Yesterday was a son date. Meaning, I had lunch w/ one of my two amazing sons. Earlier this week I had lunch w/ the other. Interesting detail: each picked the same restaurant, a small Asian café we all three like. They always have the pho (a ViệtNamese soup), minus the tendon & tripe. I have any of a number of things — I’m far less predictable in my tastes.
But each time we shared a green papaya salad (a favourite of ours), and talked. The main course, as it were: conversation. Without work, or two grandsons, or other interruptions. Just me & a son, over food. It doesn’t get a lot better…
Too often, we expect love to flourish w/out any nurturing. Or, more likely, we consider the daily things we do for each other to be enough. But really? You can’t have quality time w/out a fair amount of quantity.
Neither son revealed anything earth-shattering. I see them both, in this golden period, frequently. But rarely, as I noted, without the hubbub of daily life as a backdrop. And often — to be fair! — the hubbub takes precedence.
Here’s to time spent with loved ones: friends, family, colleagues. Folks you’d like to know better. Because sharing food, as M.F.K. Fisher said, is about more than just the meal:
It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.
Try it. A date with whomever — I happen to be lucky to have my sons nearby! — over shared food. I promise it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes very small things that other people do ~ a 2-3 minute Google search, that turns up an important fact (at least to you, or, in this case, me) ~ have BIG impact. And yes, I’m thinking of something specific.
I have a background in science as well as writing. In 10th grade, I actually wanted to be a geneticist (seriously), and did my term paper on the science of organ transplants, still very new then. My hypothesis was that if we transplanted ovaries, women would be having the biological child of the transplant-er’s genes.
My teacher told me it was an unseemly topic for a young girl. UGH.
Later, I would weld a seam between my love of biological science & my love of writing, working as my daily newspaper’s medical & science journalist. One of my all-time fave jobs.
These days, I read science-based non-fiction for fun. Every year, my husband used to buy me the Best of Science & Nature Writing anthology for Christmas. Lately, I can’t wait that long, & check it out of the library when it’s released!
So trust me when I say I thought my knowledge of basic genetics was pretty accurate.
Offhandedly, I told my elder son – father of my two adored & adorable grandsons – that I had made my peace w/ the fact that my genes weren’t going forward in his wo boys. My X chromosome is not represented in them; they have their mother’s. And I thought that was fine.
But my sensitive elder son somehow caught on to my hidden sadness, and looked up gender & chromosomal inheritance. Mom, he messaged me, only one of your 26 chromosomes is gendered. You live on in the boys.
I burst into tears when I read that.
It couldn’t have taken him more than minutes. But I doubt I ever forget that my perfect grandsons really are mine as well as their father’s, mother’s, maternal grandparents, paternal grandfather… The long line of my own beloved family line is there in 25 of their chromosomes. And I’m the richer for having that knowledge, as well as a son who took the time to find it out & let me know. Oh! And his sense that it was important, even when I didn’t know myself.
Not a big thing in the schema of his day. But huge in mine. It really is the small things that make big differences. 💖
“I might be too smart for GG. Because I know all her secrets. They are all she loves me. “
Welcome to the world of the besotted grandparent. This is a quote from my 4-year-old grandson that my wonderful son passed on to me today. I can think of nothing I’ve enjoyed more than this child, my first grandchild. Firstborn of my own firstborn son, he dominates my life, in the best of all possible ways. His ‘little brother’ is gaining on him, but right now? At 2 months old, Little Brother is definitely at a loss for words. 😉
Today I sent off a CV for an adjuncting position at the local university. I miss teaching, and we certainly could use the $$ — as we juggle 2 mortgage payments! But as much as I have always adored teaching, I am ambivalent beyond expectation about anything that impinges (however minimally) on time w/ this rapidly growing boychild.
