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Words

I try to pinpoint words that when strung together, like beads in a necklace, express something with texture and richness; I hope for the occasional sparkle of a well placed gem. I frequently fail miserably. But on a good day, as with a candid photo, I unexpectedly capture a heartbeat, and it feels as if I've successfully seized fog with my hands.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Of Kitchens and Cars


I like my stories to be complete and I usually don’t write sequels. But in the interest of context, this one grabs a thread from the previous blog entry and pulls it forward.

Yesterday my parents’ car was sold. You remember that from last time we met?

Brother
My brother came from Arizona for a week. Another of his life-saving visits (that refers both to my life and my parents’ because otherwise I might have to shoot someone). He and I went together to have the car cleaned and polished. He’s a pal who understands my sorrow and what the car has meant to Mom and Dad.

I’m sure Brother had many of the same thoughts and emotions I had but he sorted them privately. In the open he helped me manage me and was wonderful support. Inside we probably both cried over our mounting, mutual losses. Death by a thousand cuts. 

I made a post on Facebook and said I was glad and sad the deed was done. My friends either silently or publicly nodded. My friend BB answered with something so true. “That is very tough. I don't know why doing what's right can feel so wrong.” 

She nailed it. Every step I take to do the proper and safe feels disrespectful. Unloving. Without compassion. My emotions and thoughts constantly dissonant.  

After the sale was completed I needed to be somewhere I could feel whole, accomplished, warm, nurtured, absorbed, in flow, and in control. There are few places where I can be so swaddled, cocooned and complete. My kitchen is one.

Riced potato spread on cookie sheet to cool
So yesterday’s Sunday dinner gnocchi-fest was born. Italian soul food comin’ right up.

Gnocchi is the simplest and most humble of Italian dishes but require a light touch. A small potato dumpling served with a sauce and/or cheese, they are the ultimate comfort food.

And they’re a mess to make. They take over. Leave room for nothing else. I don’t care what Lidia says or how she whips them up a half hour before dinner on her television show – my kitchen becomes a starchy mess of sticky countertops, every surface covered by a step of the process.

Potato dough awaiting cutting
I use a Lidia Bastianich recipe and I bake the potatoes rather than boil them. Less moisture in the potato means less flour needed to make the dough. Less flour equals lighter and fluffier, and if the gnocchi gods smile upon ye, pillowy little delights practically float upward from your pasta bowl.

Finished gnocchi awaiting boiling
And even though I haven’t figured out how to make gnocchi without the concomitant potat-apocalyspe, it was the perfect undertaking, allowing me to immerse myself in a wonder of creative cooking. No space for melancholy. 

Rolling a dumpling across the board
After baking my potatoes I peeled and riced them, then incorporated cheese, flour, egg, salt and white pepper. Ingredients such as thinking about tomorrow’s challenges or last week’s pain were omitted, kneaded away into a smooth, soft, yielding, slightly sticky dough. I rolled each dumpling across the gnocchi board. Perfectly imprinted ridges for holding sauce. No tears allowed.

When the gnocchi were made, covered, and awaiting later boiling, I began dessert. Every pass of the rolling pin across puff pastry pressed sadness from my body. I spread a creamy combination of almond paste, egg and sugar on the dough, then covered it with sliced peaches and fresh blueberries. As I watched the pastry rise and become golden on an oven heated stone, a galette was born and I too came to life. Began to shine with my egg-washed pastry. I inhaled deeply of the baking fruit, wafts of almond and cinnamon billowed through my kitchen.

From brilliantly red tomatoes I sliced away longing for a life different than the moment, and tasted the creamy richness of buffalo mozzarella. I arranged both on a plate, mistress of my kitchen art, with no room remaining but for the dazzling green freshness of a basil scattered across the top. No place for wishing or wanting anything more than the platter offered.  

In my kitchen pain cooks away, reduces, and acid becomes sweet. I lose myself in the color, texture, quality and flavors of ingredients acquired from the Bulgarian family’s produce stand, the Italian specialty store, the local farmers market, the baker's 5AM Sunday delivery of warm sourdough bread, and tomatoes, oranges, and lemons from my garden.

The gods definitely gave a big, wide grin last night. Half the gnocchi were served with fresh basil pesto, the other half with our family’s traditional sauce. Spaghetti sauce is a bit like macaroni and cheese, potato salad, slaw, or fried chicken. Each family has their own special version, passed along generation to generation, evolving with each iteration. A secret ingredient lending a twist on tradition.

My husband picked up my parents and brought them to our home. We ate in the warmth of the kitchen where the best of meals seem somehow even better. My kitchen. The table was set with my mother’s favorite old, red and white tablecloth and napkins. We told them the car was gone; they nodded at the news. We opened a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. We clinked our glasses. Chin-Chin. The depth of the wine's beautiful jewel tone equaled that of the dinner, and the diners.

