“Your One Wild and Precious Life”

FullSizeRender (3)It was really no big deal. Except it was. One heavy, sluggish afternoon I was at home. Alone in the empty kitchen. Alone in the house. Alone. Like an aproned conductor poised on the podium I really knew this melody to my very soul, I’ve played it so many times before. I pulled ingredients from the cupboards, pots and pans from the shelves. Oh please! I could do this with my eyes closed. But I didn’t. When I was finished things were different. There was a plate full of cookies. But not the usual blondie squares. Not the standard oatmeal chocolate chip. Not the ubiquitous rice crispie treats.   I had made poppy seed cookies. No one’s favorite. Except mine.

.***

Before I was born my Great-grandmother Rachel Leah made taiglach, hot honeyed pastry mounded into tiny hills, my mother’s memory so powerful that decades later even I could taste the sweetness on my tongue.

***

With the pride and bearing of a queen, my Grandma “Anne with an e” presided over her kingdom. Her edible coffers emptied upon the white tablecloth and spread before us with the glory of a cornucopia, should a cornucopia be filled with platters of sliced meats and bowls of whipped potatoes. At the end we were awarded tins crammed full of Mandelbrot. Chocolate chip for us. Walnut for her boy, my Dad.

***

“It’s nothing,” my little Gram demurred, “it’s not even baking really!” but still she would casually toss ingredients up into to a bowl. Then with the coiled strength of a Billie Jean King backhand she would use her whisk to serve up perfect Lemon Meringue pies. Love all.

***

Every Sunday morning The Egg Master reverently unwrapped his iron skillet. Do you want your eggs scrambled or boiled, stuffed or shirred? Guaranteed delicious, guaranteed perfectly done, guaranteed done exactly the way he wants them for you.

Later he would pile everyone into the car for a long ride for big scoops of ice cream. We could never finish. And no matter the flavor, be it Bubble Gum or Butter Crunch or Blue Moon, The Egg Master would manfully lick down the excess, no complaints.

***

Tureens of soup from my mother, thick with vegetables and anchored with chunks of flanken bobbing like buoys in a thick pea green ocean. Endless bowls from a never-ending tureen of serve yourself. Full of warmth.

***

My husband is stretched like a long pull of salt-water taffy, all six feet of him. When we walk together he holds my hand and I am practically horizontal as I’m pulled along. Like Miss Clavel rushing to Madeleine, I run fast faster fastest to keep up, my legs in a whirl.

But when I walk by myself I can move more slowly, keep my feet right on the ground. Then there is time then to see. Then there is time to think. So I do.

As I walk, Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” floats into my mind. That last imploring line sticks fast: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I barely take a breath before I blurt out “anything I want!”

Then I realize that is precisely what I’m doing. That’s just what all the others did. Caring for those they love most. I hope too, like me, they learned to sometimes make their own kind of poppy seed cookies and care for themselves as well. Because the combination, mixed up all  together, is simply sublime.

 

 

THE SELF-SERVING SERVING WOMAN

When most people are questioned about past lives—assuming they believe that kind of thing – they always seem certain they are the living embodiment of someone powerful and famous like Cleopatra or Henry VIII or Catherine the Great. They really feel that mystical connection. No one is ever Joe Schmo in a past life.

To be fair I don’t exactly think of myself in a past life as Joe Schmo either. But I can never imagine myself as titan of the past. For me the fit is maybe a wild-haired, slightly disheveled serving woman.

This is probably because that’s pretty much what I find myself doing right now: compulsively making beds better left unmade, obsessively attempting to cook exotic specialty items like mejadra and shakshuka or anything lauded on Serious Eats. I have suddenly become an avid urban hunter of stray socks and crumpled t-shirts. It’s bizarre behavior for sure. The only thing that’s changed is that my boys, usually away at school, have been home this summer. I should be quietly blissful. But really. What is with me?

Here is the joke. They are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. During the rest of the year they live on their own. They absorbed so much Food Network from babyhood onward that for them cooking is virtually instinctive. As for laundry, they figured out my big secret a while ago: that it’s actually not that hard to stuff clothes into a machine and remember to return when the cycle is finished.

But they come home and there they are. The same but imperceptibly different. Sort of like a cubist Picasso, I can almost see them shifting from as many changing angles. I’ve always known them. I should know them. But I feel so uncertain. They’ve grown. They’ve changed. How idiotic of me. How could they not? I’m their mother and I feel shy as middle-schooler at the 7th grade mixer.

Is it any wonder then that I hide behind baskets of laundry and rush to make platters of food? Is it good? Do they like it? Is there anything else they need? I am slightly ridiculous. They are kind. They don’t ask or need to be waited on but they seem to know that I need to do this. To hide a little until I can get used to them. To try to get to know them again.

And I do want to get to know them again. But I know that as soon as I feel I do the perspective will shift, as will they, and then they’ll be off.   But I’ll try again. And again. Getting to know them over and over. It’s what has to happen. It’s what’s meant to happen. You’ve guessed the only constant. Loving them always.