Casseroles and Green Jell-O

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

I was born in 1951. Nobody had much money - so rather than spending their savings going to restaurants, my mom and dad and their friends got together for pot-luck dinners which generally consisted of various types of casseroles, and nearly always included some version of a green Jell-o mold salad. I can admit now that I never acquired a taste for green Jell-o -- especially green Jell-o with shredded carrots and pineapple mixed in. But, for some reason my mom and her friends loved it, and it often appeared on our Thanksgiving table. Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, memories of this odd mixture of sweetness rush to mind.

Most of the women in my growing-up world didn't hold outside-of-the-home jobs, so my early education about what being a woman meant was almost exclusively based on a domestic perspective. My mom and her girlfriends would gather some afternoons to wash and set each other's hair, share recipes and coupons, watch their TV 'stories,' and commiserate about the difficulties of raising kids and keeping husbands happy on a shoe-string of a budget. I didn't realize it at the time - but these women were teaching me important life lessons. They were savvy about how to make their money last, creative about maximizing their resources, and understood that friends were an important support system.

Now I'm all grown up with kids and grandkids of my own. My parents, who live with us, are in their eighties. Many of my mom and dad's friends have since passed away; it's been years since they gathered for those social evenings, and even more years since my mom and her girlfriends fixed each other's hair. But we all have our memories, and I'm grateful we do. My life has provided me with a more nuanced perspective for what being a woman means, but I also fully appreciate what I learned by example, from my mom, dad and their friends. In essence, they taught me basic values, with a strong foundation in friendship. My folks and their friends helped each other during times of stress, and showed a knack for putting a fun spin on difficult situations. They took their hardships in stride, and were grateful to live in a country that gave them opportunities.

Though I don't currently have a lot of pot-luck dinners in my life, the memory of them is strong. When I see green Jell-o salads today, as rare as they are, I remember the solid foundation I was given as a child. Today's world is a much more difficult place than it was when I was born, but my folks had their share of challenges. I'm blessed that despite those challenges, they never lost sight of the important things in life, and made sure I didn't lose sight of them either. In deep gratitude and for all the amazing memories, I'll be serving green Jell-O-mold salad this Thanksgiving. Thanks mom and dad. I'm beginning to develop a taste.