unable to contain my joy about this series (you will no longer think I’m kidding after you read them).
If you’re a writer, and this captures your imagination, I’d love to consider a (previously unpublished) piece for inclusion in the series. You can send it (in the body of the email) to cara.strickland at gmail dot com.
To start things off, I’m writing my own de(tale).
My time in South Korea was almost up. I was traveling with my Tae Kwon Do school, and after many nights in hotels, we were staying a few days with families. My “mother” didn’t speak English, so when she couldn’t communicate through her 12-year old (a 2nd degree black belt, pianist, and artist, with a fairly firm grasp of the English language), we did a lot of smiling and gesturing. They showed us the town, taking us to their favorite places and, perhaps, places they thought we would like. We visited both TGI Friday’s and Pizza Hut, where the cardboard box was tied with a red ribbon. Maybe they thought that it would remind us of home.
One morning, our mother smiled widely as she served my roommate and I breakfast. The girls were eating fried eggs with chopsticks, cutting them neatly and lifting the slippery pieces into their mouths.
We did not have eggs in front of us.
Instead, she poured us heaping bowls of Frosted Flakes, scattering cut cherry tomatoes on top, before pouring the milk.
I smiled, silent, wonderingly. The 12-year-old caught my hesitation and pointed worriedly to the cereal box. Suddenly, it became clear. These tomatoes were fruit, glowing and red, just like the strawberries pictured in the massive bowl of cereal on the box.
I found out, after my return home, that many Korean people are very fond of cherry tomatoes, even putting them in fruit salad and dusting them with sugar to be eaten out of hand. So I can never be sure if this breakfast was a delicacy, purchased to delight two young American girls, or if our family was simply trying to give us a taste of home, but either way, there was thought and intentionality in the serving of this cereal.
I took a bite tentatively. I do my best never to refuse food, no matter how out of my ordinary it might be. I know what it is to offer something sustaining and life-giving from your kitchen.
The tomatoes were firm and subtly sweet. They blended with the sugary cereal (that I’d never before been allowed to eat), creating a surprisingly delicious experience which still conjures up a picture of a small kitchen populated by an entire appliance devoted to kimchee and two little girls eating slippery eggs with metal chopsticks.
It tasted like hospitality.
Since that trip, I have poured myself a bowl of Frosted Flakes on several occasions, tossed them with cherry tomatoes and poured milk over the top, and though it tastes like South Korea, halfway around the world, a place I didn’t grow up, a place that I don’t live, I think for a moment that it tastes like home: the kind where you’re welcomed in, treated like family.
Come back next Wednesday for the next installment in the de(tales) series.