The Other Martha Graham! – Homemade Graham Crackers! -286 eggs, 210 3/4 cups of sugar, 213 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 267 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 5 recipes to go!

September 2, 2013

Martha's Homemade Graham Crackers

Martha’s Homemade Graham Crackers

André's Homemade Graham Crackers

André’s Homemade Graham Crackers

When I was a child we always kept a box of graham crackers in the pantry of our home. I never really understood why. As I recall, none of us in the family really liked them. Mom never made cheesecake, at least not cheesecake that didn’t come in a box marked JELL-O, and s’mores were completely foreign. In Southern Louisiana where it’s easy to sweat in the middle of Winter, we didn’t spend a lot of time gathered around an open fire toasting anything. As an adult, I appreciate graham crackers a bit more. They have a unique and unmistakable flavor. Honey, cinnamon, and wheat chaff are pretty tasty when combined. Baking them is no extraordinary feat. It’s a simple enough dough to assemble. White and wheat flours are mixed with wheat germ, honey, butter, salt, and baking soda then flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar. It all comes together into a dense and extremely sticky dough. The most difficult challenge in baking a batch of these crackers is the elbow grease involved in rolling them out thin enough. You don’t really want to add a great deal of flour to the rolling surface of these otherwise your crackers will turn out too dry. Instead, you must roll out the tacky dough between two sheets of lightly dusted parchment paper.  Using a fluted pastry wheel, you then must slice them into uniform rectangles and prick each one with the tines of a fork to prevent them from warping in the oven. Again, they’re not terribly difficult to make but they do take time and patience.

How are they different than store-bought graham crackers?  Well, the taste is superior. The buttery nuttiness with a tinge of cinnamon spice and smokey brown sugar make the homemade version of these a far more satisfying and flavorful experience. I brought these to my office where they were quickly dispatched. Most remarked that they had a much more intense flavor than any graham cracker they had ever purchased from the store. So, if you are feeling like taking s’mores or a graham cracker crust to a whole new level, get out your rolling pin and be prepared to wrestle out a batch of Martha’s Homemade Graham Crackers.

Here’s something that’s on my mind, and my mind has not been a very happy place lately. Don’t be too concerned. I’m taking a much needed vacation soon and that will put me in a much happier place soon. In the meantime, here is some rather bleak writing.  You may want to pour yourself a drink for this one.

Depression is a difficult thing to write about. Too often it can appear to be a cry for help. It can seem like some sort of cockeyed group therapy in a social media setting. It can be self-indulgent and self-piteous.  I am going to make an attempt, though. I am not looking for feedback or advice. I’ve had plenty of therapy and am dealing with my demons the best way I know how. After all, they are mine, not yours.  I am writing about this simply because it’s best to write about what you know. I know depression.  I know how to deal with this part of myself. Perhaps it might help others with similar feelings and experiences to find their way out of the dark place.  Perhaps not. I’m not a therapist, nor do I claim any such wisdom. I only know what I know.  Here goes.

I kill myself at least twice a day. Once when I wake up and have my coffee and once before I go to bed. I occasionally kill myself at points during the day as needed. Killing myself is a personal mantra- a prayer of sorts. Of course, I am not literally killing myself. I am merely pronouncing my death. Sometimes I do it silently and sometimes I catch myself muttering the phrase, “André died today,” or, “André’s dead.”  I am not killing the person I am. I am killing the person I could be, the person, who if given reign of myself, would destroy everything in his path.  I am killing my saboteur. The part of myself that would like to see everything around me crumble. The part of myself that strips away joy and magnifies misery.  He is an angry child. He is my father’s son.

I split in two at a very early age. Systematic belts, and fists, and switches, and tears, and sweat, and blood stung, and burned, and bruised. The daily application of these were intended to make me into a man.  They did not. They merely tore me into two incomplete persons: one, an angry little boy filled with fear and self-loathing and the other, an emotionless adult bent on self-preservation. Neither of these selves were very pleasant, nor did either please my father.  They were both incomplete, and therefore weak. Peers and other predatory adults could plainly see my weakness and exploited it for their own enjoyment. I was a sissy. I was a weakling. I was a mama’s boy. I could be intimidated. I could take what they gave me in silence. I would not fight back. I would not tell. I was a pariah. This embarrassed my father and the beatings increased in frequency and intensity. I learned to smile with each strike. This was the only way I knew to stop his fists, his anger. This was my childhood as far back as I can remember. Nothing came without punishment. Failures, real and imaginary, were not tolerated and embarrassingly broadcast to anyone who would listen, a testament to my father’s long-suffering of worthless children. Triumphs were trumped by my father’s jealousy and were soon forgotten.

