Often times people do things, or give things to others in life, that are more than just the object or the act presented to them. When someone does something for you, or gives something to you, it’s hard to know though what exactly that something might mean to be given by them without the context of having lived their life. Thereby, if you can make the effort to get to know someone else, you will essentially allow yourself to always get more than you would have otherwise.
Here’s a personal cheat sheet to somewhat understand what I mean by that.
(Stock photo from the joyofbaking.com)
That’s what I was thinking about in the shower this morning: french toast. Not because I really wanted french toast, or because I want to start having all my posts revolve around my thoughts while I’m in the bathroom, but because of what french toast symbolizes to me.
French toast is one of those things that reminds me of times gone by; more specifically, of people gone by.
It reminds me of Sunday mornings at my grandparents’ house when everybody would gather for brunch and just be a family. It reminds me of a whole family. My whole family. Of people no longer here; of laughter and love; and in my late teens and early twenties, of the magical hangover cure that the french toast became after a night of partying.
There was something special about those times with my family. Something magical about that french toast my grandmother would make, and the scene in which I shared those memories. I can remember everything about my french toast family Sundays: the smell, the way everyone helped out in the kitchen, what bread my grandmother would use to make it, how she cooked it, what it looked liked in this giant tray at the table, where everybody sat, how fucking hungry I was and how my grandmother used to nit-pick at me to take smaller bites (I would just cut my pieces smaller and stack them up instead); and you damn well better believe I remember how it tasted.
Everything just seemed so simple and special in those moments when the smell of sweet, sweet calories were in the air. Maybe that’s because I was so young and I didn’t have the modern worries that I do today, but I’d like to believe it was more so because when I ate that french toast it was in a setting that signified everything that’s good in the world: family, sharing, love, etc. We all put aside our responsibilities in order to be there on french toast Sundays; to be a part of something bigger. No matter what else we had going on no one intentionally missed out on it. Then again, if you had, you would have definitely been guilt tripped by my grandmother for doing so, so it was in your best interest either way.
What’s funny, is that, my grandmother – the mastermind behind this nostalgic symbol of love and goodness that I’m fantasizing about now – wasn’t even the lovey dove type you might imagine despite all these memories I have of her. She was quintessentially southern: proper, reserved, a person who kept things ‘close to their chest,’ a stickler for etiquette and appearances, and a woman whom – regardless of your background or upbringing – you said, “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” to without hesitation. In fact, my grandmother and I actually weren’t even that close in comparison to myself and other family members. But whether her stern self intended to or not, there was a lot of love in her cooking, in that french toast, and that love was passed on to others.
(Featured photo is my grandmother serving food to my uncle. Something I can assure you happened often. He’s a big boy.)
So whether she would have owned up to it or not, love is what made that french toast and those moments so special. Love, and lots of butter.
Man, those were some good times. Sadly, I don’t have those Sundays anymore; or my grandmother; or her cooking.
My family honestly hasn’t been the same since my grandparents’ death. We’ve gathered. We’ve eaten. But there are no longer those two people – those two cornerstones – that hold us all together. There are no longer those two people who set the tone. Who created all the unintentional, or intentional, trickle-down lovenomics.
But that wasn’t what I was feeling this morning necessarily when I thought about french toast. I wasn’t melancholy in my high carb day dreaming. I was actually happy and filled with love. Because a few years ago I discovered I could make my grandmothers french toast myself. I discovered I could continue the magic of the french toast myself. Most importantly, by making that oh-so-tasty treat, I could share the love that it meant for me, and the love I have for those close to me now, by making it.
Basically, what I felt this morning was simply a desire to make french toast for someone. To show them my love and appreciation. To be able to make their hearts and their bellies full, and to pass on what my grandmother had taught me with her simple act of sustenance.
To have everything that’s good in the world be back again.
And honestly, in a round about way, that’s how I have come to deal with all the loss I have had in my life now. I try to take the best of what was given to me, by those whom I’ve loved and lost, and pass that onto others. Using simple acts, symbols of their kindness, to allow me to share their love with others. To be able to see their love in the smiles on other people’s faces when those acts are reproduced, and to remember what that love felt like; and smile myself.