Right now, my beloved & I pick him up 3 days a week from preschool. We usually have him at least one evening a week, when we ply him w/Happy Meals or pizza, his two great loves. I researched healthy popsicles on the Internet, and the freezer is full of crushed blueberry & fresh orange juice homemade popsicles. My beloved spent the last 2 months putting together a park-quality swing set, complete w/ captain’s wheel & propeller swing. I bought 3 Curious George anthologies to have here at our place to read to him. And bubble liquid is a staple these days.
Did I mention besotted?
Aging has the advantage of knowing (if you pay attention, and how can you not?) that time is short. Only a very little bit ago it was my own two sons asking about lizards Will they like me? Will they get lost in the garden? Can we look for one? And measuring love w/two out-stretched arms Do you love me this much?
I’m sure you’re familiar w/ the story of the rocks, pebbles, & sand in a jar. If you put the sand in first, there’s not room for many rocks. Same if you start w/ the pebbles. But if you put your priorities first — the big things in your life, two rapidly growing grandsons, for instance — you really can have it all. Or at least verrry close to all. Even when you know just how lightening quick time runs away.
And Trin — my grandson — was absolutely right: he knows my secrets. And right now? They are, indeed, that I love him. Besottedly.
The art today is sooo appropriate for someone who’s several poems behind! Breathe, right?? So: Today’s poem is a bit of a riff on the NaPoWriMo prompt, which follows:
Today, I’d like you to write a poem inspired by, or in the form of, a recipe! It can be a recipe for something real, like your grandmother’s lemon chiffon cake, or for something imaginary, like a love potion or a spell.
I thought of a recipe I don’t have — one I’ve looked for a long time — and the poem flowed from there. Enjoy.
Aunt Bonnie’s Apricot Fried Pies
She left me only hunger
No recipes for fried pies
Crisped in the cast-iron skillet
I do have.
For years I searched
Leafing through the musty pages
Of church cookbooks
Women’s auxiliary cookbooks
The recipe cards of family
Looking for what might feed me.
Once I found the key to crust.
Or so I thought: it melted under heat.
Another time I found stewed apricots
Fragrant with their hot sweetness
But what would hold them?
All we have is memory & hunger
And the knowledge that once
Loving hands fed us.
This is what Pascal, my older dog looked like when he came to us 10 years ago. A tiny elf-eared puppy, easily frightened — a big cat, a leaf falling, the smell of the resident possum in the back yard… Any of those could do it. So could the vacuum — even a few days ago.
Today we killed him. Yes, I know: we say ‘euthanised,’ or ‘put him down,’ or ‘put him to sleep.’ But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like we killed him. Even though he was in a lot of pain, and wasn’t himself at all. He’s had dysplasia since birth — he was supposed to be OFA certified to NOT have dysplasia, but… — and it’s just worsened. He also had epilepsy, in a couple of versions. And our previous vet told us he has the dog equivalent of autism, as well.
Through all of his trials, he was still so beautiful. So loving. And such a mess.
A couple of weeks ago, he began having seizures. Two a day, grand mal. And he probably had a stroke, as his leg began to drag, and he showed very poor coordination. We took him to the university veterinary hospital, an amazing facility, staffed w/ utter saints. Seriously — I think the requirements to work there are more stringent than canonisation… I’ve never met more people w/ overtly compassionate affects in one place. Ever.
Turns out that the resident canine neurologist (yes, there’s one on staff) diagnosed a brain tumour in addition to everything else. So now we have a dog that needs pain medication for his hips, anti-seizure meds (2), and allergy meds. And he’s still doing verrrry poorly.
Then it really fell apart: yesterday, he tried to bite me when i petted him. He tried to bite his brother twice when poor Hugo just brushed against him. And when my beloved — Pascal’s version of the Supreme Deity, if there ever was one — reached down to pet him, Pascal tried to take his hand off. So we took him off meds to see if that helped. It did not.
We sat at the vet’s for almost two hours. Pascal’s veins were so thrombosed that the techs couldn’t get an IV in him. And think about it: if he didn’t want to be petted, even, how did a needle feel?? But in an oddly reassuring way, it was an affirmation that we were making the right decision, despite our grief.
