“Miss, you ain’t had Kool-aid till you had it in the projects!” I’d been in and out of this neighborhood a million times, but no one ever stopped to offer me Kool-aid before. My student was going into the Marines. His family invited me by for a drink before he left.
He was right about the Kool-aid. Our family and church Kool-aid didn’t taste like this. My mom and all the other church moms bastardized the recipe. A touch of Kool-aid mix added to a vat of water barely tinted the final product to the color of water pollution. “It stretches the Kool-aid,” the moms said that fateful day they passed the wooden spoons on to us, the older girls. These were the secrets that fooled the little kids–rites of passage.
Kool aid wasn’t their only food crime. They watered down concentrated juices, the chocolate chip count in the cookies was dangerously low, and anything that could be stretched, like the piece of chicken in the soup, was stretched like an elastic about to be snapped.
I always thought it was because they couldn’t cook or read recipes.
When I grew up, I realized the solution was simpler. It was because they were cheap. Everybody was broke. But even the frugal have to have some fun. Making a canister of Kool-aid last longer than the next mom was more than frugal–it was a particular badge of honor. No doubt they gathered in circles saying, “I made this orange Kool aid last through the entire liturgical year.”
“Yeah, well I have five kids and mine lasted two years.” There was one family that always won, hands down. The family with the twelve kids prayed to Jesus and the canister actually refilled. Sometimes it multiplied. It’s true. Loaves and fishes stand aside, Jesus loves the little children, and he gives them Kool aid.
Even with Jesus himself refilling the powder, I still never had a decent glass until that day at my student’s house.
“There are some things that shouldn’t be compromised, even when life’s got you down,” I thought. A correctly prepared glass of Kool-aid is one of them. It’s heaven–a sugar high that could’ve powered me through childhood into college. I now know why the Kool aid guy crashed through walls. He was invincible.
I took Declan to the movies yesterday. We’ve got two sets of cinemas locally, the cheap one and the expensive one. The cheap one’s a dive. It keeps me on the edge of my seat because I never really know what’s been on that seat. I’m transfixed to the screen till the last credit rolls mostly because my feet are stuck to the ground and pulling them off the sludge is loud. The show’s only a couple bucks, though, so it’s worth it.
Declan picked the movie. As luck would have it, it was the expensive theater. I packed snacks. Movies are expensive, snacks are where I draw the line. I’m not paying as much as a ticket for oversalted, artificially colored, stale popcorn. I rarely eat candy, I never drink soda, and water in a theater costs a small fortune. I prepared the boy.
“We’re not buying movie popcorn. And we’re not playing arcade games, got it?” I said it in the “or we stay home” tone.
I packed Pirate Puffs, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and juice for him. A water bottle, sesame crackers and garden herbed cottage cheese for me–standard movie snacks. I stuffed them into my designer bag. My friend gave it to me. She doesn’t use it anymore. It’s a good thing, because I had a lot of snacks. Fancy people have big bags, usually with someone else’s initials all over them. This, I can’t figure out–how do people find their bags at a party if they all have “LV” or “C” on them? This bag’s plain brown, though, so I wouldn’t take someone else’s snacks at the theater by accident. My friend would never approve of this use of the designer bag.
Declan saw the “No outside food or drink” sign immediately. “Shhhh! I told him. We’re sneaking in food.”
“Two tickets, please.” Two smiling teens took my card, charged me a million dollars, and thanked me.
“Excuse me,” said Declan, “My mom’s sneaking food and beverages into the theater.” He said “excuse me” for once.
If I lived in a totalitarian state, it would be the teens’ job to inform on me, but teens don’t care. Heck, they’re trying to save a buck themselves. I had to get by the KGB movie manager off in the distance though. I lowered my voice. “Yes. I have food. I don’t eat candy. I brought cottage cheese.” The teens wanted to laugh at me. Who brings cottage cheese to a movie? They’d talk about me later. They didn’t know I teach–I live to entertain teens. They let me off.
I avoided KGB Movie Manager–this time, but I’ve got to teach my son about confidentiality. I told him when Mommy says something is secret or quiet, like a private conversation, he can’t tell others.
I realized I’ve told my son to keep secrets and lie, suggesting it was a good thing. I wonder how he filed that in his little schema of life.
We went into the movie, unpacked our feast of health food and junk, and had a great time. I looked down at the designer bag, calculating the money I saved sneaking in snacks. It was quite a bit.
Then, an image came into my mind. An image of Kool aid, stretched to the max. Before I could stop myself, I wondered if I saved more money than the moms.
I’ve turned into them. It was unavoidable, I guess. But since I don’t drink Kool-aid, I pack cottage cheese instead.