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.]

22 comments:

  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!

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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

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  6. What a great tribute to your grandparents.

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  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.

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

    Brilliantly done. I love this.

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

    Beautiful.

    http://truthfully.ca

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  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.

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

    Loved this post so much!

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  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. :)

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

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.)

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  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.

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  19. Also -- while you're just under the 200 follower rule, I would like to give you a liebster. Check it out here: http://notappropriate4.blogspot.com/2012/10/you-won-what-is-that-thing_17.html
    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!

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  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!

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

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

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