Sweet Potato Pie
(This year’s batch of pies. You have to sample them for safety of course.)
It doesn’t just stop with french toast though, if you were hoping that’s all you had to read.
If you’re lucky enough to be called my friend (I think I have earned the ability to say that now), or just happen to cross my path, there are two significant other ways that I take the time and consideration to share the love I have been given by those no longer here to give it: sweet potato pie and just being there.
Sweet potato pie (apologies if I’m teasing anyone’s sweet tooth right now) is something I make every Thanksgiving and on other special occasions to signify the love that my grandfather showed me. Love that was representative of action not talk. Love that went out of it’s way to help others. Love that asked for nothing in return.
For the last few years or so on Thanksgiving I have made a large batch of sweet potato pies using my grandfathers recipe to give out randomly to people. Sometimes I give pies to unsuspecting friends, sometimes to emergency responders, sometimes to homeless people, and sometimes to family. I do this partially because Thanksgiving was a time that so closely resembled the magic of our family Sunday brunches too; but, more so, because Thanksgiving for me represents a tradition of selflessness. A time to be thankful for what you have, for helping those less fortunate; and for sharing a meal with others. The very things that my grandfather represented to me in my life.
I can’t tell you how many times my grandfather went out of his way to help others. Hell, the only reason I think he gardened for the most part was so that he could give away all the food he (and I) grew. As a kid, I used to think it was ridiculous pulling weeds in this oversized garden every year because it supplied much, much more than my grandparents could ever eat. Now, of course, I have learned to see the magic of it all, and the selflessness of it all, and I would love to have a big garden too one day (so long as I have a grandson of my own to pull weeds).
Anywho, so to pass on my grandfather’s love, like I have my grandmother’s, I try and do something on occasion for others; for no other reason than because I can. Because if he taught me anything, it’s that a real man doesn’t need an excuse to do something good.
Of all the things I can do for others, and the one thing that I have learned that is the easiest and most important thing for me to do, is to just be there.
My father taught me that.
He may not have been a perfect father or person (as if anyone is), but what I remember most about him is that he was always there. He was always involved, and always a part of everything my sister and I did while he was alive. There’s not a memory from my childhood that doesn’t have him in it.
Hell, he would drive five hours to see me play high school football. Even when I was too much of a fucking dumbass teenager to even hang out with him afterwards most of the time.
Sure would have been nice to of had that thing called foresight then.
Anywho, the point I’m trying to make, is that, even though we were raised by him with very little means (I didn’t have a shower or ‘new to me’ clothes for the most part), we always felt loved. Undeniable, unconditional incredible love. Love that showed up in him always showing up. In us always feeling supported.
He wasn’t there to make sure we did things right. He wasn’t there to qualify for a dad award. He wasn’t there because he was afraid something bad would happen. He was there because he didn’t want to be anywhere else. He was there because even if we didn’t say it, or show him, it mattered. He was there because he cared.
So, if I could go on living to have my friends say one thing about me when I’m gone, it would be that I was there. I would want them to know that I’m there because I too care. Not necessarily because I’m into whatever it is they are into, or don’t have other things I could be doing, but because they have my unconditional love and support.
Like most things in my life now, these gifts I have to share with others, and this understanding of how to make the most out of what I’ve been given in life, is still fairly new to me. Unfortunately, my father has been dead for almost 17 years and I have not been there for others as he was for me until more recently. My grandparents have been dead for around ten years (it’s crazy to think about how long this has all been), and the world has been deprived of their love and cooking for almost as long, because I was too self-absorbed to cook for more than one before now.
I suppose that’s all just a part of growing up though.
So, long story short, just know that when I or someone else gives you theoretical, or real, french toast, sweet potato pie, or we’re just there, know that it may not necessarily be just empty calories or a butt in a seat. It may be a whole lot more, and it may have taken a whole lot of love, or loss, for those things to be present.
Cherish even the tiniest of acts. One day they, or the people that do them, may no longer be here.
What’s your ‘french toast’?