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Childhood Favorites

Back From A Break

We took a little break this weekend. A break from storytelling, blogging, tweeting and we updated Facebook just once. It was intentional and the fact that the cell phones had poor service just helped the cause. We are so glad we were able to do that, unplug ourselves and surrender to nature. A last minute trip is always more exciting. The ladies here did just that. We packed our bags on little notice and off we went to MammothMountains and Tioga Pass near the North entrance of Yosemite National Park
Tioga Pass – The road in the picture is snow covered and closed in the winters.
A road trip in the hot summer, that too in the desert or the Sierra Nevada’s is not pleasant.  But once up there, the breathtaking views, the clear lakes, the quietness, the wilderness and the serenity of it all took over all the exhaustion from being on road. The kids who have fun together no matter where we are, enjoyed doing what they do best. Finding little things to keep themselves happy. They hiked in the woods, dipped in the lakes, had a pebble throw match in the lake, ran after a squirrel, got wet in the sprinklers, ate Veggie chips and water for lunch one day and made Maggi (the infamous Indian noodle) for us another day. 
The pebble throwing match – Look who’s got further !
We did not have any planned activities or things to do for them, which is the case always. And because we are like that by nature and they know it too well, they explore and figure things to do. That is how most of our childhood was. We explored and found things to do and as a result we were never “bored”.  So the children made daisy chains of flowers instead of rainbow looms, discussed why butterflies had so many colors, what to do if lions or bears were to attack them in the woods and many other things that were either “cool” or “awesome”. 
Our guides, trail finders for the hikes
Soumi spent a considerable amount of time behind the camera and that is the reason why you see beautiful pictures in today’s post. As for me, I did nothing but soaked it all up. It is not every day that you are on a clear lake at 9945 ft surrounded by the Sierras and the pine trees, the clouds kissing the mountain peaks and the white of the mountain peaks glistening in the sun.  I missed having a book though. Of the several lakes that are recommended, we spent time at none of them. We stopped at a lake out of nowhere because we simply wanted to get out of the car. We walked through a campground and reached this view. Priceless ! 
 This trip reminds me of a childhood trip that I made to Mirik, a town with a lake, nestled in the hills of Darjeeling in India. It was not a popular tourist destination then. We had driven there with our close family friends in adverse weather, amidst rain and thunderstorm. The view from the driver’s seat was limited to the front of the car. As a child, that adventure, driving with no visibility on winding roads, the picturesque small town and having nothing to do but enjoy nature has stayed on with me even two decades later. I hope our trip to Mammoth and Tioga Pass remains etched in our children’s memory in a similar way.
Make a trip to a national park or go on a camping trip with your kids this summer. You will be surprised that they will enjoy it as much as Disney land. 
The woods are lovely dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. 
And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. 
~Robert Frost. 


Shirley. Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer

The world is mourning the loss of Dr.Maya Angelou, a legendary author, great human being,  wonderful storyteller, an inspiration and lot more. Social media is buzzing with her quotes, poems and stories. She was undoubtedly a strong influence for women across the globe. In our story today, Barbabra Stanifer takes this opportunity to remember other such strong female influences in her own life.

With the passing of Maya Angelou, it has me reminiscing on the strong female influences in my life, I’m lucky in that I have many.  But when I conjure up one that makes me feel that kind of love I’ve been reading about in the various quotes being passed around today, I think of Shirley.  I refer to her as my grandmother, but we are not actually blood related.  She was our neighbor and I was four when she came into our lives. She saved us, all of us.  My mother desperately needed mothering and she gave her that.  I needed affection and she provided that in spades and when my sister was born, she was a babysitter in a pinch.  Her husband CB (who I refer to as my grandfather) was a giant of a man in physicality and heart.  Their house was my sanctuary, in my memory it was glowy warm, it always smelled like bread dough and it was comfort and love in its purest form. 

Barbara and her sister with Shirley. Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer

She wasn’t perfect by any means; she was flawed like all of us.  I could tell you lots of stories of highs and lows.  But the moment that is tugging at my memory today was a car ride she and my mom and I shared, a long ride through the mountains at one of her darkest hours.  Alzheimer’s was slowly consuming Shirley’s brain, and one fateful night CB, her husband of some 68 years, fell.  He hit his head and had to be helicoptered to a hospital 2 hours away.  By the time my mom and I reached her, CB had been flown out and she was sitting with a neighbor obsessing over whether or not she had already fed the cats.  She seemed oblivious to the weight of the situation, which was the one blessing of dementia.  We scooped her up, packed some clothes for an undetermined amount of time and started on our 2-hour journey. 

