the Hokey Pokey

As a Mom, I've learned a lot of things the hard way. Nothing was more evident when I bought Meredith a "Make Your Own Scent" kit for her 9th birthday. Who knew that we'd end up making a still? This particular life lesson applies today even though she turned 21 this birthday. We still giggle about The Hokey Pokey ...

I waved goodbye to my parents on the day after my daughter Meredith's ninth birthday. The house was a wreck. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was end up on the couch now that the weekend was officially winding down, but the adult in me had to get up to finish reports for the next day's meetings. And the mother in me had to convince Meredith to do the final push on her six-week-long class project.

I took a deep breath and found her examining the "Make Your Own Scent" kit I had given to her. "Honey, we don't have time to play."

"Please, Mom. I'm almost finished with my Alaska project. Can we try this first?" She looked up at me with big brown eyes, tiny freckles scattered across her nose.

It is her birthday weekend, I thought, and she has been a good sport about the other weekend obligations that left little time for playing with her gifts. "Okay," I said. How long can it take anyway?

"Yes!" she cheered, and tore into the box, dumping two vials, a glass jar, a cork, a coiled copper tube, and instructions onto the floor. "The book says to use fresh flower petals," she said as I looked over her shoulder at the booklet and the suggested list of good perfume-making ingredients. "We need ethyl alcohol," she read, "and animal fat, such as ordinary lard, for the enfleurage step where aromatic oils are absorbed from the flowers."

Enfleurage? Aromatic oils? I winced. "Lard? We'll have to go to the store for that."

Within the hour, a half cup of lard was melting in the jar in a pan of hot water.

"No stems," Meredith warned as we plucked petals from her birthday bouquet. Next, we poured the liquid fat into the jar, filled the remainder with petals, and shoved the cork into the top.

"Shake it," I said, reading the instructions. "Then we wait for an hour, shaking the bottle at intervals." Meredith shook the jar and placed it on the kitchen counter. I set the timer for ten minutes.

No sooner had I sat down at the computer to work than the microwave beeped.

Excited, Meredith grabbed my hand. "It's time to shake!"

I sighed and followed her to the kitchen. She gripped the jar and burst out singing, "Put your right foot in -- Mom!" I laughed and followed her lead. "You put your right foot out ... then you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around." She giggled. "That's what it's all about. Hokey Pokey!"

During the hour, we danced the Hokey Pokey five times.

Next, we placed the soggy petals in a colander to drain the fat, but no liquid seeped through. "Squeeze 'em," Meredith instructed, "but don't let them go down the drain!" Immediately, repulsive yellow "fat-and-petal-essence" oozed through my fingers into the jar.

Finally, Meredith poured alcohol into the concoction, shoved the cork in, shook it all around, and placed the jar in a pan of water on the stove. I inserted one end of the copper tube into the condenser support.

After turning on the heat to begin the distillation, I tried to work, but every five minutes Meredith said, "Let's check it."

Each time, I muttered, "Nothing's happening," and adjusted the temperature a bit hotter.

Meredith curled up to read about Alaska's famous people, and I focused on my report until "Ka-BOOM!" A deafening blast rattled the windows.

"What was THAT?" Meredith shot up from her seat and dashed into the kitchen with me.

"Oh no." We stepped over apparatus strewn across the floor. Yellow blobs riddled the ceiling. Scorched metal permeated the air as the empty jar sizzled against the bottom of the red-hot pan. "Move back in case the jar explodes," I shrieked, grabbing the pot and plunging it into the sink.

Meredith watched as I knelt down to pick up the vial and sniffed it. "I don't believe this," I moaned and waved the bottle under her nose. "There's no smell."

We stared at the bottle, dumbfounded.

"That's okay, Mom." Meredith wrapped her arms around me pressing a kiss hard against my cheek. We tumbled back backward against the floor. "It was fun anyway." She giggled as we stared at the messy ceiling.

"Fun? Fun?" I mocked, laughing in spite of myself. "Next time I'd rather eat the lard."

"I love you, Mom," Meredith said.

"You, too," I murmured, delighted that our afternoon together had put that shine in her eyes.

The next morning when driving to work, a sign caught my eye: PARENTS, CHILDREN NEED YOUR PRESENCE, NOT YOUR PRESENTS. "No kidding," I said aloud. I hummed the rest of the way eventually belting out, "And that's what it's all about. Hokey Pokey!"


The Hokey Pokey was published in Chocolate for a Woman's Blessings, 77 Heartwarming Stories of Gratitude That Celebrate the Good Things in Life.