The first time you took me there I couldn’t have been more than 12. My brown hair was cut shoulder length, signifying my emerging teenage angst. It was the 1970s, and stripes were all the rage. I remember that sweater, the pale yellow, rose and powder blue horizontals didn’t do anything for my pudgy frame, but it was comforting and soft against my skin as we walked along the shoreline.
Mom really looks like you, you know. I never realized it when I was little, or course, as children so often forget to notice the details. I remember your tiny, tiny feet, almost doll-like – I guess I thought everyone’s grandma shopped for shoes in the kid’s section. Visiting with you almost always involved a quick trip to Macy’s, and almost always resulted in a special addition to my wardrobe. Today I sometimes wear that heavy rose colored cardigan you made – the one flecked with gray and big enough to wrap around me like a warm hug from you when I’m freezing cold. My family teases me when I have it on, but I’ll never give it up.
We always had to detour to say hi to Father Serra when we rolled into town, even though it was you I couldn’t wait to see. The last time we visited – a few months before you died – you held my boy on your lap in that rose armchair in your kitchen and smiled right into the camera. I’m sure he knows you loved him, even if he can’t remember. Lily was old enough to delight in the hidden treasures of your garden, skipping along the path, exclaiming with glee with each cement bunny or seashell treasure she uncovered. It was fairyland for her. Remember how she stood on tip-toe to smell your roses?
My son loves shortbread, you know. I wish you were here; you’d love feeding his lanky teenage body. You always had something delicious ready when his dad and I were dating; I’ve heard stories about Mom’s boyfriends always wanting to eat at your house, and now I realize why. I know the shortbread recipe was really grandpa’s secret claim to fame – it was nice of you to let him have that little part of your world. You stacked the flaky, buttery shortbread squares right next to your dainty strawberry jam thumbprints. Oh, the cookies that came out of your kitchen. When we’d sit down for tea there was never a lack of sweets, always hiding in some sort of British tin you pulled out of the pantry. It made me feel like you baked them just for me, but I suspect that, like most everything in your life, you baked them just because you loved to.
Even today, when I walk into Mom’s house, I know you’re there. I can just feel you inside the adobe walls, I can hear your dainty feet pattering around the garden and your twig broom brushing the sand from the bricks, just like she still does today. You’re in the little kitchen when we eat – you know, the gas stove continues to make it the warmest place in the house. Mom doesn’t make cookies like you did – but don’t worry, I use the shortbread recipe when I want to let my boy know how much he’s loved.
And just last week, right after I turned off the highway and whispered hi to Father Serra, I curled up in that rose colored armchair and thought of you.
This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.