I watched my mother, who now finds it difficult to eat, have three small helpings of gnocchi, the most she’d eaten in months. She smiled after every bite. “These are the best I’ve ever had, including my own.” What a compliment.

She chased them with a square of peach and blueberry galette and a side of vanilla ice cream. Washed it down with a strong cup of Italian roast coffee.

Last weekend I did what needed to be done. I continued the difficult task of sorting, dismantling and reconfiguring the lives of my elders. Then I went about the work of reassembling my spirit in a place I find solace and safety. We feasted on food that came from my kitchen, was created by my hands, and was born of my heart. We feasted on life.

Sorrow turns to joy. Despair becomes hope. Loneliness finds a friend. My kitchen. My world. My art. My work. My play. My gift. My peace. My salvation. I find life again, in my kitchen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Dad's Car


My dad’s car is sitting in front of my house.

He’s 84 and he’s sick, and he’s decided not to drive anymore. And to sell his car.

I think of it as my dad’s car even though it belongs to both my parents. My mom drove it only once, the day they bought it. Her test drive. After that she ceded driving to him. Given their ages, retired and all, they were always together anyway. She stopped driving anywhere alone and then she stopped driving at all.

So it’s my dad’s car. Really.

He shouldn’t have been driving the last three years and it was a bit dicey before that but we didn’t know. That he had a growing brain tumor.

The last while he kept driving to a minimum. I think. He was sneaky.

I nagged often as did my brother. We tried to be firm, caring, and logical. To a firm, caring and previously logical engineer.

But there was nothing about this that was regular logical. This was emotional logical. We knew it was one of the few pleasures left for Dad and that it's close to the hardest transition he will make. To set his car keys down and say enough. We know him well enough to know this is a broader statement to him, about him, and the state of his life. 

The car had been parked in a spot he and Mom could see from the window of their suite at the assisted living place. Because they've had it there it made living in a facility more like a choice as though they could drive away if they wanted.  

There’s a reserved sign at his spot with their name on it. Only about 5 residents have a reserved parking space and can still drive (or pretend to) and I think he was kinda proud of that.

But the car’s not been moved for months and over the spring and summer has collected a dusty coat of tree pollen made solid by evening dew and sunny days, each day over again right into August. And I noticed he seemed to lack the will to make his furtive trips to the drug store to get her hard candy.

I figured this time was coming.

When last my brother visited from Arizona he told me Dad asked him to pass the message to me that he would need my husband's and my help to sell his car. Which was funny because I live a mile from my parents and they see me several days a week.

Maybe Dad knew in my own way I would take it hard, too. So he had my brother tell me.

I waited a couple of weeks till Dad asked me about a plan and then I said we’d research the value and clean it up for him. He tried to give me his key which he’d taken off the only key ring I remember my whole life. That has his dad’s St. Christopher medal on it.

I nodded. Said I’d get it later. When I have the car ready.

I finally have what I wanted. I now know we are all safe from his driving. Every school child walking and mom driving to the grocery, and other seniors lacking the ability to turn heads fully or act quickly. Most of all, he’s safe from him.

My mom hasn't wanted him to drive either but then she finds the need to go somewhere, just them, two, as they have been since age 12, to grab a bite or visit the store, and she would ask him to take her. Inside there's a push and pull for her. The yearning for independence, the wanting of something of their old, younger lives.

Now the car sits in front of my house. In the driveway. Yesterday I emptied it. It took me nearly a month to open the door and breathe in the smell of them. Two people married 63 years since age 21, together since grammar school.

I removed their bits. His Tums. Her lipstick. Their Kleenex. And more Kleenex. And three different car accessories for either the dispensing or collecting of Kleenex in its various states. 

His WWII U.S. Navy blanket, in case of emergency. Quarters for the bridge because my dad probably thinks that’s all it would be were he to cross one. Instead of the $6 it is. And an umbrella should it rain so that her little hair-sprayed helmet of hair will not be disturbed by a drizzle.

I put it all in a dishpan and set it on the floor of my garage.

Soon I’ll have it cleaned inside, and washed. The way my dad always liked it when he parked it in his garage with the automatic garage door opener. But I don’t know when I’ll have the courage to set a "For Sale" sign on the window, or list it in a want ad, or put it on Craigs list.

Because along with the car I watch my dad say good-bye to his capacity, and pride, and freedom. And life. All while I say good-bye to him. And to my mom. And the way they used to drive around together visiting their friends and favorite food places including the Italian deli for hand made grissini, and the market where she couldn’t pass up a sale especially if it included a little lemon cake with buttercream frosting. Even though she had four others in the freezer. He never could say no to her.

And now there are so many Nos.

Until they are no more.