(Originally published on I Still Hate Pickles November 28, 2012.)
Almost every morning, I burn a piece of toast.
Unless it can’t be salvaged, I stand over the trash can and scrape off the top layer with a butter knife, aiming most of the crumbs toward the trashcan. Underneath is perfectly good toast. With butter, you would never know.
I like to put things in the oven on broil. Then children happen, and you know how this goes. I could just get a toaster. I have a toaster oven with an actual toast feature that I keep in a cabinet. Part of the reason is that I’m lazy. The oven is already right there. I think every morning, This time I won’t forget. I will not burn my toast. Then I walk away to wipe someone’s face or let the dog out.Cue another dying slice of carbs.
But the real secret to why I don’t simply shell out $20 bucks for a toaster is that burning toast reminds me of my grandmother.
You see, by the time I got married, all of my grandparents were gone. I never met my father’s father who died before I was born, and through high school, one by one, all of my elderly relatives moved from apartments to assisted living to full-on nursing homes to hospitals to funeral homes.
It’s hard to know how to handle loss, especially when you’re a teenager. I feel like with each death, I froze a little more. The thought of returning again for a viewing or a funeral, making polite conversation in a black dress, or seeing the mechanical wench used to lower coffins around the edge of a freshly-dug grave–these things tightened up my chest, made me close off a little more each time.
Looking back, I regret so much. I wish that I knew my grandparents now, that I could have conversations with them that I never would have when I was fifteen. I could ask them about their lives and their memories, share what my boys–their grandchildren–did today. I was too young or immature or stiff from the thought of loss to connect or have the relationships that I would have now.
My memories of Grandma League: her laugh. Her skill at tracing the smurfs from my favorite books onto transparent white paper. The way she always said, “Is that right?” when I told her something about my life. A collection of cropped gray wigs that I sometimes tried on when she wasn’t looking. The curve of her bad hand, trapped in crooked fist by a stroke. Her smile, before I’d even done anything to earn it.
Like me, my grandmother burned toast.
This is not my memory–it is one my mother shared with me. Growing up, my mom knew well the sound of a knife scraping across the stiff black top of bread. I know she misses her mother more than I could. I think of this when I watch my mom playing with my boys on the rug, thinking of how she must have watched her mother play with me when I was just a girl.
Tomorrow morning, I will leave the toaster oven in the cabinet. I will think about how that gift card to Target could get me a nice toaster. And I will turn the oven on broil and walk away, letting that piece of bread blacken under the orange electric coil.
Burned toast is my inheritance.