I’m getting old. I still feel young, like Wanda Sykes said in her act a long time ago “I still feel 26.” But I’m actually 39. And as much as I might act irresponsibly, or talk like a younger person, or dress like I did in college, I’m not 26 😦
How this aging crap sneaks up on me is with vicious and horrifying punches of nostalgia. I might be rifling through my jewelry drawer, looking for earrings, then spot a necklace that I gave my mom when I was a kid. Or I’m looking for a book and I find an old postcard (do people even still send postcards?). Or I think of a funny story or an old joke and realize all the people who would have “got it” are now dead.
This is just what happens, I guess. People die, families drift apart. And the things that link us, the memories that never fade, are not always the things you think they’ll be. I look at a photo of me when I was a baby, and instead of thinking “Oh, look how young my mother was, how pretty,” I think “Whatever happened to that painting on the wall back there? Or those curtains? Why didn’t I save them?” It’s strange the things that make me sad, what odd regrets I have.
One of the most bittersweet nostalgia-inducers for me is my grandmother’s copy of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook. My mother’s mother, an Italian immigrant, she married a WASP and tried to be a good American wife. And part of this, for her, was learning to cook “American” food. I think she probably failed at this, if the still-crisp pages in this thing are any indication (also, I have no memory of her serving me anything that wasn’t Mediterranean in origin).
I might have let a lot of things go, paintings and curtains and cuckoo clocks, but the cookbook, I saved.
Just like my grandmother, I’ve never followed one recipe in this thing. The value is not in what is printed here, but in what has been preserved between those sheets. Every ten pages or so, there’s a newspaper clipping, a handwritten recipe, a grocery store-receipt, or an old coupon tucked inside. I can spend hours looking at them. For me, those little snippets of my grandmother’s, my mother’s and my aunt’s handwriting are more sacred and special than any photograph. They are a little slice of life, a link to the women I love and miss. Is that peanut-butter cookie recipe really “very good!” as my Noni’s scrawl promises? What did someone buy at the First National Food store for 16 cents? Did my mother really ever make beef & beer chili?
I wonder what will be the nostalgia inducers of tomorrow? What will my children treasure? Because, when I think of the things I love most, none of them were intentionally created as “memories”. The formally posed wedding pictures are nice, but candid shots are where the magic is. The neatly organized scrapbook is a wonderful keepsake, but an old sketchbook tells more stories. I suppose there’s no predicting, only time will tell.