Looking back on the past provides peace of mind for the future

Monday, November 12, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Rose Nolen

My sisters and I never learned to cook as children. My mother always said that there was room for only one woman in a kitchen. I believe this was her way of making sure no food was wasted. As a consequence, the four of us had become married women by the time we prepared our first meal. I’ll never forget the first chicken that I baked for Sunday dinner. It was so dry and hard it couldn’t be pulled from the bone.

Over the years my youngest sister and I have been trying to duplicate our favorite old recipes. A few weeks ago while I was thumbing through a cookbook, I ran across a recipe that sounded like what my mother referred to as “savory meat” and felt as if I had struck gold.

In all honesty, I find these little ventures into the past an excellent form of escape when the troubles of the world threaten to drag me under. I suppose the fact that I had a wonderful childhood accounts for my love of old stuff. Whenever I say that, people don’t always understand, because after all, I was born in a segregated America. But as children we were sheltered by a large, loving and educated family. For the most part, in our case, the slings and arrows missed their mark. Even as children we were expected to rise above ignorant and rude people and ugly behavior. My mother always believed that a good childhood would see one through the hard times. I have lived to see that she knew what she was talking about.

I’ve always believed that I was born in the wrong era. I know I should be thrilled with the marvels of indoor plumbing, air conditioning, television, the Internet and airplanes, except I love the charm and elegance of days gone by. I’d give all this wonderful technology up in a flash for an hour’s conversation with Leonardo Da Vinci.

I revel in the memories of my youth. I loved taking dancing lessons and learning proper diction and going to charm school to learn all the nuances of proper social behavior. I liked having tea with the Queen and knowing the proper placement of my forks and spoons. And I loved the opportunity to enjoy all those old-fashioned special occasions when I could take advantage of all those lessons. I’m forever thankful that I had those days when I lived in the house of my mother, because when I pick up the newspaper these days and read about the madness that is affecting this nation, I can go to those places in my mind where sanity, ethics and a sense of values dwell and know that I will survive.

I don’t envy the children of today. This country’s founders realized that it would require an educated populace to hold the republic together. I suppose this is why class systems prevail in so many societies. If a child grows up knowing that one day he will be president or she will be queen, they will be taught the responsibilities of leadership. In a democracy run by "we the people" all children should be reared with that in my mind, because they will ultimately be in charge. Being educated should be a requirement, not a choice. But then our wrong-headed ideas about the upbringing of children will probably be the death of this “noble experiment.”

In any case, I’m glad that in my family I didn’t have a lot of options. We grew up in a town where African-American children were not permitted to attend school beyond the eighth grade. My grandparents were able to send my mother to board with friends to complete her education and she was able to teach in a country school. Because she was determined that we would get an education, she moved the entire family to the city so that my older siblings could attend school. (That story always causes me to chuckle whenever I hear people complain about having to "bus" their kids). Under those circumstances, not attending school was not even considered.

I wish I could believe that we will have the leisure to look back on this period someday and call it a bad dream. Rather, I think the nightmare will have earned a new name. It will be known as reality.

I’m happy for the memories.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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