So, that’s how I grew up. It was a blessing that my dad gave me the boot at sixteen. I lived with my grandmother for awhile and then my cousin, and then an evangelical art teacher.  I learned to sharpen my wit to deal with those who would exploit me. I sharpened my talents so that I would be able to make enough money to get by. All the while I ached for a different life. I longed to be happy.

I spent most of my twenties working constantly. I was prolifically creative and moved about the country securing contract after contract. I fell in love with the wrong type of people, but made friends with some of the right ones, too.  I self-medicated a lot. Marijuana was my drug of choice and I spent every non-working moment in a pleasant and emotionless haze.  I rarely saw my family and avoided my father altogether. He, too, avoided me.  We despised each other.

In my early thirties, I admitted myself into a mental health clinic in Indianapolis after a long and extended bout with suicidal thoughts that began to manifest in destructive behavior.  This was the third time in my life I found myself in a hospital wanting to die. Something needed to change. I needed to change. I was discharged into an intensive outpatient group therapy and the work of repairing myself began.

It was during this time I became acutely aware that I was dealing with a duality within myself: one was the preservationist, and the other was my destructor. This is not entirely uncommon among folks who have dealt with abusive childhoods or traumatic events.  You see, part of me was still the victim, the scared eight-year-old boy hiding in the filthy ditch because he knew his father was looking for him.  That part of myself was angry and compulsive, filled with fear and mistrust and wanting desperately to run away.  The other part of myself was the adult, the one who took care of the scared child, the one who was trying to make things better. These two parts of myself were in constant conflict.  The child part of myself was convinced that everything I had built was going to fall apart, that I was going to fail, that I deserved to fail, that I was unworthy, that I should just die, that I should be ashamed, that I was not ever going to be in control, that I was worthless.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out where these thoughts were coming from. After all, this child was my father’s son.

The other part of myself, the adult, was trying to hold it all together. Picking up the messes that my child self  had created. Trying to mend relationships and build a better future for myself, making decisions based on facts and logic, not emotions.  My adult self was tired from the struggle. Worn down and ready to give up. It’s tough to keep up with a rambunctious kid.

Suicide was always an option. It was an option instilled at a very early age. My father threatened suicide often, almost weekly. He kept a shotgun in the closet in a pink leather case and would threaten to unload it into his head. Yes, I think a pink gun case is unusual, too. Sometimes he would threaten to kill me and then kill himself. As a teenager, I would always follow this empty threat with “Or vice versa.” This was followed with a punch to the face, but it always felt worth it. This morbid predilection with suicide was telling. My father was an unhappy person. Truth be told, he still is. For my own sanity, I’ve learned to let go of much of the anger I had over the childhood he provided me. He was merely the instrument of his own sad childhood. The fists that struck me were from generations past. I have forgiven as much as I can, but I don’t forget. I can’t.

During therapy, I came up with my mantra- “André is dead.”  It was a way of killing off that part of myself, that angry child, that destructive part of myself that I had wrongfully nurtured for so many years.  It was popular at the time for people to say “Be kind to your inner-child,” when in reality, I should have taken a hatchet to mine. The first few years the mantra was constantly running through my head, a repetitious prayer. Each day, the compulsions weakened and I began to build myself all over again.  I even began to like myself a bit. Soon, I liked myself enough to let someone else into my life. The right kind of person.  Now, the mantra is only used when needed: once in the morning, once in the evening, and when I feel a compulsion coming on.

I still rarely see my family. It’s difficult when I do. The mantra is stronger when I am around them. My child self screams just under the surface of calm. My father looks at me. He is older now. The years weigh heavily on him.  There is shame in his eyes.  Now, however, the shame isn’t with who I am, it is with who he was.

Like I said, I’m not a therapist. I don’t claim wisdom. I only know what I know. I know what works for me. If killing my miserable self twice a day so I can live happily is what I have to do, then so be it.


5 Responses to “The Other Martha Graham! – Homemade Graham Crackers! -286 eggs, 210 3/4 cups of sugar, 213 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 267 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 5 recipes to go!”

  1. Thomas Pluck Says:

    You’re one of the good ones who’ve transcended their beginnings.
    In the novel I’m finishing up, I’ve named a good father Andre, in your honor.

  2. Jenny German Says:

    Oh Andre, How brave of you to bare your soul ! I am so happy for your success! You are taking care of yourself which is the best gift to those who love you. Good for you, I am so proud of your bravery and one of these days, I’m gonna have the same bravado. Your awesome !. .

  3. Myra Zirkle Says:

    Wow, Andre. I don’t think any of us would ever have guessed that this was in your background. If in the end you cannot kill your inner child, than I hope you somehow find the means to bring child and adult together in peace. What a survivor you’ve turned out to be!

  4. g Says:

    I came upon your blog on a hunt for a recipe. This post feels like a gift. Thank you for your honesty, thank you for sharing your strength. You cannot imagine what hope it instills in complete strangers, especially those struggling to connect with a core self let alone love it.

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