Ancestor Art | Marceline’s Shish Kabobs

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery. Albert Einstein

My architect grandfather R.B. McKnight knew a lot about a lot of things and was productive in pursing interests across the glorious gamut. Each evening with cocktail in hand, he retreated into his own righteous world via the deep backyard where he took rickety steps into a cluttered premodern man cave.

It was a small dwelling which we called “Pappy’s Shack” where he operated a ham radio and communicated with an assortment of like-minded characters. Crackledy responses through the microphone still ring in my ears. He was also a Star Trekie from day one, quoting Spock in language over my innocent nogin. I was a good one to fain interest and I’m sure he enjoyed my clueless expressions.

My brother and I huddled to scavenge his stuff: a paperback library of mysteries, art and how-to books, also a manly jumble of weaponry, but that is beside the point. He was particularly well read in the science fiction genre, gravitating to the inexplicable and this is where I happily gained a gene.

I have always enjoyed the ability to suspend disbelief and consider the mysterious connectivity of it all. Still I have never been drawn to those darker possibilities of sci fi as much as the charming coincidences, the wondrous plot twists, the surprise endings. The more I open up to these potentialities, the more enigmatic things seem to appear.

‘Cause let’s face it. If one pays attention, life can be quite science-fictiony. Just like the day last week when I was refreshing our house. An astrological reading (told you) prompted a flurry of activities to restore homey order. We moved into our cottage-style house in 1986. Designed by a retired florist and built in 1955, we have over seen several rehabs, never changing the footprint – a new floor here, a fixture there and ever the rearrangement of rooms to satisfy my restless nature.

And actually I held notions of the bestseller The Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering long before the author Marie Kondo was born. I proceed with an awareness of which possession uplifts, what brings me down; ever an accounting of items that spark a worthy history to bestow and to whom. This awakening, I’m sure, came from one too many family estate possessions to dispense.

So….assessing the contents of our home. My eyes came to rest on a piece of art work that I have dearly loved since purchasing in 1978 while in library science school. At the time, I lived in a forlorn little apartment on the outskirts of Oxford. The interior included a bed, couch, folding table and a bookcase. The walls were sadly vacant.

One weekend I met my parents at The Gumtree Festival, an exhibition and sale of southeast artists. Their works were arranged around the Old Courthouse in Tupelo, Mississippi. I was immediately taken with a watercolor collage of a jester type character in a black hat holding a mirror and gazing at what would have been his reflection, but instead was the image of a light filled visage which I could only imagine was his best self.

It struck me as a first-rate way to ritualize a devotion. Just glancing at it could call me to higher quality behavior and thoughts. Whether I could maintain the call was one thing, but it often reflected a soulful prompt as I prepared for the day.

It was signed Marceline.

Marceline was not there that day to take my seventy-five dollars, but I shared my appreciation and placed it on the wall in my humble abode. The piece has followed me like a blessing to every place I’ve lived since.

With the light speed of science fiction, turnaround and I found my daughter Quinn a young wife with babes of her own. We marveled at the many coincidences of Quinn and her husband Bradley Kellum’s history: his father and I were born in Tupelo on the same year, Bradley’s mother was the first person I met at Ole Miss pre-college, I babysat Bradley as a preschooler in a neighborhood mothers’ morning out; but none were as strange as the day Marceline’s signature lined up with some paintings in Quinn and Bradley’s new home.


As a 23 year old, to have and to hold, I had chosen my grandchildren’s great grandmother’s artwork. Charming coincidence? Check. Wondrous plot twist? Check. Surprise ending? Check this out….

My architect grandfather was an artist too; later in life he primarily demonstrated landscapes which he painted in The Shack. And turns out he was creating in Tupelo not far from Marceline who was also working her art.

Artist Pat Widerspan Jones once said that she makes art to show her soul that she is listening. Tangible proof for this fine advice will decorate the lives of Marceline and RB’s great grandchildren and perhaps generations yet unknown.

Because stranger things have certainly happened.

Marceline’s Shish Kabob

Marceline and her husband Joe Kellum had five boys. Oh, the grand quantity of food that must have come from their kitchen! Here is favorite that she prepared.

3 pounds beef tenderloin, cubed
3 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cubed
3 onions
3 bell peppers

2 cups canola oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 cup vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced

Cut meat and vegetables into pieces sized for skewering.

Prepare the marinade and place meat and vegetables in marinade overnight, 24 hours maximum. (For this amount of meat, vegetables, and marinade, I use two large one gallon jars, each fillet about 2/3 capacity).

As the meat and vegetable are marinating, the oil and soy sauce/vinegar separate into levels, so invert the jars back and forth on a few occasions at several hour intervals to remix the marinade.

After marinating is complete, remove meat and vegetables from marinade, skewer and cook.

This recipe serves 12 people based on calculating 1/2 pound of meat per person. If there are any leftovers, enjoy over the next few days.