There is so little to remember of anyone–an anecdote, a conversation at the table. But every moment is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long. –M. Robinson, Housekeeping
Loss and memory have long fascinated me—as a writer having constantly wrestled with the remembered, recorded, and forgotten thought—and as a human being who has known what it is to loose someone dear.
I have had dear friends slip in and out of my life. And family members, too. My great-grandmother, then well into her nineties, began to show ill-health and I recall the urgency I felt to write down every possible “last word” from her I might hear—to record every memory, so precious yet intangible and unsommonable. I am thankful I did.
I saw her just four days before I left for college, also four days before she died. My Big Nonna, an Italian Matriarch, relished the joys of cooking all her life. For a treat that day, I had picked up four enormously gorgeous, fresh artichokes to make—the stuffed way—for her. I remember her delight in my choice—and how much she enjoyed showing me how to prepare them—and then how delicious they were.
I kissed her good-bye. It was an ordinary kiss—the habitual farewell since the early days of my childhood, accepted and expected because that’s what Italians do. Her husband, my Big Nonno, always effusive in his affection, would accompany it by taking my head between his large, worn hands and crying, “Bella-Bella, I’m so proud of you.” I’ve always loved his natural, heart-felt utterances.
But my Nonna was the rational one, the calm voice that quieted my Big Nonno’s passionate opinions. She was not one to show near half so much emotion, because there simply wasn’t anything to get excited about—and it certainly wouldn’t help.
But on that day—the day I said good-bye, I remember her last words. I’d kissed that cream, pink cheek and I heard her voice—and her momentarily tender eyes—say “Give me another kiss, Darlin’.” Give me another kiss… She’d never asked before.
It wasn’t until a year later—when Christmas came around, that I truly felt her passing… when I was again, after so long, at her house and suddenly remembered how she used to be busying about the kitchen, surveying the needs of her guests from her head of the table, or how she used to let me play with her boxes and boxes of jewelry—beads and clip-on earrings.
It is in that passing moment—when the naturalness of someone’s presence is so perfect you expect it–and then are shook to the heart by the force of their absence. It’s in the shadows of their moving form in the kitchen—or when you reach out your hand and nobody takes it—when you look up and don’t see those deep or shining eyes smiling back at you, or when you notice someone makes a similar hand-motion or expression and it wasn’t them. Then you know they’re gone.
I hope there are kitchens in heaven. And that somewhere between the city and the shining sea–you will take my hand and walk with me.