You Think That’s Jelly You’re Eating?

Photo: Rachel Tayse

A last minute trip to visit my instrument technician this evening meant a few moments of extra time with the Lovely Lady, since she agreed to ride along with me.  The sixty mile round trip flew by…well, except for the few miles when those slowpokes ahead of us were going twenty miles per hour under the speed limit, but you take my meaning.  Good company and easy conversation, or even a comfortable silence with the same good company, make time speed past.  On our way back, we stopped at a little Italian restaurant to grab a bite of supper.  A container of grape jelly on the table attracted our attention and, before you know it, we were both putting a dollop of the jelly on the homemade rolls which had been served with our delicious spaghetti. As I took the first bite of mine, the flavor made me stop short.  As it frequently happens, the slightly familiar flavor took me back to a different time, more than forty years ago.

Oh, it was grape jelly all right, just not the flavor I had expected. Everyone knows that grape jelly is that gooey purple concoction that we buy in the grocery store which tastes nothing like real grapes.  The grape jelly we usually eat is the product of some obscure factory where they do unspeakable things to the grapes about which we really don’t wish to know.  Sugars, flavor additives, and even (say it isn’t so!) high fructose corn syrup, have all been injected into the overcooked mess to bring us what we know as grape jelly.  And, we eat it by the gallons with peanut butter.  Well, this jelly was nothing like that.  The only flavor you could taste was fresh grapes, seemingly just plucked from the vine.  What a surprise!  What a delicious treat!

But, I told you that the flavor took me back in time.  What I remember about that past experience was the disappointment I felt years ago when my family was visiting at a relative’s home in Kansas.  She served jelly which she had made from her own vineyard of Concord grapes.  I took one bite of the piece of bread upon which the jelly was spread and refused to eat another bite.  “There’s something wrong with this jelly,” I whispered to a brother, standing nearby.  He sniffed at his suspiciously, but ate it anyway.  I never did finish that bread, but snuck it into the trash when no one was looking.  Why, anybody knew that wasn’t what grape jelly tasted like!

Tonight, I laughed as I relived that experience from the dusty corner of my memory.  I’m so much more sophisticated now.  I’d never do that today.  I know what’s good food and what isn’t.  But then I remember it–my comfort food.  The one meal of which I never tire, and which I will still be eating into my dotage, as long as I can so much as gum my food.  Macaroni and cheese…from the blue box with yellow writing on it.  Sure, I’ll wait while you go check your cupboard to see if it’s the one you like too.  Oh.  Already back?  Well, let’s move on then, shall we?

Years ago, we went out to eat at a very nice restaurant.  Everyone said to us before we went,  “You have to try their homemade mac and cheese.  It’s the best that anyone makes anywhere.”  We asked our server about it.  Yes, it was world famous.  Five different cheeses used in the making.  Garlic, and a few other spices which I can’t remember…and really don’t care about.  We would be overwhelmed.  Certainly then, we’ll have two servings of that.  The dish arrived.  Crunchy on the top, large creamy macaroni pasta, with delicious cheese.  I’m not speaking for her, but I was completely underwhelmed.  I have tried the mac and cheese at a number of different places, every time a friend has recommended it.  I don’t care for any of it, except–you guessed it–the stuff from the blue box.

You see, I grew up with the blue box.  In my experience, all good mac and cheese should taste just like that shrunken pasta, boiled and mixed with powdered cheese food, along with some milk and a little butter.  Mmmmm!  Heaven couldn’t be much better than this!  But, we’ll get to that discussion later.  The point I am making is that when we have been taught (and then had the teaching reinforced by years of experience) that something is the way it should be, we have a hard time believing that even the real article is any good at all.  Given the option, we’ll choose the plastic, fake product every time.  Once in awhile, our eyes are opened and we grasp the difference, embracing the genuine item for what it is.  When that happens, we almost never want to go back.

Maybe now would be a good time to talk about heaven, as I said we would.  In C.S. Lewis’ final book of “The Chronicles Of Narnia”, entitled “The Last Battle”, he describes Aslan’s Country, obviously his analogy for heaven.  Funny thing, though.  It’s just like Narnia, except more vivid and more beautiful.  The further in they go, the better it gets, but it is still a more beautiful picture of the world they have left behind.  I’m not sure that heaven will really be like that, but the Apostle does talk to us about seeing dimly now, as in a mirror. (You have to remember that their mirrors weren’t nearly as good as ours back then, distorting images and reflecting badly).  Then, he says, we shall see clearly as if face to face.  It appears that what we have now is merely a poor reflection of what we shall have then, just as with the store-purchased grape jelly and the fresh made jelly.

It seems that perhaps we shouldn’t be developing quite as much of a taste for the substitute items we have come to accept, and sometimes love, here.  We may find that we have been fooled cruelly.  One of my favorite lines from that esoteric movie, “The Matrix”, is the one uttered by the character named Morpheus, as he tries to convince the protagonist, Neo, that the world he sees around him isn’t real.  “You think that’s air you’re breathing now?” I am struck that we grow too attached to the trappings of this life and don’t realize that the most important things, the real ones, are those which the Apostle mentions in the same paragraph as his mirror anology.  “And now, there abide faith, hope, and love.  But, the greatest of these is love.”

Now there’s something real to sink your teeth into.  How about it?  What’s important to you?  What tastes good?  Feels good?  Looks good?  Do you still think it has any real value in the bigger context?

I’ll leave you to work out the details.  Your fake things won’t be the same as mine.  I’ll only mess it up if I try to list the specifics. You will know them much better than I. 

Besides that, I’m headed home pretty soon.  I’m not sure, but I think there might be some leftover mac and cheese in the refrigerator that’s calling my name.

 “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13:11-13~NASB)

“Error is always more busy than truth.”
(Hosea Ballou~American theologian~1771-1852)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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