Buddhists talk about ‘letting go.’ It means to know that everything is transient: life, certainly. But also love, pain, joy, grief. Everything passes — clouds across Big Sky Mind. I know that in a year, I will still miss my sweet mess of a dog. I also know it won’t hurt the same way. As I know that death always follows life.
But our pets are part of our family. At least, in my family they are. And as the owner of a 17-year-old cat, another aging dog, and a second cat still in his prime? I want them to live forever. With health & vigour. I want no more grief. The Buddha would shake his finger, probably smile, and remind me that I am attached.
I confess to it. As I confess to wielding the power of life, then death, over a small dog. We let go — holding a small sleepy body in a tearful hug before the vet gave him a shot to the heart (he never could get the IV in). We let go, wishing him dreams of possums in the backyard, and long walks by the river, and lots of treats. We let go of his pain-filled life. But somehow, he’s still so very here, and I don’t know how to really let him go. I don’t know how to explain to his brother (at least, that’s what we called them, although they weren’t littermates) where his buddy is. I don’t know how to explain to my grandson where Pascal is, either. And I don’t know how to let go of any of this grief.
Sometimes, I am acutely aware how inadequate a Buddhist I am…
When we moved from our home in Oklahoma last month, we found several boxes tucked away under the eaves. Literally: 6 boxes of stuff. Including five cast-iron skillets, ranging from 5 inches to 10.
True confession: I adore cast-iron. I already have more cast-iron skillets (and a griddle…and a Dutch oven…) than I should admit to. Several were my legacy from my grandmother & great-aunt: what I asked for of their belongings, when Grandma was leaving her own home of decades.
Is there anything of mine you’d like, honey? she asked me. Has anyone asked for your cast-iron pans? I responded. She laughed, and said No, no one’s asked for those. I told her I didn’t want to be greedy, so if someone did, split them up. Otherwise? I wanted them ALL.
And I got them! (Aside: why DIDN’T anyone else want them??)
Then, when my beloved mother-in-law moved out of her home, following my wonderful father-in-law’s death, my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I really wanted. May I have their cast-iron pans? I asked. And I got those too!
Soooo many memories: Grandma frying chicken; Aunt Bonnie making cornbread. Mom cooking bacon, or pancakes, or potato pancakes with the leftover mashed potatoes from the holiday feasts she put together. Every time I use a pan — to scramble eggs, to cook a roast, to make cornbread — I’m visited by those happy ghosts.
So imagine my delight when my beloved hand-carried five HEAVY cast-iron skillets from Oklahoma to Virginia! The catch? They were a MESS. Sticky with gross old seasoning, rusty in spots, scaling on the bottom from decades of baked-on food & grease. YUK! I washed them well, scrubbing as best I could with steel wool. Then dried them on the stove top, as I was taught, and oiled them so they wouldn’t rust any more. At this point my elder son ran off with one, leaving me four.
Enter the Internet. There are a zillion websites discussing the reclamation of cast-iron. The one I ended up using also has a link to seasoning the newly bare cast-iron skillet, following cleaning.
My beloved covered the skillets with heavy-duty Easy Off, as directed. Then stuck them in a black garbage bag overnight. Then scrubbed them HARD. It took another round of Easy Off (that should give you an idea how yukky the skillets were!) to lay bare the lead-grey metal.
We followed the rest of the directions (a vinegar soak for rust, rinse, wash, dry, and a LOT of flax oil), and I put them in the oven to season. Took them out, put on another coat of oil, and back in the oven to polymerise. They are GORGEOUS!!!
Now, you have to be wondering (if not before): what in the name of Julia Child does this have to do with Buddhism??
Everything. But mostly? Love, that’s what. And not giving up on things. And reclaiming what might otherwise be thrown out. And working to make something useful again. And honouring family history. Cooking for people you love with love.
I’m so serious: go rescue a cast-iron pan. See if it doesn’t make you feel incredibly virtuous. Reconnect you with cultures from around the globe, and throughout history. Really — it’s as Buddhist as everyday life gets. Honest.