What’s It?

There’s always room for Jell-O!

My big family crowded around the kitchen table to eat supper, enjoying a chance to rest after a long afternoon of hayfield work. As we were cleaning our plates, Mom rose from her chair. Taking a few steps to the cupboard next to the sink, she picked up a 9 X13 cake pan and carried it to the table. It was time for the dessert I had watched her make earlier in the day!

Like watching a science experiment, first Mom dissolved strawberry Jell-O powder into a measured amount of boiling water. Then she chilled the red liquid with ice cubes. After slicing bananas into the liquid, Mom put the pan into the refrigerator. Before calling the family to eat, Mom had whipped sugar and cream from our cows into a thick, white cloud to frost the now jiggly dessert!

After cutting the Jell-O as she would cut a cake, Mom used a spatula to lift out squares for each member of the family. The portion set on my plate, quivered. Remembering a Jell-O commercial on our recently acquired television, I sang, “J-E-L-L-O!”

Mom smiled and reminisced, “I made Jell-O for the first time when Casper was a toddler.” I glanced over at my eldest brother sitting at the end of the table and tried to picture my adult brother as a toddler.

Continuing, Mom described his surprise and reaction. “When I set the Jell-O in front of Casper, he noticed it jiggling. Alarmed, he kept his eyes on it as he stood up in his highchair and frantically questioned, “What’s it? What’s it?”

Casper chuckled, “I probably thought it was something that needed to be killed before we could eat it.”

My other older brother snickered, “Yeah, wild Jell-O is hard to hunt, but easy to digest.”

I liked the story Mom told about my brother’s first experience with the jiggly dessert. As little as he was, Casper had noticed something strange about it, wondered what it was, was preparing to escape if it was dangerous and knew he had to ask to know more.

When I travel, I instinctively follow Casper’s curiosity formula. In Rome I was just as avidly interested in the local flora and fauna as the colosseum, Tiber River and Vatican. On the bus from the airport I questioned, “The red flowering vines growing along the highway are pretty. What are they called?”

Some docents and tour guides love all my questions. The more questions I have, the more you know I’m enjoying myself. Once, I had a tour guide exclaim as we parted, “You made the tour so much fun for me. You asked questions that no one has ever asked me before.”

Not all tour managers enjoy having to deal with my oddball questions. Their lack of satisfying answers for me probably irritates them. One afternoon in the town of Siena, Italy, home of Saint Catherine, my tour manager reached a breaking point.

I was standing in the shade of a tree, looking out at nearby small hamlets, each perched on hilltops like Siena. The picturesque Italian buildings had red clay roof tiles. Surrounding fields looked like a patchwork quilt. I recognized vineyards, olive groves and pastured sheep.

A warm breeze whispered through the leaves overhead. Glancing up, I noticed that the tree had a smooth gray trunk and unusually-shaped leaves. The tour manager was nearby so I turned and asked, “Juan, what sort of tree are we standing under?”

Juan sighed, looked up at the tree and turning back to me he slowly announced, “It is a big tree … a big tree with big, green leaves.”  

When I’m not on a trip, the many questions that I have about life are handled by Mr. Google in the computer. Searching fuels pop-ups on a computer. Planning an Alaskan cruise? Offers for trip packages will pop up on the screen for weeks. Looking for a new mattress? Every company that makes mattresses will offer you a deal. The search history in my computer is so varied and bizarre, the algorithm system used to determine what adds should show up on my screen is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Maybe I should stop asking Mr. Google, “What’s it?” each time a new topic pops into my brain.

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