Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jiffy Pop Popcorn and Burnt Dreams

Warning: This post involves upsetting topics such as suicide, grief and other things that may make you experience "feelings."

Some of you reading this may already know that about five and a half years ago, my brother, Adrian, chose to end his own life. 

Some days I can talk about it.  Some days I can't.  Some days I welcome the memory of his smile in my mind.  I hold it in my head as long as I can and some days I can smile back.  Other days, the memory of his smile cuts me like a knife.  There are no absolutes in my world of grief.  I never know when the pain of missing him will hit me.   

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of someone who resembles him or hear a song on the radio that sparks a memory.  Sometimes, I read a funny story in the news or hear about a new movie that I think he'd like and remember that I can't tell him about it. 

I could go on and on about how confusing and absolutely devastating it is to have lost my brother.  I think about him and miss him every single day.  

But we persist. 

We trudge onward.   

This past weekend, my husband took our little family camping.  My husband is a really outdoorsy guy, he grew up camping and hiking and being outdoors every weekend and "roughing it."

Well, I grew up the same way too, except, "roughing it" was just life.  I grew up sometimes without my own bed, or a defined place to sleep, we grew up taking showers with a garden hose, eating rabbits that my great-uncle or my brothers had shot, outhouses, dirt floors, kerosene lamps and all that jazz.  It's the reason that I build fires better than my husband, even though he was a cub scout, back in the day. 

For me, it was just life.  For my husband, it was a vacation.  Now that we're adults, I think a vacation involves a comfy hotel room and maybe a Jacuzzi.  My husband wants to sleep on an air mattress and have to carry around his own toilet paper.

Eh.  We compromise.   

No really.  We went camping for one night and hung our trashbag in a tree to prevent animals from getting into it. The very next night we stayed in a hotel and watched free cable.  Compromise.  It's a beautiful thing.  I try to just roll with it.   

I bought two Jiffy Pop popcorn pans for the occasion.  As I was taking them off the shelf in the grocery store, I thought of Adrian and I laughed. 

He and I burned sooo many of those Jiffy Pop popcorn pans when we were kids that I almost thought it wasn't worth the measly $1.50 (or whatever) it cost to buy them for our trip.  I almost put them back, twice, but in the end, they made it to the campgrounds. 

When we were kids, Adrian and I were obsessed with Jiffy Pop Popcorn.  Every time my mom went to town, we begged her to buy us one.  Sometimes, she'd come back with two and we'd go crazy.  Even if she came home after midnight, we'd jump right up and try to make them immediately.  

Adrian and I tried popping them over the fire in our fireplace, on our kitchen stove (which didn't have knobs), over a bucket of hot coals, over a huge fire, in my grandmother's kitchen, on my grandmother's wood burning stove, we tried everywhere.  We were constantly fighting over who would get to make it.   

Looking back on it, we burned popcorn sooo much that I'm surprised my mom continued to buy them for us.  And no, she never tried to help us, although I doubt that would have even made a difference.   

My mom likes everything on the burnt side, though my interpretation of burnt and hers are vastly different.  But we used to burn it until the popcorn was black and practically disintegrated.  My mom always made us eat it anyway.  "It's still good!" she'd yell as we dug through the black sooty remnants for even a speck of fluffy, white popcorn.

Camping with my husband was interesting.  It was the first time we had gone camping with just our little family.  My father-in-law was really excited because he bought us our tent for Christmas, so he was eager to loan us his camping supplies.  

One of the things that we borrowed was a little, green, rectangular camping stove that required tiny, green, propane canisters to make it work.  I had never seen one before, but my husband commonly used it throughout his childhood. 

We had made a fire and we grilled hotdogs on that first night, so we just used the fire pit to cook our dinner.  A little later, I took out the Jiffy Pop and announced, "Okay, who is ready for some burnt popcorn?!" 

My husband decided it was time to set up the camp stove.  

It made me nervous at first (anything with propane makes me feel a little uneasy) but then he produced this beautiful blue flame.  The flames looked like the petals of a flower. 

Here's what happened:
Camp stove turned to medium-low heat. 

You'll be tempted to mess up the aluminum foil, but you shouldn't.  You place the pan on the flame until you can hear it sizzling.  It happens very quickly.

Once you hear it start to sizzle, you have to keep the popcorn moving.  All of the following photos are of me trying to remain calm as I shake the pan around the stovetop. 


Extreme panic.  IT'S GROWING!!

At this point, I was worried it might explode entirely. 

This is a photo of me trying to decide if the popping sound has slowed down enough for the popcorn to be considered, "done".  I'm also now even more panicked because the package is steaming through a tiny hole at the top and it's going crazy. 

At this point, my panic is subsiding.  Woohoo! it doesn't smell burnt!

You're supposed to carefully open this up with a fork.  I only had a pair of dirty hot-dog tongs.  You do what you can. 

What you can't see in this photo is that I'm dancing.

Still dancing.

My husband insisted on staging this photo above the campfire, to further perpetuate the unrealistic expectation that one CAN actually achieve this level of buttery perfection from a campfire. 

Here's a video. Just as a warning, at one point, my husband was so excited about the popcorn that he forgot he was filming. :)

For the first time in my life, I popped a perfect pan-full of Jiffy Pop popcorn.  I was really excited and happy and my family oohed and aahed over the popcorn and everyone agreed that it was popped perfectly and it was delicious.  We each happily took turns getting careful handfuls of still hot popcorn directly from the pan. 

And right in the middle of that cheering and happiness, I thought of my brother and our numerous failed attempts as kids. 

I felt a pang of quiet sadness as I started to pop the second pan-full.  I thought about our constant hope that we would finally produce a picture-perfect pan and later, as the room began to fill with the sharp smell of black soot, our inevitable disappointment.  I thought about the two of us sullenly picking out the least burnt bits of popcorn and resentfully eating them under our mom's watchful eye.  

The idea made me smile.     

Adrian would have thought this was a big deal.  He would have studied each of my pictures.  He would have laughed with delight as he watched the video I took.  He would have blamed all the burnt popcorn on me.  I would have let him.  Then he would have gone out and bought a Jiffy Pop pan so he could make some too.

The idea makes me smile. 

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