Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Inheritance of Burning

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.

[For more great blog writing, check out the posts this week over at Yeah Write.]


  1. I think your first commenter is trying to add spam to your toast! It's better with butter. I really loved this post! I think it's great you keep burning toast in memory of your grandma. So well done!

  2. ack, this made me tear up because toast (although not burnt) reminds me of my grandmother who i wrote about! :) anyway, lovely lovely piece.

  3. I loved this post! My grandparents are all gone too, and like you I wish I had said more, thought more, asked more about their lives. I love how burnt toast is a comfort to you.

  4. I have the ridiculous habit of burning quesadillas every time I make them. My kids are 7 & 5 and they tease me about it relentlessly, LOL! But my grandmother never burned a quesadilla (nor made one, as far as I know).

    I lost three of my grandparents when I was 7-8 years old and my grandmother two years ago. My older two kids remember her, for which I'll be ever grateful.

    Burned toast is a lovely inheritance.

  5. I grew up without grandparents, too. I don't know what I inherited from them, except for the color of my eyes.

  6. What a great tribute to your grandparents.

  7. Keep burning away! It's the crazy little things that spark memories like burnt toast. My mom burnt everything when she was a newlywed and my dad would call it "Spanish" whatever it was. You happen to make Spanish toast by way of grandma! Lovely pst.

  8. I love this line: Cue another dying slice of carbs.

    Brilliantly done. I love this.

  9. I love stories like this, from something simple like burnt toast comes the feeling of connectedness.


  10. I also had limited connections with my grandparents growing up. It would have been nice to know my Oma when I was an adult, before age started to fade her ability to communicate and think clearly.

  11. This line made me cry: "Her smile, before I'd even done anything to earn it."

    Loved this post so much!

  12. Thanks everyone! I've been too insane this week to respond to comments and so I'm just now stopping to say I appreciate your words. :)

  13. Very nicely done. I love the posts that turn the mundane into something bigger, and you did it well.

  14. I was lucky enough to have four grandparents until I was 34 and then over the next eight years we lost the others.

    But I didn't begin to understand how lucky I was until I was around 40 and then I tried to ask a lot of the questions that I never would have when I was younger.

    I loved how you used the story of the burnt toast here. Those memories are special.

  15. What a wonderful story and through out it, I could smell the burnt toast. I am sure that there will be a legacy that I leave. I just hope it is not something too embarrassing.

  16. I never thought an essay on burnt toast could make me cry. But this was so much more than that. My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. The dwindling numbers of our relatives...and yes...the fact that he always burns the toast. Wonderful, beautiful post.

  17. I feel lucky to know my grandmothers well, but I often think of my grandfathers - especially my dad's dad, who died when I was two, and wish I could talk to them. Lovely post. (And I burn toast even though I have a toaster, so... might as well use the oven.)

  18. Wow. You took something so simple like burnt toast and made it absolutely moving and touching. That is the art of a good author. Bravo! You have a vote from me this week! I'm glad to have found your blog via yeah write.

  19. Also -- while you're just under the 200 follower rule, I would like to give you a liebster. Check it out here:
    If you would like to accept, I would be very happy and honored. I think people that like my blog will also really like you, especially people that like me, but wish I cursed less. Just leave a comment anywhere on my blog if you accept, and let me know when you put up your liebster post. Thanks!

  20. I just showed a picture I took of my burnt toast on Facebook this week! But I actually burned it in a real toaster. ;)

    All my grandparents are gone now, too, and it's funny the little things that remind us of people we miss!

  21. Aww, that's really sweet. It's so interesting the connections we have to otherwise mundane, even annoying, occurrences.

  22. I love this! Especially since the women in my family burn green beans. My mother, her me. I hope my daughter can burn green beans like us.


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