My mom and I took all our grief and fear and shoved it to the corners of our brain.  We wanted her to stay in her oblivion, it would be much nicer there than in the harsh light of reality.  We started down any number of random conversation topics trying to keep things light, there may have even been a laugh or two in there.  And then with complete lucidity she said with that familiar glowy warmth, “You know CB loves you both so much.  He may not ever recover from this and that will be so sad for all of us, but you are both so loved.  You mean the world to me.”  I was shocked by her clarity, by her calm in the face of what must have been a terrifying situation for her.  But most of all I felt so completely wrapped in tenderness.  

This woman, who saved us many times over, in her darkest hour wanted to make sure that WE knew we were loved.  Her concern in that moment was for OUR well-being and here we thought we were protecting her.  That is love that liberates…

Love Liberates ! Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer

Story Credit And Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer. 
Barbara is an amazing storyteller and she has written for Chatoveracuppa before. She is very observant of the little things in life and treasures them the most as well, a reflection of which can be seen in all her stories. This is her personal story and pictures. We are so touched to be publishing this today on her behalf.

A Wedding Of Dolls

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?”  Sarah Addison All  
Sonali Banerjee takes a trip down the memory lane and remembers her childhood days playing with dolls with her best friend. The fine details in the story are so engaging that you can visualize the pretend doll wedding that she describes. Our favorite part is the ending of the story. 
I am a kid of late 60s. At that time there was no Barbie and Kane…but we had our own kind of dolls. We had small earthen pots and miniature kitchen equipments made up of metal, wood or clay. We would make small pretend doll houses for Diwali. 
I just can’t forget those days spent with my best friend Swati, playing with such dolls. Swati was my neighbor as well as my classmate. Our Dads were colleagues too. When we first met in the school we became friends immediately. 
We started spending time together in school. We used to talk so much in class that one day our class teacher asked us to sit on separate desks. Our friendship extended as we started visiting others house after school evening also. We played many games like Vish Amrit*, Ludo, Chinese Checkers and with our Dolls.
Her mother whom I used to call Kakima (Aunt in Bengali) was also very friendly and very creative .Apart from many other things she was fond of making dolls out of fabric. Those dolls were very beautiful and perfect. She used to sit with us when we played with dolls made by her and gave many innovative ideas. The one thing I remember most is when we planned a pretend wedding of our dolls. It turned out to be a gala event. 
Kakima organised all the things methodically. She took the pain to make a lavish spread for our wedding. All in miniature sizes. Sweets and Puris (fried India Bread). Potato cut into small pieces made into a curry. Everything was served on tiny plates. Our brothers became the Baratis (the groom’s family). We made small special dresses for the bride and groom, packed tiny gifts for the bride and the groom’s relatives and performed all the rituals that are part of a traditional Bengali wedding. 
There was this one particular ritual where the bride’s mother is supposed to measure the groom with a thread and then swallow that thread. (Don’t ask me why, it is an age old ritual.) Swati, who was the bride’s mother, was in a dilemma on how to swallow the thread. Obviously she was only a 8 year’s old ‘mother. So I took it upon me swallowed the thread with ripe banana that day. 
Memories of what we experienced that day is so vivid and precious to me that I will never ever forget it.
Last year, Swati’s real daughter got married. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the wedding ceremony. I did wonder though whether she had mustered enough courage to swallow the thread that day.
*Vish Amrit is a popular game played by children in India. It is very similar to playing tag. but once you are tagged you stay put in your place till another team member can come and help release you from your spot. 

Birthday Surprise

Sonali Banerjee and her kids

Balloons, cakes,candies, ice-cream and goody bags. All of these and more is what makes a birthday party. Childhood birthday parties are fun because you get to just enjoy the day. All the planning and the hard work for the party is done by the parents.

Here is a birthday story with a twist. Children planning and arranging parties for their parents and grandparents. Sonali Banerjee writes….

