For those raised in “Political Incorrectness”, the holidays pose many challenges. Some of it has to do with finding a way for private nostalgia to co-exist with currently accepted norms. Did I really live in a place where all media (count ‘em, three television stations) uniformly covered “Santa Sightings” with as much intensity as they later would O.J.’s white bronco? A place whose neighborhoods were lit up with so many lights that they looked like small supernovae? Where nativity re-enactors wrangled live camels and donkeys in frigid prairie winters, where “the only thing between Fort Worth and the North Pole is a barb wire fence”.
Of course, as time wore on the outside world pressed in upon the Lone Star State. Who can forget the famous fight about whether a crèche should be allowed to remain in the state capitol? Asked by A.C.L.U. representatives to remove it, then Governor Ann Richards said, “You know, that’s probably as close as three wise men will ever get to the Texas Legislature, so why don’t we just let them be?”
I, like you, love Berkeley because it values diversity, and yet what answer to give a first grader who asks, “how many different holidays can you celebrate in one month, anyway?”
During the holidays in Berkeley the uber narratives that I’m familiar with of peace, light and hope have survived wonderfully, but the particulars get a little fuzzy. I remember watching an industrious mother at a holiday party “funnel the energy” of the preschool set into an impromptu play about the nativity. “And who was it, who came down from Heaven to tell Joseph and Mary that they were going to have a baby?” The entire group looks thunderstruck, wondering what answer will bring them closer to cake time. “Who was it? Who came down from Heaven?” One little girl lights up and says: “Burl Ives.”
And yet there’s always food, isn’t there? So when asked if there were any parents who might want to help with a first grade holiday latke party, my hand shot up. Latkes. What could be better? So what if I called them ‘potato pancakes’ and my Jewish friend calls them ‘latkes’.
Latkes/potato pancakes are a superb example of evolutionary convergence. Obviously the same light bulb went off in everyone’s mind when they encountered that Peruvian tuber so suited for creating coma-inducing, community-bonding delectations of epic proportions. I almost skipped as I went to discuss our “Holiday Cooking Project” with the “Edible Schoolyards” chef.
Who looked at me with that puzzled, head-tilted gaze of sincere empathy that I had come to dread. “Latkes… all that oil. I know, they are so good I can taste them. But I can’t. I just can’t. We are working so hard to teach the children to celebrate with healthy foods.”
And so we ended up making piquant snowmen out of tangerines from the Capay Valley, using raisins to create the winsome facial features. They were not hot and crispy. No one groaned and said that they couldn’t eat another bite and then ate five more. No, they were cold and citrusy and … pretty darn good. And even I had to admit that their facial features were much cuter than ones found on potato pancakes, er, latkes.
I felt a warm sense of holiday connection that I shared with a deep Berkeley-ite friend. “Yes,” she said, “there’s usually some kind of viable option that opens up in these situations if enough space can be created.” After realizing that she was talking about my situation at the first-grade holiday party, and not World Bank politics, the ‘aha’ moment happened. I see the hairnet of the Luby’s Cafeteria lady who, when asked by a patron, which is better, the buttermilk pie or the chess, answers sincerely: “whatever melts your butter.”
Next time: Dog parks. Fun outing or group psychoanalysis?
Kelly Cash, who has lived in Berkeley for eight years, is a writer who prepares ethically harvested foods for her companion animals, including husband and children, while working to save open spaces in the American west, one million acres at a time. This is the third in her series of “Lone Star” columns.