In the kitchen

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Sunday, May 16, 2010


Many of you know my dear friend Martha died 7 months ago.

For any of you, which is probably all of you, who have lost someone you likely know that there are so many things about death and loss that are profoundly difficult to comprehend, let alone express with words.

An avid gardener, Martha's favorite time of year was spring. I have missed her palpably for the past few weeks, the thin scab rubbed raw and open again by memory, by sadness, and most of all by the loss of the future. The future moments. The potential of where life's journey can take you. The irrevocable decision that her life, brilliant in technicolor, would simply, in the draw of a breath, be gone.

Now I have all sorts of comforting beliefs about the continuum of spirit- not so much in line with "heaven" but more about a universe that utilizes every soul, every form of energy and restores it to its most pure form once it no longer inhabits physical form, recycling it for the highest good- but I'm finding that my heart is following well, frankly, a more selfish road right now.

Today we will travel to Belfast to attend Martha's graveside service to bury her ashes. I have no fears about "where" Martha is- I feel her with me. I see her goodness everywhere, abounding in countless amazing incidents, interactions and events- blooming full in each springtime flower. Where I am struggling is that I purely and simply miss her. The dissemination of her belongings, the selling of her house, the burial of her ashes- I find it all to be a rather annoying reminder of something my brain longs to forget.

She is not coming back.

I drive past her house everyday and have somehow kept it my head as a shrine to her, patiently awaiting her return. I was devastated when I found out it was under contract- wait that's Martha's place!- and all I could hope for was that maybe a family would live there and transform the tragic into joyful with little feet romping through flower gardens and filling the halls with laughter.

Yet even better I found out a friend of mine (completely coincidental, or not...) is buying Martha's house. It will not be a house closed to me forever, harboring only sadness and regret. It will be a happy home, one I can enter with new eyes, with new memories.

That is the tricky thing about grieving the lost future of Martha's life. It simply leaves no room for the countless other journey's life can take. Who am I to put a judgement on how long someone should walk in physical form, as though they need to partake of a certain number of years in order for their life to have been fully lived? Who am I to say that the unfolding of life in Martha's absence is any less valuable than when she was alive?

A few months ago, I was given some of the things Martha bequeathed to me in her will. We always shared a love of cooking and much to my surprise, she left me all of her cookbooks, beautiful cooper pots and pans, and all of her cooking equipment. This was just one snapshot of our spare room with the first load:

Buried in one of the boxes was the gorgeous pewter bowl.

And Martha's beloved copper tea pot. Drinking tea, digging up plants, and chatting about life- that was what we did together.

I have been wanting a Kitchenaide mixer since the beginning of time. Or at least since I became serious about cooking. My first test drive with it (making bread dough, no less) produced a snowstorm of flour all over me and the counter. Martha may have imparted me with her cooking things, but her culinary intelligence I'm afraid I am going to have to work on channeling.

I was granted 11 BOXES of Martha's cookbooks. A friend of hers said, "What does anyone need with that many cookbooks?" My thought: when you are creative and brilliant, why not?

Beyond the classic standbys of Julia Child, hardcover bound tomes of Gourmet magazine, Rosy Levy Beranbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" and the like, here are some more obscure titles:

"Pestos! Cooking with Herb Pastes"
"Clambakes and Fishfrys"
"The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea"
"Cretan Cooking"
"The Strawberry Connection"
"The Internation Fondue Cookbook"
"The Best of Amish Cooking"
"The Complete Yogurt Book"
"The Eggbeater Chronicles"
"The Leftover Gourmet"
"Russian Cooking"
"Hot, Salty, Sour, Sweet"
"The Art of Cooking Omlettes"

What I have found is that there is something incredibly intimate about having someone's things. Not just items they no longer wanted and gave away, but their everyday things. For me these are Martha's spoons, knives, grater, cutting board, pots, pans, strainers, measuring cups, and gadgets. It is rare that I don't pick one up and imagine her working around her kitchen and using the same tool to make a masterpiece.

Other items we now have to play with: a pasta maker, ice cream maker, a 1950's style blender that I LOVE, cake tins, springform tins, a cast iron dutch oven, cast iron crepe pan, souffle dishes, cake decorating tools, pastry tools, a mandolin (no not the instrument), a potato ricer, an espresso maker, soup pots and countless gadgets, some of which I don't even know what to do with, among other things.

So, over the past few months, we've been playing around with all of Martha's kitchen toys.

We made a cake,

and you may remember this torte...

I made a squash casserole in the gorgeous french stoneware crock,

and the best blueberry muffins ever in her cast iron muffin tin...

(I'm a total cast iron convert.)

And on Valentine's Day we made chocolate candy and truffles.

My garden, overflowing with plants you gave me, my dear friend, has really hit its stride this year, blossoming full with lush green and a feast of color. These are some of the tulips you gave our girls for their birthday a couple of years ago. Somehow they found their way up yet again this year. We talk about you all the time- how much you blessed us in your life, and somehow, also in your death. And despite the many gifts you have given me, one of the most beloved by me are the words you wrote me in the letter you left for me:
"Your children are as lucky as any person could possibly be to have you as their mother. Your loving, giving heart will so redound to their benefit. Take very good care of yourself. You deserve the very best."
Words fail to capture what is on my heart on this beautiful spring morning when we will place your ashes, not you, not your body, not your essence, into the ground to say goodbye. I want you to know I miss you so. And yet I am certain that, like the phoenix, you burned into ash to be reborn and reemerge.
I will forever listen for you on the breeze, see your beauty in the speckled, open belly of a Stargazer lily, see your smile when the sun catches Ella's hair just so as she spins around and around, and watch for your sparkle along the ridges of the Milky Way or the sunlight when it dances on the ocean waves. My life will never be the same.

1 comment:

Jeannine said...

beautifully (as always) written my friend...

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