 When I look back to the days when my children where very small, I realize I am one of those lucky women whose husband and kids always want to do things which would make me very happy. Out of many thing I enjoyed the most was my surprise birthday parties which they used to arrange and celebrate. As the date approached, I could feel the of suspense in the air. I could guess all of them secretly planning in hush hush tones what gifts to get for me, and ordering the food and the birthday cake. When goodies were finally brought in, those were concealed in the house so that they could surprise me. Although their every bit of planning, which was with the help of their father was somehow known to me, I used to pretend as if I knew nothing. Even my mother in law and father in law were also active participants in this secret! Finally on the day of my birthday, they would set the table with the cakes and candle and arrange the gifts, one of them would take me to the Drawing room where other members of the family were already gathered. That expression of surprise and joy which I would give could have easily won me an Oscar!

 Later on such surprise birthday  parties became a part of our life which we would organize for my husband and for my mother in law and father in law also .Such small celebrations became a great  source of joy for our entire family.

 Now my children have grown up and live in other cities, busy in their work.  Even then every year my husband and the kids plan for my birthday and they send me gifts and arrange for some party in absentia. Receiving a humble bouquet by courier with a birthday message written by my kids give me more happiness that getting a diamond necklace.

Friendships That Stay Forever

Foreword By Piya Mukherjee: Friendship is a simple term with a rather complex interpretation. Childhood memories are incomplete without a mention of the friends and buddies we make in those years. These are the friendships that are the dearest and the most easy ones to keep up with in later life. Have you ever wondered why ? Because these friendships are made without any materialistic, conditional and worldly things in mind. And they tend to remain that way throughout our lives. Childhood friendships are simple because children themselves are simple.
Today’s story is a friendship story. It is about two childhood friends who have stayed friends over the years. I also happen to be part of the story. 
Little girls are always very passionate about finding BFFs. I understand this now much better, since I have a little girl who would come back from school and talk about her BFF which by the way is “Best Friend Forever”.

I don’t know how it is for you all, but as a child, I had friends but it was never easy for me to find friends who could be my BFF. It was challenging, despite the fact that I was in an all-girls school for my middle and high. But with a majority of the girls staying at the hostel and me not, it was kind of complicated. Let me say, I was never the desperate kinds that needed to share my life with my “n” number of friends and the fact that for me was that no one quite “fit the bill”.

Then in the 9thgrade, July 1991, came a new girl to our school. And as you may guess, she almost quite did fit my bill. She was sensible, we could talk about a lot of things. We shared common hobbies, poetry, writing, singing and more, we shared even a common language “Bengali”, though I admit I wasn’t very good at it. When her parents came to meet her, they all visited us and found a lot of common grounds to talk. A short period of two years, that’s all that we were together, but I remember it being all good, which is all that really matters now.

Our lives took completely different turns thereafter and we kept in touch with each other, sometimes more and sometimes less. In between few years passed, 2 then 4 and then nearly a decade and we were almost out of touch. When I looked back at my school life those days, I sometimes wondered what happened to us BFF’s? Then we found each other again, on Facebook. She always is the one who would write than pick up the phone. So she wrote “This is me here. Hope you still remember me.” Huh! We found each other on Facebook, just 2800 miles apart, on the east and west coast of US. But that did not quite matter, what mattered is we kind of got back together I think like the old times. 

We picked it up exactly where we had left. We had a lot of catch up on but there were no questions asked. Neither one of us was intrusive. We did not want to know it all. What had happened in the years between? That was just quickly filled up in a 5 minute conversation. It was as if we had been part of each others life all through those years. We realized we had graduated into new roles in our life. But in our heart we were still the same girls, just like we had been in school. Nothing had really changed about that.

Today, it is is not just Facebook and the occasional phone chats that keeps us close. The credit for keeping us in touch now, goes to her. So you know, we both loved writing journals in the school and would invite each other to read our personal journals.
And a few weeks ago, she invited me to join her in sharing stories on her blog – chatoveracuppa. Our common passion for writing ties both of us together now .In retrospect, I am glad I had found a BFF in school because she is still one of my best friends forever. And I am glad it is so simple between us. Life is complex enough why complicate friendships.
This one is for our friendship through the last 23 years!

This post has been contributed by Amrita Madabushi. A mother of two, a professor and a passionate story teller. She writes this post about her childhood friend and the other half of chatoveracuppa Piya Mukherjee. 

