Jell-O is weird
Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 10:34 pm
By: By LISA SMARTT
The Messenger 01.18.12
Have you ever read a newspaper column that changed your life? Yeah, so have I. But this is not that column. This is a column about Jell-O™. So all of you who wanted to be inspired or have a good cry or ponder the meaning of life, well, you’re gonna have to go elsewhere this week. Jell-O is a lot of things but it has never helped anyone discover the meaning of life. And we can’t expect it to start now.
I’ve been fascinated with Jell-O since childhood. In fourth grade, Christy Miller told me that powdered Jell-O was made from ground up fingernails. But don’t believe her. Christy Miller lied about a lot of things. She told me we could pass notes in math class and not get caught. She told me her baby brother washed up on shore on the coast of Florida and they just found him lying there, helpless and in need of a family. We didn’t need a drama class in elementary school. Christy Miller brought drama every day of the week. You don’t even wanna know her take on tater tots.
You might be wondering what really is in the mysterious substance we call Jell-O. You can always read the ingredients, but you won’t understand them. Take my word for it. They’re not shooting straight with us. No regular consumer knows what’s in Jell-O. It’s a mystery product.
Sugar, dye, gelatin, sure. But there are other things, things they don’t list on the box. Magic things. One thing I do know is that members of my family have done a lot of weird things with Jell-O over the years. Really weird things.
I don’t know what kind of family you grew up in, but I come from a family who likes to call something a salad, even if it isn’t one. If someone asked Aunt Margaret what she wanted to bring to Uncle Jim’s birthday party, she would likely say, “Jell-O salad.” Aunt Margaret, I love you enough to tell you the truth. Pouring two cans of fruit cocktail into a red sugary substance made of heaven knows what may be a lot of things, but it is not a salad.
Did any of you have a mom who liked to get creative with Jell-O? I grew up in the ’70s and my mom, along with all the other hip small-town moms, had a vast array of Jell-O creations up her sleeve. In one recipe, she added mini-marshmallows, cottage cheese and nuts to green Jell-O. Yeah, I’m not sure why either.
A friend’s mom even grated a head of cabbage to put in green Jell-O. This was just wrong on so many levels. She must have felt bad about Aunt Margaret’s “false salad” claim and was trying to make good on it.
But I have some good memories of Jell-O, too. When my brother or I would get sick, Mom would always make us several flavors of Jell-O. It seems Jell-O was deemed by all to have some kind of healing property. And that just proves my point. We don’t have to know what’s in it. We don’t have to over-analyze it. Kids everywhere like to eat it and maybe that’s good enough. Jell-O, you’re not just an old friend. You’re an American institution.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. She is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, the University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Lisa Smartt, visit her website, lisasmartt.com.