The holidays are a natural time for looking back, but I was struck today by how the unremarkable objects of everyday life can stir a flood of memories any day of the year.
Whenever I make a cup of tea and drop in an ice cube to bring it to drinkable temperature, I think of my husband’s Aunt Helen.
For years I either scalded my throat with too hot tea or downed disgustingly tepid brews I had set aside to cool, and then forgot. Until one day, when I made a cup of tea for Aunt Helen, and she asked me to put an ice cube in it. Sad, but true, that simple remedy had never occurred to me. But now whenever I use it, I think of Aunt Helen and remember not just her advice on tea, but her warmth, her laugh, and the pleasure of her company.
A piece of chunky jewelry always brings my Aunt Barb to mind. Her preferred at home attire was her robe and nightgown. However, she always accessorized her ensemble with large clip-on earrings, multiple bracelets, and perfectly coiffed hair. Whenever I see a piece of jewelry that really makes a statement, I think of Aunt Barb and her extroverted personality, wonderful cooking, and salty take on life.
The smell of paint and varnish takes me back to my Dad’s garage, sitting on an overturned five gallon paint can, watching him refinish a piece of furniture, or repair a broken chair, or repurpose a discarded household object. He listened to me chatter, all the while working with large but gentle hands, preserving what was straight and true, smoothing out the rough spots, filling in the holes, creating something good that would be of use in the world. He did the same thing for all of his children, raising us with strength and kindness, helping us to see the value in things and in people, even when their surfaces are battered and broken. To me, paint and varnish still smell like love.
On Christmas this year I will eat a Santa Claus cookie made by my sister Barb, who bakes and decorates them just the way our mother used to. And, of course, I will think of Mom. How she painstakingly frosted the finely detailed cookie with an artist’s hand — dots of blue for the eyes, a smiling red mouth and bright spots of red for cheeks and nose, a white beard with a sprinkling of coconut. I will remember how she always held back a few with plain frosting for my sister Tricia, who hated coconut. And I will think of all the times Mom took the trouble to make things just right for each of us, in all kinds of ways and situations.
When I’m cooking, I never mince a clove of garlic without remembering my friend Irene and how she cultivated everything — her garlic crop, her flowers, her friendships, her family — with joy. I think of her gentle nature and her loving heart and I miss her. But I am so thankful that I had the happiness of knowing her.
I hope this year to spend more time building good memories for the people that I love. I hope you do, too.