Friday, April 17, 2009

Every Day a Little Death

In our house it is birthday season, which begins with Quin in April, follows with Garrick in May, and concludes with me and Michael in June and July. As Garrick requested a pool party this year, we are carpetbagging at the YMCA (to which we do not belong) and I am inwardly grateful to be avoiding a house party.

So I ducked out of the office today to drive over to the Y and sign the contract, and didn't realize until I halfway there (because I am carpetbagging) that this YMCA is next door to the retirement community where my grandmother lived out the last, difficult months of her life, and I was suddenly grief-stricken. I haven't been to her real home (outside Poughkeepsie, New York) since we buried her ashes in November 2007, and the impulse to go visit and sit by her graveside and strew zinnia seeds was so overwhelming, I nearly headed straight for the Jersey Turnpike.

And I started thinking, while I drove, of all the things she hasn't witnessed (Quin's straight-A report cards, Garrick's incredible creative writing, Michael's songwriting awards) and I thought how proud she would be to know about my baking business (which is not only bringing in revenue but developing a following, lord help me). And I imagined how she would temper her pride with warnings of how hard a life in food service is, hearkening back to the days when she and my grandfather owned a restaurant for all those years, and people came from over 100 miles to have a slice of her amazing cheesecake.

(I learned to make change in that restaurant, my six-year-old self standing on a chair behind the cash register and leaning with all my might to depress the big push-key that rang the total. "Vincent's" was named for my grandfather, who died when I was 15, and whose spirit visited me the day that Garrick was born, almost eleven years ago. The nurse had taken the baby to get washed, the midwife had just finished stitching me up, and Michael was down the hall making calls. In the 2-3 minutes that the room was empty of medical personnel and family members, I suddenly felt my grandfather's presence with laser-like intensity. I was out of the country on a school trip when he died after a horrible battle with lung cancer, and will always regret not knowing him in my adulthood.)

And perhaps it's because our little town lost a beloved community stalwart yesterday, but I can't help but feel today that it's all going by much too quickly. My schedule of late has not allowed much in the way of time for introspection, but I did have a moment of clarity earlier this week regarding the increasingly challenging (if not ridiculous) goals that I've been setting for myself over the last few years. From the first year of PKD fundraising, to the amped-up second year, to opening a baking business: these are all things that, when my kidneys finish failing, I will no longer have the time or energy to contemplate, let alone do.


These days I am feeling a kinship with marathon runners who get a rush from meeting and achieving the challenge: this morning, in my sixth week of business, I delivered my 100th cake to the Co-Op. I've been baking until midnight several nights a week, not even noticing the fatigue until the last pan is washed (usually by Michael) and I'm upstairs in the bedroom. I am somewhat disgustingly proud of myself, and in spite of being so fatigued that I'm in a partial out-of-body haze most days, my brain is saying to me "What's next?". Because it is a splendidly gorgeous spring day out there, and even running on 60% of the sleep I need to function properly, I have an overwhelming urge to go and do and be and create and achieve more and more and more while I still can.


It is birthday season in our house and we are celebrating the years-ago arrivals of our incredible, fascinating sons, neither of whom ever had a chance to know my father's mother, who died when Quin was six months old. It is birthday season and the weather is voluptuous and I've baked and been paid for 100 cakes and am feeling omnipotent, and when I drove into town today and saw the impromptu tribute of notes and flowers that has sprung up in honor of our town's lost friend, I realize that time is the key element, time is what we can never have enough of. T.S. Eliot said it right.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I'll be in my garden this weekend, up to my elbows in dirt, trying to enliven the dull roots while I can.


Domestic Goddess said...

Every day a little death but every day a little life. As much as it kills me that my kids don't know their FABULOUS great-grandmother (and gosh, do I miss her!) I am also reminded, through the births of nephews and nieces and friends' children how precious and fragile life really is. And when I go, I hope I have HALF the legacy that my grandmother or Alex or your grandparents did. All I want is for someone to say, "Wow. I'm really going to miss her."

By the way, your cakes? OMFG!!!! My non-verbal child is so taken by them that he walked right by his favorite treat at the co-op yesterday (m&ms), walked over to the display, grabbed the biggest chocolate cake he could find and placed it in the cart, quite pleased with himself. If he eats it you know it's good, because he barely eats ANYTHING!

well read hostess said...

I'm proud of you, too!

I am so impressed that you know what you love to do and have found a way to make it work. You're my hero!

Anonymous said...

A following? But of course your baking is developing a following...I never doubted you'd be a success.

I do worry about your energy, but hope that a gardening weeking was just what you needed. You are an amazing woman.

Kelly said...

This was a lovely essay. I'm glad for the moments with our loved ones and loved that your grandfather visited after childbirth. I like how he waited until everyone was gone, so you'd know it was him.

This weekend while Dave and I were doing yard work, I suddenly smelled my grandmother's house. Just out of the blue, this scent appeared. It really hit me like a terrible punch, and I had to sit down and sob for a while. I hope eventually I can take these moments and smile, instead of feeling the ache of loss.

Gwen said...

You sure covered a lot of ground in this post! I love that TS Eliot quote. Just beautiful and somehow perfect.

I was wondering WHO made that yummy, fluffy cake at the Wed Spaghetti. You have a gift, my lady, a real gift.