My grandma’s house

As part of our childhood memories series, is a story by Barbara Stanifer, as she reminiscences about the idyllic summers she spent with her grandmother. “A grandmother is a little bit parent, little bit teacher and a little bit best friend”. Grandmother, grandma, nana, or as I called mine, ‘dida’, by whatever name you call her, is a synonym for love, comfort, peace and the best food ever!
When I sat down to think about my favorite childhood memories, there was no question I would write about the summers I spent with my grandmother in Oklahoma.  To this day at the first sign of warm weather, every fiber of my being wants to make a pilgrimage back to the red clay dirt of that tiny town.  But when I started to write I wasn’t exactly sure WHY those were my best memories, what was it that pulled at my heartstrings even now in middle age? Everything in and around my grandmother’s house was a universe that felt so unique to my ordinary life, the landscape, the smells, the people were all different and I think mostly, it was calm and quiet.  I was free to be completely me.  With a great deal of patience and never a critical word my grandmother taught me things, she seemed to understand me in a way that others didn’t.  I learned to bake bread and do needlepoint and the absolute fine art of “visiting”, something cultivated by her generation or in the Midwest / South I’m not sure, but a skill that I relish when I recognize it in this fast paced, all digital world.
I was four the first time I went to visit my grandmother by myself and I went every summer after that until I was 23.  Nothing ever changed, every couch, chair, wall hanging was a living time capsule for all the years I was there.  For a gal whose family moved often and suffered times of great tumult, there was such unbelievable comfort in that sameness, in the static traditions that encompassed every visit.  We’d sit down first thing with a cold glass of sun tea, ice cubes tinkling softly against the glass, paper towel wrapped around the outside to catch the condensation and look through her box of tintypes.  She’d tell me stories of our ancestors that in retrospect I believe were all untrue!  “We are related to Chief Quanah Parker leader of the Apache tribe…” she’d say.  His picture was in that box and I do have a broad face and large nose but… 
She never denied my request for the first meal to be a BLT and fried okra, with the L, the T and the okra coming straight from her garden, there is something so transcendent about a homegrown tomato.  In the evenings I’d sit outside in a blue canvas chair next to the magnolia tree and contemplate life while my grandmother watered.  Fireflies choreographed their fairy dance to the cicada’s low slung, eerie song and it was pure magic to me – each and every time.  I would fall asleep to the sounds of my grandmother laughing softly at Johnny Carson, dreaming about what adventurous traditions would come the next day, decorating gingerbread men in the heat of summer, going to her beautiful gold domed church dressed in a hat and gloves, playing with her typewriter and my dad’s erector set from when he was young, visiting with Mrs. Babs next door who would always read me a book or tell me a story…  It was a magical place for me not because it was in any way grand, but because it was an amalgam of adventure, traditions and calm.  A perfect blend that matched the odd and quiet rhythm of my soul.

The Sweet Anticipation

On a recent visit to a temple, I found my daughter to be a bit distracted. She was praying along with me but she was eyeing something as well. That is when I spotted this plateful of candies. I am sure the bananas were not the cause of the distraction. 
In a Hindu temple, as is customary, food is offered to the God first and then served to everyone attending the prayer/ visiting the temple. The spread offered to the Gods could be elaborate but fruits and Mithais (Indian Sweets) are staple and the most popular. Of course this being a temple in the US, candies had replaced the Mithais.

Looking at my daughter I was reminded of my own childhood where I would sit through long prayers, visit temples with my parents and follow all the rituals obediently. At times the rituals and prayers ran fairly. For a young child it could prove to be an endurance test. But I will confess honestly today that somewhere deep inside the mithai served as a big motivation. The sweet ending is what I looked forward to.  

It wasn’t as if sweets were not available otherwise. Any Indian celebration, wedding and festival is incomplete without the present of Mithais. The variety is limitless and the availability is abundant. Mithais do not need any occasion. One would simply take a stroll to the nearby sweet shop and indulge in a little sweet tooth.
However, the same Mithai in the temple had a different taste to it. I do not know why. Perhaps it is because it could be obtained only after certain amount of waiting, after having patiently sat through prayers (all the while eyeing the sweets).  I remember often telling God in my mind, “I just want you to know I am here for more than just the Mithais.” He smiled back reassuringly as if he was waiting for the Mithais as well.
Today  as these thoughts stir through my mind, I look at my daughter again. She is smiling as she prays. I assume she is saying something very similar in her mind.  The prayers get over. The priest distributes the candies from the plate. She eats them all. I look at her surprised.
“You never eat candies. You don’t like them, right?”
“The ones from the temple taste different Mom. But I wish they had Mithais instead.”
Guess, something’s never ever change.

