Memoirs, I have learned, do not have to be stories of an entire life, written in sequence. As in my case, they can be tiny stories,simply pieces of a life that for one reason of another, seem appropriate in telling a bigger story. The story needn't be of any interest to anyone but to the writer, the telling of the story might be the biggest thing that happens in a life. I love telling my stories because they beg me to look at myself as if I were an outsider, seeing something for the first time, rather than the top-biller in the story of who I am and how I got to this place in my life. And, I'm always fascinated by my own accounts.
I brought the big green box out of its resting place, having a hard time believing how heavy it had become. It has served me well, the perfect choice for holding its contents. The box replaced several others. The first was so much smaller and so much neater I must add. The first held small index cards. This box held those plus larger sheets of paper, mixed in with bits and pieces cut from newspapers, magazines and odd-shaped note papers representing whatever I had handy at the time of an inspiration. It wasn't until fairly recently that I made the habit of always having a small notebook in my handbag, along with a pen or two, allowing me to write down things that I did not ever want to forget. But, before those days, I grabbed whatever was blank of other writing and jotted, sometimes in a hurry before my name was called by a receptionist or a train had arrived at my stop or my friend could only spare but a minute to dictate it to me.
Index cards, notes on scraps of paper, clippings, all sizes and shapes, all part of my own personal library of recipes, my best intentions, all in one place. My "Recipe Box", now open and laid out before me as it has been so many, many times over the past nearly forty five years. It's part of a life-cycle, always included in the preparation of something that has to do with gatherings of family or friends. It's always the first on the guest list, the most important of all who would ever come to the table. And the cycle most often restarted at this particular time of year. I picture myself seated in a comfortable chair, one light on in an otherwise darkened room, the sun still not up, a cup of coffee in one hand as I shuffle through a stack that is no less than a foot high, of those bits and pieces and I breathe a sigh of relief when I find exactly the one I was seeking, the one that will fill my heart with joy and all the warmth that tradition brings. I wonder why the pile is so high when there are precious few buried in at least a hundred others. And then, carefully, I collect them and decide which will become the components of the next important meal. As I rezip the sides, I wonder if the rejects have a soul and if they are hurt at not having been chosen. I wonder this because I swear that the ones in hand do have a soul. I know that they have a life, that they bring with them so much life and so much love.
The box has grown too large. I need to purge it and many other things in that closet. We are running out of space for those things which we must keep handy. It's time to make room again and we have promised ourselves that by Christmas, we will have a new look to the Pond Room, our own little family room for our own little family of two. So, I lifted the box out, sat down in a comfortable chair and this time, I placed an empty shopping bag beside me and I sorted and I discarded and I reflected and I held onto pieces of paper as I recognized the handwriting of friends, some now departed. Elizabeth's Pumpkin Bread which makes the best and the largest loaf, my very first New England Thanksgiving. Carolyn's Strawberry Cake, to this day, Joe's favorite; her Jezebel Sauce, an unlikely mixture of ingredients. My mother in law's Biscotti, her Chinese Chicken, written in script on lined paper by my very young sister in law who is now 56. Then there are those passed along to me by my own mother, those that I want to cast in bronze. Hobo cake is not in there and I am surprised at what is. Not one of them, difficult to make. Not an exotic ingredient to be found, but lots of little side notes that, as I read them now, show me her enthusiasm and her own relationship to the recipes and the tradition of sharing food with friends and family. There's an underline here and there "do not open the oven for one hour." "mix for a full twenty minutes," great for company," and "your father loves this!!"
Some day, this box will travel on to another home. I've thrown away the recipes for those things that I never made or made and never will again because they simply did not live up to the expectations. I wonder why I had so many for "Penne a la Vodka". Was I asking around for the best one? The recipe for making a Yule Log and that for "Ribbon Salad" will live on. They made the cut and side by side, with the others, they will perhaps bring back memories to my own daughter and maybe she'll see me once again and we'll connect just as I did with those others who gave parts of their lives to me in so special a way.