This is what I'd save if I had to evacuate

This is what I'd save if I had to evacuate

Tonight is our monthly ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooz-Hour! Our community manager asked us to choose from any of the previous 54 prompts he’s sent out in the past, and I chose this one: “Write about an inanimate object you have a strong emotional attachment to.”

As I’ve watched television this week and have seen folks in Houston who’ve lost everything, I keep thinking about what I’d pack or what I’d save if I were in their situation. Of course keeping my family safe would be first. Getting the animals in crates so that they could be moved would be second. But what about the material things?

Yes, the photographs printed from film before digital was common. I have letters from my grandmother and parents, brother and friends, letters from more than 30 years that I would hate to lose.

I love my pens, and some of them are irreplaceable. There’s a scarf my mom used to wear, the whistle from her keychain that’s now on my keychain, a tie pin that I stole from my dad’s dresser so I could have something of his. I have a bar of ivory soap, from which he carved a heart, that my brother gave to me. There’s also a mug he gave me as I moved to college that is still in one piece. It is navy blue with white polka dots, many of which have rubbed off.

The truth is, I have strong emotional ties to quite a few inanimate objects. Books, jewelry, a wooden carving of a cat that my daughter gave to me. And her art, I would want to keep her art.

When my mom died 25 years ago, she was younger than I am now. We had a complicated relationship, which has made it that much harder to grieve. Some of her things that I have now, I keep because she held them or wore them or kept them in her purse. That whistle was on her keychain as far back as I can remember. Early on I wanted to have things she had touched or worn, something that her skin had been next to.

Most of those things have no real substance though. I have no idea why she had a whistle on her keychain. I suppose she was afraid to walk alone. I don’t know where she got it, when she got it, if she liked it. I just know that it was in her purse when she died and I was desperate to get my hands on things she’d touched.

Several months after she died, however, I knew what I most wanted of hers, and I think it would top the list of what I would save in an emergency.

It’s her recipe box. The recipes are written in her neat and elegant cursive script and call for things such as a “cube” of butter, which meant a “stick” of butter to my mom, or a 5 cent chocolate bar, which gives me no clue at all about the size of the candy bar.

Her recipe for blonde brownies is missing an ingredient or an instruction. I’ve never made them successfully from her recipe, and when I’d bring her the hard, failed chunks, she’d say, “What did you do wrong?”

She never told me what was missing. It was inside her head somewhere.

She used to make Swedish tea ring every Christmas morning, and when I first got my hands on her recipe box I looked for the recipe. It’s not there. It was inside her head or in a cookbook, somewhere besides the box.

There are recipes in that box that I don’t remember her ever making, and others that meant “mom.” The “Holland” cookies, a no bake, peanut butter, cocoa, and oatmeal recipe are my favorites and I make them mostly when I’m feeling down or when I’m missing her.

My mom always said that she DID NOT want to be remembered as a good cook. I’m not sure I understand why that bothered her. She was an amazing cook, and I learned so much from watching her and reading her recipes. It was one of the ways that she communicated “I love you” to us.

It troubles me that the item that I associate most closely with my mother is the last thing she wanted to be remembered for. Because she is in that box, along with those recipes, some of which stretch back to her grandmother.

In a way, the box isn’t inanimate. It has a little bit of her spirit inside it. Whether she wanted it to or not.

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