Remembering to remember

Published 9:08 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rushing from one activity to another hinders my ability to recall people, places and things. Although my smartphone helps me remember to pay a bill, buy a loaf of bread, or meet a friend for lunch, it doesn’t really help me recall meaningful events that impacted my life and made me who I am.

When I slow down and “remember to remember” sights, sounds, smells and tastes from my past, I become more aware of my present and hopeful about my future.

Some of my most cherished memories were created when I visited my grandmothers as a little girl. A lot of my memories involve sights, sounds, smells and tastes associated with food I ate at my grandmothers’ tables.

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When I entered the kitchen of my father’s mother, I saw shimmering strands of multi-colored, 1970’s-style plastic beads that hung from the ceiling to floor on each side of the entry way. The beads collided with my body and with each other, making a gentle clanging sound as I walked between them to sit at Grandma’s table.

I immediately caught a whiff of freshly fried chicken, speckled butter beans with okra (that Grandma picked from her backyard garden) and egg custard pies that were baked with love.

My favorite snack when I was at Grandma’s house was a generous slice of cheese that was deep golden in color and had a mild flavor. It was cut from a cheese wedge that had a thin, red piece of wax called “rind” covering the widest surface of the wedge. The cheese was always soft but firm, and it glistened with beads of oil, because it rested all day under a dome-shaped piece of glass that had a round, wooden base.

When we visited “Me Me,” my mother’s mother, in the quaint, one-story house built by my grandfather in the Deep South, I recall eating “chowchow”, a tangy pickled relish made from cabbage, onions and multi-colored bell peppers that was stored in a sealed mason jar.

The rest of the meal included chitlins (chitterlings), thoroughly cleaned pig intestines that were boiled in water with onions and various spices until tender then served over white rice with a splash of vinegar and Texas Pete hot sauce. I don’t have a taste for chitlins or a desire to whiff their pungent aroma anymore, but I appreciate how they came to be a part of Southern cuisine.

I take pride in knowing slaves prepared the choicest meats for their owners and then transformed leftover pig parts they were given into nourishment for their families.

Unlike my smartphone, my heart remembers the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that made me who I am. When I embrace my past, I become more aware of my present and hopeful about my future.

As I “remember to remember,” I consciously hold on to people, places and things that my smartphone could not really capture.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for and a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School ( She can be reached at