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People Who Taught Me.
A couple of those who helped make me me.
A while back I got a journaling prompt fromwhere guest prompter Angelique Stevens encouraged participants to: “write about an important first when someone taught you how to use or do something”. I immediately got frustrated and filed it away though because all I could think of at that time were all the things that I had to teach myself because no one else was around or bothered to teach me. I taught myself to cook, to swim, to sew, to budget, to parent, to partner. I didn’t learn any of these things from my own parents and only learned a little from the rest of my family.
But a few days ago I revisited this prompt and being in a better place actually found a handful of very vivid memories in my mind after all. These two were the ones that stuck out the most.
The first memory that came to mind was learning to paint.
I spent a lot of time on my own when I was a kid and once after expressing my interest in painting to my elderly neighbor, who had spent his lifetime as a commercial artist, he offered to teach me to paint. I had always wanted to be a real artist and happily accepted.
Before I started my lessons with him, he and his wife Gloria (who became like honorary grandparents to me) took me to Los Angeles to a fancy art supply shop to get me materials. He taught me all about the best brushes, how to take care of them and what he thought the best paints were to use, his personal favorite was gouache (back then it was called Designers Gouache) and I still use it often. We also picked out my first canvas and then they took me out to lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant. It was a wonderful day for a poor kid from a mobile home park.
After that I went to his house once a week after school. His wife made me a tasty after-school treat (often some delicious snickerdoodles) and he taught me everything he could about painting. I finished my very first real painting with him and was so proud.
Bill taught me that I could actually do hard things. Before that I never believed that I could be a real artist, but I was and have continued to be since and even more importantly his influence encouraged me to try other hard things that I never thought I could do.
Bill and Gloria both passed away quite a few years ago, but they will always hold a special place in my heart.
The second memory that came up was my cousin Jody teaching me how to bake a cake.
Jody was my second cousin and older than my mother, but she was more like an aunt than a cousin. I had a special connection with her from the very first moment that I met her when I was in junior high. I had already taught myself how to cook by then and cooked and baked all the time, but my food was nothing in comparison to hers, everything that she made was phenomenal. It’s a small silly thing, but I have a very vivid memory of having a baked potato with sour cream and butter at the same time with her and it blew my mind.
One time when I was visiting with her over spring break she made a chocolate cake that was easily the best thing that I had ever tasted in my short life. It was moist and rich and everything a chocolate cake should be. I begged her to teach me how to make it and the next day she did.
When we began, I was horrified and incredibly wary when she pulled out the mayonnaise. Mayonnaise has always grossed me out, the smell, the texture, the flavor, it’s just not my thing. But it was an actual ingredient in this amazing cake. See Jody lived in a ghost up in the mountains called Cerro Gordo hours away from civilization. It was a couple hours’ drive to get fresh produce and eggs, so she used mayonnaise in most of her baking instead. I was highly skeptical, but when we pulled it out of the oven, cooled, frosted it and cut off a slice, it was just as delicious as the one I had tasted the day before. Maybe even more so because I had made it myself.
Jody was an incredible woman that taught me so much more than just how to make a delicious baked potato or a chocolate cake. Among many other things, she inspired me, taught me how to think outside of the box and problem solve and when life gives you mayo, bake a cake with it. She was a really important person to me and had a huge influence on my life. I lost her a little over twenty years ago, but that memory and many others have stuck with me. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without her.
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