I made cookies during your nap this afternoon so I could eat the batter without the guilt of you wanting to eat some, too.
And I’m not even ashamed of it.
As I poured a bag of chocolate chips into a bowl of cookie batter, I remembered my grandma telling me that we could know how much she loved us by how many chocolate chips her cookies had in them. This was Ginny, my stepdad’s mom, and she was young and wonderful, and when we married into her family, she was ecstatic to have two more grandchildren–her other two lived overseas at the time. She loved us and told us so.
Ginny died of colon cancer the summer before my senior year of high school. It was the first real loss I remember feeling. My young faith at the time was certain she would be healed, and I felt that loss deeply.
I hadn’t thought about her chocolate chip cookies in quite some time.
The thing is, there is no concrete memory attached to the chocolate chip/love ratio comment, just a brief moment passing through, but it is myriad moments like that one I wish I could compile to pass on to you.
Oh, how I wish it. The ways we remember those we love. The quirks of this life. The things I remember, even if fleetingly, especially the things I remember about people and places. Maybe most especially the absences of people.
How can a list of moments be worth passing on? Who cares about chocolate chips? Or whether I ate way too much raw egg this afternoon for any single person to consume in a lifetime?
I don’t know.
But I do know that chocolate chips can, sometimes, take us to a moment in our past worth remembering, a person worth remembering. So can milk. Tomato soup. Basil. Meatloaf. Pie. Cinnamon sugar.
When I pour milk into my tea every morning, I nearly always think of my maternal grandmother, the way the milk in her coffee swirled around and remained partially separate in her glass mug. This memory is so vague, in fact, I’m not sure it is a particular moment that ever happened, and yet it feels real, as if it happened many times in the old farmhouse we shared.
Once, after she moved into her new house, she burned tomato soup while I was visiting her. I told her it tasted burnt, and she told me that soup couldn’t burn. And then she tasted it. It did taste burnt. I was right. Did that really happen? True or not, I think of it when I make tomato soup on the stove. Every time. I try to be careful not to burn it.
I was cutting up basil with scissors the other evening to sprinkle on top of our Thai drunken noodles, and I remembered the first time I had pesto, remembered my mom slicing up the basil into skinny slivers to mix with the olive oil and pine nuts, remembered the homemade pasta from the machine that had a design flaw and broke repeatedly. I make pesto all the time now. In a food processor. With basil from our garden. But that was the first time, and I can see and smell and feel my mom’s kitchen on that evening before dinner.
On the rare occasions I eat meatloaf, I am transported to the kitchen island at my dad’s house with the high ceilings, the first time my stepmom offered to let me mix the meatloaf by hand. I can still feel that thawed-refrigerator-cold beef squishing between my fingers and into the slime of the raw egg and the sandy breadcrumbs and the squirts of ketchup. Such a vivid sensation I feel on my fingers when I eat meatloaf. It makes me smile because I am more likely to touch tofu than beef these days.
Watching your dad make pie–which he does quite heroically–always reminds me of my mom bending over the counter and carefully crimping the pie crust between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other.
When I open our herb cupboard and see the bottle of cinnamon sugar, I also see my brother and me carefully putting our cinnamon toast back into the toaster oven to melt the butter.
Can it be true that dozens of things throughout each day spark a memory, or at least an inkling, of a moment or a person? It is for me.
How about the way I fold towels or make a bed?
Or how ridiculously thick and soft I like my toilet paper?
Or how obsessive I am about Chapstick?
Or how awesome I am at identifying actors in movies?
All of these tidbits are part of the story I’ve lived and the people I have loved.
Which is really our story.
Because you’re part of this story now, too.