“Step Inside This House”

I always coveted my in-law equivalent’s cake pans, from the first time I used them after her husband/my consort’s dad died and she acceded her kitchen to Bob and me to stink up the pristine joint with the likes of crab cakes and duck legs without benefit of an exhaust fan. Anyone who has tried to excavate an eight-inch layer from an aluminum pan would lust for these, designed as they are with a revolving “spatula” in the base to separate cake from metal, no wax paper or parchment required. But it never felt right to take them while she was still among us, despite how adamantly she insisted we should from the nursing home where we brought her her literal last Thanksgiving dinner and then her literal last birthday cake (German chocolate, Stan’s favorite). Knowing her house, especially the kitchen, was intact seemed so vital even though she knew as well as we did she would never see it again.

So when Gloria suddenly joined the choir invisible in May, 13 years after her husband, one day after her 97-year-old sister, (again) right around Bob’s birthday, those pans were the first thing I thought of as we looked around the three floors where she had lived for 57 years and contemplated what a Sisyphean task it would be to clear out all that life, all those memories. After the funeral I pulled them out of the cabinet I knew so well and marveled again at not just the design but the condition. They looked brand-new. Among my many regrets will be never asking how she kept everything in store condition. These pans alone had to have been used for birthdays alone at least 86 times. Dishwasher or no dishwasher, that reflects raised-right dedication. 

We didn’t take much more, only her 18-pound blender, still showroom-gleaming chrome and glass even though it is decades older than the grimy plastic one Bob brought to the consortium in 1981 and even though I am now totally a stick devotee. I carried that home in my carry-on for complicated reasons, but for sentimental reasons we USPSed to our kitchen her beautiful green-stemmed dessert bowls, whether we will ever use them or not, and her huge box of “silverware,” which I love thinking might have been among her wedding gifts even though it was not logged along with the “six bottles Scotch” from a Mrs. Someone. We took some cat-motif tea towels we’d given her, and some beautiful bird-motif dessert plates we’d given her (see what we did there?) We took an iron trivet in the shape of the Polish eagle symbol. And we took the smallest of the oddest array of possessions we unearthed underneath the fly strips in the attic: two little rooster salt-and-pepper shakers, the tiniest of the maybe 30 items in her “who knew?” cock collection of ceramics.

I took some cookbooks, too (about which another post). But I left behind many that tracked our complicated progression as a family. In the beginning, my (and my friends’) inscriptions started with Mrs. Sacha. By the end they all said Gloria.