The word ‘death’ seems too final, as if it’s totally over, gone, forever buried and never to be again. I prefer to say ‘passing’ when someone leaves Earth and is no longer in the flesh. Isn’t that what we’re all doing—just simply and memorably passing through this life—hopefully, etching our marks, some subtle others deep and lasting, on our family, friends, and acquaintances as we share time, holidays, school, grocery shopping or maybe just seats next to each other on a on a transcontinental flight or puddle jumper to the next airport.
Passing means that not only does the person leave, but their worldly possessions, their beloved ‘stuff’ also passes on—maybe specified in their last will and testament—usually that’s the really special stuff like money, jewelry, property. Maybe stuff is donated to charity. Maybe things are auctioned off at an estate sale and it goes to who knows who. Maybe the unwanted possessions are taken to the trash dump. And, maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s packed up carefully and sent to you by the heir(s) to the estate.
My Dad, Ira, was one of eleven children of Alice Emma and Ira Otis Cook. He was a twin—tall and handsome, a dimpled chin, deep blue eyes and wavy black hair, yes, he had those movie star looks. And, gentle as a lamb—while I didn’t know him as well as I should have, my memories are of a genteel kind man who named my first stuffed animal, which I still have by the way—Nickodemus—certainly tattered, torn and raggedy, but I can’t even imagine getting rid of him.
Reckon with eleven children Grandma was bound to have at least one set of twins! Yes, four boys and seven girls—two remained old maids until their passing. They lived with Grandma Cook in the family place along with another married daughter, her husband and their children. That’s the way things happened back in the 1930s and 1940s. Kids didn’t live with their parents because they ‘had’ to—couldn’t find a job or whatever—they lived with ‘Mama’, as Grandma was called by her children even as adults, because life was like the TV show ‘The Waltons’—some of the youngens stayed at the old home place or lived just down the block, some worked in the family business possibly, and they raised their children under this one big roof. And, yes, they were there to take care of Grandma as she got older.
When I was 10, the first Cook child, a boy, yes, my Dad, only about 45, passed. I’ve heard that there’s no pain more excruciating than the passing of a child, regardless of whether it’s a ‘child child’ or adult child. It just doesn’t go with the normalcy of life—aren’t parents supposed to pass first then the children carry on the traditions and pass later. Oh, I diverge. So since 1959, the eleven children and their spouses (my aunts and uncles), and some of their children, have passed. Aunt Ruth my last aunt, wife of my Dad’s brother and my uncle, Uncle Deedoo, passed in 2014. And, along with the passing of Aunt Ruth was the passing of her kitchen.
Aunt Ruth always smiled. She had this flawless perfect china like skin that was untouched by sun damage or smoking. I remember she credited it to Pond’s cream and probably later Merle Norman products. Tall and statuesque, she and Uncle Deedoo married, both their first, late in life, he was close to 40 as I remember (seems so young now), and she probably was considered at that time an ‘old maid.’ She didn’t talk much, who could get a word in edgewise with Uncle Deedoo, the life of any party, and then there was the unending raucous chatter of politics and gossip at any of the Cook family gatherings. Collectively, we were the size of a small Western town!
Aunt Ruth always smiled, and I loved her giggling when she found something funny. I remember her as close to ‘perfect’—perfectly attired, simple pearl earrings, maybe a demur necklace, neatly and stylishly attired, short perfectly coiffed hair even into latter years, and never grey as I remember. Think ‘Mad Men’ females—my impression was that she was the doting wife for her husband—laughing at his jokes, creating a comfortable home, not working outside the home, letting him be in the limelight, giving him the pedestal placement of a spouse. This is how I remember my Aunt Ruth.
The passing of someone also means the passing of their kitchen. Aunt Ruth obviously loved to spend time cooking, whether she was good at it or not is still in debate. But there is overwhelming evidence in her collection of cookbooks and the hundreds of index cards, torn newspaper and magazine pages, and scraps of paper with hand-written recipes that she gave it one helluva an effort! I wasn’t really aware that she was such a cooking diva or aspired to be! However, thanks to their only son, I.O., one of my many first cousins, I was given a big heavy moving box, and it contained for me history, a life, someone’s passions, what was eaten, served, and experienced over a lifetime.
I felt quite emotional as I sliced the packing tape to open the bulky heavy box. I had no idea what to expect. I.O. had considerately contacted most all of his first cousins asking if there was anything of his Mom’s that any of us wanted—I answered the email and said anything that’s in Aunt Ruth’s kitchen that you may not want. Cousin I.O. and his wife, Mari, left their home in New Mexico to do what children someday must do—finalize their parents’ belongings. I’m sure they spent endless hours going through decades of life. Someone doesn’t live in the same home over five decades without collecting a life well lived.
They packed me perfect kitchen treasures—I couldn’t have inherited a penthouse at Trump Tower in Manhattan and been more excited and grateful. Before I started unwrapping each item, I turned on Pandora to big band, 1950s and 1960s music reminiscent of those times when I was in Aunt Ruth’s small kitchen as a kid and teenager. Gingerly unwrapping the bubble wrap on some of the things then seeing other unwrapped items in the box, an eerie feeling, albeit a good feeling was felt, as in the presence of Aunt Ruth maybe lingering next to me—yes, I felt her spirit—and in my mind, the giggles, the demure smile, the perfectly styled hair and lipstick even when she cooked, was heard and seen. I smiled. She smiled. The connection was felt.
There is no death, not even in a kitchen—only the passing of history, culture, lifestyle, memories and stories. I’m so honored to be the keeper of some of my Aunt Ruth’s ‘stuff’, which I’ll be sharing down the road in my cooking and photographs. Some of these keepsakes I’m sure I’ll be using regularly. It’ll be alongside the other kitchen ‘stuff’ passings from other strong and delicious women who have made me who I am today—my Mom, Mama Helen and Dr. Wellman. Yes, my emotions shift~I start laughing. I laugh, yes, out loud, thinking of who will get all of my kitchen ‘stuff’? Not just one kitchen, but two! Who will it ‘pass’ on to? Will they play 1960s music as they dig through boxes of ‘stuff’? Then the light bulb goes off—it’s an ‘omg’—maybe someone should open an Ally’s Kitchen Store!
Please don’t be shy…I love for you to comment…share with me your thoughts and stories xoxxo ~peace & namaste~ ally