Be who you are


Nine Yards Of Memories

Foreword from Piya Mukherjee : This story comes to us from the most unexpected corners. This is a story about two very important men in my personal life. I cannot help but publish this today as part of our childhood memory series. This is a story about the memories of one of those men and the reflection of the other’s. This is a story about a father who had told me once that he was unsure about how his sons would remember him after he is gone. Today I just wish he had stayed on to read this.
The story raises an unusual question. As a parent are you just being a parent or are you letting your children know more than that about the real you. Will they remember you just as an exceptional parent or the complete person. The person who you are.
Family is one of the greatest assets for all of us and still sometimes the amount of time we invest in knowing each other within the family is not justified. Needless to say we at times take for granted the closest of the people we know.
Few years back we were at a family ceremony where along with a lot of relatives I met one person who had known my dad and mom from their younger times. She narrated some incidents/events from their courtship period which reflected a side of my dad’s personality that we were not used to seeing or experiencing. I was excited and heard all the stories like a 5 year old.  But sadly all this came with such mixed sentiments as my dad had already left us by then. And we felt there was so much about our dad that we didn’t know and we failed to find out. We felt incomplete. And will probably will have to live with it for the rest of our lives.
That day I heard stories about my dad which he never shared with us. And it was all about the small things, things that he did when he met my mother and the small plans he would make to meet my mother. Back then courtship was not very prevalent in India.  The fun side to him. His ability to tell an impromptu joke or find humor in the simplest things in life.  As I listened,  I wished he was more open in sharing those stories with us.
Because my memories of him are very different. My memories are of a different kind of a person.  
My memories of him ever since I can think of is seeing him working hard to provide for us. He was the most selfless person that I have known while growing up. He was always there for us, his siblings, the extended family and everybody he knew. In the times that we grew up, it was rare for both parents to be working. But dad supported the idea and let my mom have her own career. This also meant that he doubled up as our mom when she was not around. He packed our lunches, served breakfast and hurried us to school every single morning. And only he could do justice to the gajar-ka-halwa (carrot halwa) that he made during winters. Cooking rather became his passion.That was the thing about him. He found ways to do everything effortlessly and happily and find a meaning in them.
On Sundays, he would play old bollywood songs on the cassette player and sing along with it. He was a good singer, a thing about him  I am happy we knew. The same songs played every Sunday. The same songs play in the car, on my ipad even today as a lingering memory of my father. My association to those songs is not the lyrics, not in the music, my association is with my father.
But that is pretty much what I know about him which seemed so little after listening to others that day. The years of hard work and responsibilities had robbed him of the jovial, humorous and the fun side to him. With time he had transformed into a different person. He expressed less. He expected even less. He demanded nothing. 
In retrospect, this would not have happened if he had shared more about him (not just the dad side of him) with us. This would not have happened if I had spent more time with him. This would not have happened if we as a family did not get so caught up in the works of life.This would not have happened if in my growing up years I was not so lost in doing just my own things. A regret of a lifetime.
Be who you are. Being a parent changes a lot of things, I know that firsthand. But being a parent should not stop you from being who you are. Make your children part of who you are. Help them build that association. After all you have worked hard all your life to be the person you are and they should know about it. I want my children to remember me for the dad that I am but also for who I am. 
 Photo Credit And Story Credit : Vipin Kalra. His first time writing for the Chatoveracuppa blog.


Continuing with our childhood memory series, Soumi Haldar shares her childhood favorite today. If she had her way, she would have done away just with the picture. We are glad we could get her to write a few lines too.
Parle-G is extremely dear to me. It has been that way since my childhood. I still cannot do without my daily dose of Parle-G. I eat Parle-G for breakfast with my cup of tea and then sometimes as a snack and sometime just to pep me up. That is my daily routine and my source of everlasting energy for all the running around that I do the entire day. If you grew up in India like me, you know all about Parle-G. It is one of the oldest brands of biscuits(cookies) in India, still the most sold and very popular. There is nothing extraordinary about these biscuits yet I have met very few who have not liked its taste.
The design on the packing has not changed probably since the inception of this brand. The kid that you see in the picture has also always been there.
In the era, that I grew up there were not too many choices of junk food for children as there are today. Whatever little was available was not allowed at my home. Parle-G though a bit high on glucose was considered healthy (comparatively) and was allowed. And thus grew my love for it. Simple pleasures of life.
This is the part of my childhood memory which has remain unchanged and unadulterated in taste, shape or form. My two young children now are fond of it too. Might sound clichéd but it makes me feel good to share a part of childhood with my own children, a part of my childhood that still remains the same.

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